What Is the Role of Adults?
All forms of bullying are opportunities to teach children how to get along, how to be con- siderate of all people, and how to be part of a community or group. But, children do not learn to solve conflicts and get along with others naturally. They have to learn specific skills that will prevent and thwart problems with bullying. As soon as children are old enough to interact with others, they can learn not to be bullies and not to be targets. This includes giving them the words to express their feelings, skills to monitor and change their behavior, and conflict resolution strategies.
When preschoolers begin to call people names or use unkind words, we should inter- vene immediately and consistently. In kindergarten, children learn the power of exclusion. We begin to hear things like, “She’s not my friend and she can’t come to my party.” Respond with, “You don’t have to be friends with her today, but it’s not all right to make her feel bad by telling her she can’t come to your party.”
In the early elementary grades, cliques and little groups develop which can be quite exclusionary and cruel. Children need to hear clearly from adults, “It’s not all right to treat other people this way. How do you think she feels being told she can’t play with you?” Kids don’t have to play with everyone or even like everyone, but they can’t be cruel by excluding others. Children who are not bullies or victims have a powerful role to play in shaping the behavior of other children. We need to teach these children to speak up on behalf of other children being bullied. “Don’t treat her that way, it’s not nice.”
What Is Role-Play?
Role-play is the tool that turns theories about prevention into reality. It is the game parents and teachers can use to coach children to better life skills. It is the way to find
out what children think about the social problems they encounter and how they actually handle them. It is the primary skill-builder for prevention of bullying. It’s also a lot of fun!
Role-play is really just practice for life. It’s a way of preparing for what we can antici- pate. Everyone does it. If you are going to your child’s school to discuss a significant problem with a teacher, you probably rehearse what you are going to say, or mentally prac- tice how to approach the issue, thinking through how to respond if the teacher says this, or that. It is perhaps the most powerful way to prepare to be effective.
Learning to speak up is also a skill learned by doing. When a child is able to say, “Don’t do that to me, I don’t like it,” in a tone of voice that is clear and assertive, while standing up tall and looking directly at the person, you will know that role-playing has worked.
How Do I Get Started?
Initiating role-play is as simple as asking a “What if...” question or responding to a child’s “What if...” question. For example, you might begin with, “I heard that there was a problem in the lunchroom with one of the boys taking other kids’ desserts. What would you do if that happened to you?” When the child begins to tell you, suggest, “Show me what you would do, I’ll be the kid trying to take your dessert.” Play it out. See what resources the child already has.