Bully Prevention with Peer Praise
The preschoolers partnered up and gave each other a sticker saying “Great job” plus a yellow sparkling butterfly. They looked each other in the eyes. Smiles were rampant and irresistible. When asked how they felt being praised, they shouted, “good” as one boy overpowered others with his voice calling out, “REALLY good.”
Then I asked the group how they felt when they say something positive to someone else to give praise instead of receiving it. The same response echoed in the room with young voices, “good.”
Bully prevention means new ways to relate to each other that provide nourishment in place of judgmental discrimination. That also promotes equity, diversity, inclusion. Positive acknowledgment is priceless! When that is learned, it becomes an option for building relationships, self worth, empathy in relationships and confidence in communicating. If options are not given to children for new ways of communicating, old habits are relied upon. Those old habits can be handed down from generation to generation and experienced as normal.
When praise is given, something magical happens. Hearts open on both sides of the fence of giving and receiving. Faces smile. Eyes become wider and see more than what was being seen. Children feel connected in a way that fulfills the need to be needed. It is empowering to say something that helps someone else feel good. That is the kind of Superkid Empowerment that gives sustenance to life skills. Saying something that hurts another's feelings is a different kind of power......bullying......and it destroys instead of being a relationship builder.
We practiced slow, deep belly button breathing to be centered and calm. Then the preschoolers watched as one preschool dyad exchanged stickers, butterflies and words that were bright coming from the giver and the receiver. To actually experience this meant that a seed was not only planted by talking about it, but the core meaning of that planted seed became obvious. They learned for themselves. They felt it and heard it. They saw it. 3D learning! Mutual praising!
In my book, Superkid Camp (Amazon), children from various world cultures take turn sharing how they became Superkids by using skills. The examples bring together the observation that regardless of culture, type of shelter, clothes or problems, all children share a common ground in having problems to solve and are equal in the struggles of growing up and needing skills.
Children drew and colored what they perceived as not only their own feelings but a person's feelings who they practiced giving praises to. All the art work was obviously happily expressed.
Singing praises is a way to bolster the goodness in children, both the praisers and those being praised. A very unusual situation occurred with a bully ring leader several years ago when I worked in a rural area. It was a third grade class where I facilitated weekly sessions. We were working with negative peer pressure that leads to bullying very creatively.
I held a rope's ends and each student took turns leaning in the rounded part of the rope as I pulled student toward me saying, “Come on, homework isn't fun. Let's go do something else instead of boring homework.” The student I would be pulling could see and feel the rope pressure as I spoke and pulled. The only way to change that dynamic was for the student to deeply BREATHE, THINK and MAKE A GOOD CHOICE. Upon doing that, the student quit being inside the rope and the negative peer
pressure, lifted the rope and left the pull, being free from the negative peer pressure. It drove home a strong point of what actually happens when being pressured or bullied.
The next week a student shared a success story about bullying. He happened to be the ring leader of a band of bullies. Last week after the class session his friends pressured him to lead them in bullying a boy they liked to pick on. He said after our session when his friends wanted him to hurt the boy, he could feel inside him that he didn't feel good. He told his band of bullies that he was not going to say yes to their negative peer pressure anymore and he was not going to ever hurt that boy again. All the members of the gang disbanded without their leader. My praise for his courage was bountiful as a SUPERKID!
What was especially powerful was that the X bully ring leader looked at the boy they usually taunted who was a student IN that same class when he said he was not going to cause harm anymore. It was a moment never to be forgotten! 3D social emotional learning cannot be praised enough!
There's no question about it. Brain studies indicate that we respond to social approval in much the same way that we respond to monetary rewards (Bhangi and Delgado 2015). Praise feels good. And praise can lead to helpful outcomes. For example, experiments suggest that kids can benefit from vague, cheerful messages. An enthusiastic exclaation (“wow!”) or a supportive gesture (like a high five) can engender good feelings. It may also motivate children to try again after a failure (Morris and Zentall 2014.
Bullies hurt and are in need. If we taught singing praises in education for all children, one wonders what would become of bullying.
Superkid Camp, Mestrovich aka Grandma Boom, Amazon
www.superkidpower.org (free video and downloads)
www.grandmaboom.com (list of books by Janai Mestrovich)