Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Promoting Kindness (Otherwise known as Anti-Bullying)

This blog on "bullying" has been percolating in my brain for several years.  It is a complex issue.  Each time I hear of another life lost to bullying I ask myself why we as a community have not been able to address this problem effectively.
Bullying.  Bully-Prevention.  Anti-Bullying.  Stand Up 2 Bullying.  Stop a Bully.  Pink Shirt Day.  There's no shortage of attention to bullying these days, nor should there be.  As a former child, an educator and part of a large family I have experienced first-hand the effects of bullying.  I certainly read the paper and follow the news and there is no lack of stories which document the terrible impact bullying has, not only in our schools but in our workplaces, in our own families, neighborhoods, churches, teams, clubs and any other place where people come together.  Each time a bullying story hits the news we hear a renewed sense of outrage and are inundated with anti-bullying campaigns.  It seems to me, considering how often we hear of bullying and how many of us have experienced it in our own lives that these campaigns have not been effective over the years.  So, I have a suggestion;  Stop focusing on bullying and start focusing on kindness.
Over the last few years we have experienced a renewed focus on anti-bullying. At the same time we have lost funding for programs such as Roots of Empathy. " Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy."  Roots of Empathy focuses on building positive skills, positive interactions and has positive results.
And for me, here lies the crux of the problem.  I'm tired of hearing the word "bullying".  It has no positive conotations for me.  It's a negative spin on a negative problem.  It's time we stopped focusing on reducing bullying and started focusing on promoting kindness.  For every anti-bullying program that's out there there is  a program that promotes peace/kindness/empathy.  These are all skills our children (and adults) need to learn.  Roots of Empathy is just one.  Tribes TLC ( is another, Random Acts of Kindness ( is a program that has been used at Kent Elementary and found to be wonderful in promoting positive interactions without the need for the usual reward that comes with some of these programs. It has long been a goal of mine to switch peoples' thinking (starting with my own) from reducing the negative to increasing the positive.  It started with our school goals at Kent Elementary a few years ago but it is also a focus in my own personal life.
Kent Elementary is a progressive school.  They believe strongly in creating the conditions for children to be successful. ( This is the type of approach that will reduce bullying.  In the same way we create a positive culture for reading or healthy living or self-discipline we can create a culture that recognizes, promotes and teaches (coaches) kindness.  Students who come to school unable to read are provided with the supports to help them.  This should be the same approach to bullying.  I strongly believe that all people (not just kids) do the best with what they have at the time.  Students who bully lack the basic skills and understandings of kindness.  Perhaps they have not experienced kindness in their own lives.  Do we punish them?  Many believe this is the way.  I do not.  I believe we take them aside, model kindness, provide opportunities for kindness, recognize (not reward, but recognize) kindness and promote kindness. We create the conditions for them to be successful.
As with other successful approaches this will take time.    It takes time to identify those people who truly are bullies (and they aren't always children).  It takes time to work with that individual, to have them see how people perceive them.  In my experience most bullies are shocked when you tell them that this is how others see them.  It takes time to identify the behaviors that need to be addressed and to decide on the best way to support this particular individual.   You see, no "program" works for everyone.  As in reading or math or behavior a multi-faceted approach is likely required.  This takes time. I believe it also requires a shift from a focus that reduces the negative to a focus that increases the positive.  Aren't our children and our communities worth it?


  1. Thank you for writing this, Roxanne... I grow frustrated with each time we hear about new anti-bullying programs while we continue to see unkind behaviour being modeled to our children. I truly believe that if we model care, a child learns care. There will always be people who treat others in an unkind manner... we must approach this in a way to determine the skills each individual is lacking. Each individual is different and our approach needs to be different...

    Anti-bullying programs LOOK good - they state that "we are doing something" - unfortunately, it does not get to the deeper problems and solutions - those that happen every day in how we model and coach kids.

    Thank you for modeling and teaching me exactly what you have written.

    1. I believe you're right Chris. I believe the response is meant to make it look like we are doing something, whether we can prove it works or not. These programs are too simplistic and lack the focus necessary to handle such a complex problem. You're on the right track at Kent School with your focus on building a culture of support whether it's reading, writing, math or kindness. Kudos to you and the staff, students and families of Kent School!

  2. I agree that we need to focus on prevention and we need to teach empathy. We are up against the media with all of the reality shows that are on TV. How many of these demonstrate abusive behaviour towards others, disrespect of others, yelling, abusive language, being "voted off". I haven't even mentioned the violence in the media. This would be a start. Children watch these shows and probably think it is the appropriate way to behave. TV is full of garbage, except for a few programs.

  3. I think your thoughts on this are well-informed after all your years of teaching. I'm sure you have seen it all and seen both what works and doesn't work from a teaching perspective. It is a complex issue for sure, and as a parent, I think the best thing to do - and I agree with you all on this - is to model care and empathy, even for the smallest of creatures.