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A Critical Look at Bullying, Bullying Statistics, and Positive Reinforcement.

Posted: June 09, 2010

There has been a lot of talk and media attention lately with regard to the bullying of young children and teenagers. We all know that the local media has to sensationalize everything for the sake of ratings, but the fact remains that bullying is a real problem in today’s schools. If you’re a parent you are already painfully aware of this fact.

Bullying has been a problem since the dawn of time, so to look at it as a new phenomena is being extremely shortsighted. The flip side of that coin is that there are now more ways to bully then there has ever been in the past. Technology has opened up a whole new can of worms that has led to cases of cyber-bullying, whose end is just as bad if not worse than your every day run of the mill cases of bullying. For more information on this see our related post.

The problems with the latest statistics on bullying, is that they are so obscure that they mean nothing. In order to fight bullying it must first be defined. If we define it too broadly, it ceases to have any meaning. For instance, if we define bullying to include things like name calling, then every child can report that they are bullied 50 times a day. Though this type of name calling can be disruptive to childhood development; part of growing up is overcoming these obstacles and finding our self-worth. Therefore, we as individuals and as a society, should be a little more selective with regard to our definitions.

That being said, what can we do to help our children with this very real problem? I think the first thing that must be done is to increase the self-confidence of our children. Bullies tend to look for weakness, so if your child has good self-esteem, the likelihood of them being targeted by bullies goes way down.

Additionally, if they are picked on verbally, they will not be affected as much by the verbal abuse. This will make violent encounters less likely.

So how do we cultivate high self-esteem in children? If you ask 100 experts, you’ll get 100 different answers. Unfortunately, many parents think this means they need to shelter their kid’s from every negative influence. In my opinion, this only makes them feel helpless and weak, and eventually leads them to a victim type of mentality. Mom and Dad can only shelter for so long. Eventually, every child must go their own way, and we need to prepare them for that.

One of the best ways that I know for teachers to increase the self-esteem of children is to give them positive reinforcement for the things that they do correctly. Most children crave recognition, and they find a way to get it. They can get it for doing positive things, or for doing negative things. Way too often in today’s society, the consequences of both are way too similar.

For example, Little Johnny (5 years old) misbehaves in school. The whole class stops and everyone looks at Johnny. (He is now the center of attention.) The teacher talks to Johnny and gives him a lecture for 5 minutes. She talks to him like he’s 30 years old in an attempt to get him to acknowledge the error of his ways. Johnny seems to think it over, (all the while he doesn’t know what she’s talking about) but he’s happy that he’s in the spotlight. Johnny finally agrees with the teacher. The teacher expresses her joy that Johnny now understands the error of his ways, and that he will behave differently in the future. The teacher is pleased with herself for having “changed” Johnny. This pleasure lasts for about 10 minutes, until Johnny does the same thing or something similar again. This process is repeated over and over, and eventually Johnny gets labeled a “problem child.”

If on the flip side, the teacher finds something positive that Johnny is doing, and compliments him on it in front of everyone; then Johnny is the center of attention for the right reasons. He will be much more likely to repeat the good behavior and feel good about it. Furthermore, the other children want to be highlighted and complimented as well, so this changes the whole dynamic of the class.

While this may seem simplistic, over time it works. The end result is that Johnny now sees himself as an achiever and a contributor, and he will be more likely to be productive in the future. This is a far more favorable outcome than in the first instance. The added advantage is that the class continues to move forward and the other children aren’t burdened by the constant disruptions.

The above obviously deals with a classroom dynamic, but the concept of positive reinforcement is just as applicable at home. While negative reinforcement (correction) is also needed, it is important that we realize how important it is to praise our kids for what they do correctly; if we want to build their self-esteem and help them to resist negative peer-pressure and bullying.