Friday, November 13, 2015

Bullying: A Success Story

Bullying is something that is a problem for just about every school, childcare program, Scouting program, dance class, or any other organization that works with children. We deal with it here but we also work closely enough with the local school attended by most of our students that we can be partners with them.

One of our students, "Johnnie," has been the focus of a lot of bullying lately. It's interesting because he used to be more of a bully himself. He's bigger than many of the other kids and he was, until very recently, really angry. He was angry because he had no dad and because his mom always had to work and was sick with a bunch of different issues. He was angry because no one was able to really make him feel safe - he has dealt with eviction and not having regular meals and not having a bedtime or anyone to set limits at the house because his mom was working overnight. He also had pretty severe ADHD and was very frustrated that he didn't have the ability to stop some of his impulsive behaviors.

We worked with Johnnie to gain some emotional coping skills that he didn't have before. We helped him identify his feelings and helped model how to talk to other children appropriately. We also enlisted the other kids in helping and this was where the biggest successes came in.

Harbor House is a family and the kids talk about that often. we discussed frankly the fact that we are a family whether we are getting along or not and whether we are annoying one another or not. Then we talked about how to help each other. Johnnie was up front with wanting to "be nicer" to other kids, so we brainstormed together how we can all do that, taking the focus off of him. Th other kids were very helpful, both with empathy: "I have a hard time being nice to people when I feel bad about myself," and with practical solutions, "You could say to someone, 'I'm feeling lonely, will you be my friend?'"

It was wonderful to see these kids rally around Johnnie, who quite honestly had not always treated them well. They were extremely forgiving and empathetic. But the real victory came at school. We went to pick up the kids from school one day and Johnnie was in tears: Someone had cursed at him and told him he flunked and said that he should die. However, all of the other kids who went to harbor House sprang into action as soon as they heard this. One of them said they knew who the bully was and went to tell the principal. One offered to be his friend on the walk to Harbor House. One said that he would play with Johnnie at recess.  His sister told him that she loved him and that he was her best brother (we won't tell the other brother). And when we got back to Harbor House, a fifth grader wrote a note for this first grader, saying that, "Just so you know if you are sad or bullied, someone will always be there for you and I am talking about myself."

By the end of the day, Johnnie told me he felt really good about himself and that he didn't care about his bully anymore.

That is success.