Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Prevention reduces bullying in Scottsdale schools

Prevention reduces bullying in Scottsdale schools
Excerpt taken from The Arizona Republic Article by Emily Dean - May. 6, 2009

Prevention efforts are being credited with a steep drop in the number of bullying incidents at Scottsdale middle schools. In the past three years Scottsdale Unified School District eighth grade students who reported being picked on or bullied declined significantly from 21.5 percent in 2006 to 10.8 in 2008, according to the 2008 Arizona Youth Survey provided by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.

Dana Sherman, School Program Director for Scottsdale Prevention Institute, said this type of behavior can begin as early as elementary school. We all know these kids; they are the ones who have temper tantrums, refuse to listen and kick or hit others on the playground and generally disrupt the learning environment," she said.

Teaching kids anger management exercises such as clenching and unclenching their fists when they feel angry helps them release stress and can help them stop before acting out, Sherman said.

Milissa Sackos, Executive director of Student and Community Services for Scottsdale Unified School District, credited the decline in incidents of bullying to district prevention efforts. "It's very difficult to pinpoint a single program to contribute to the decrease," Sackos said. "Our main goal is to create a safe school environment."

Although instances are decreasing in Scottsdale schools, bullying, defined by the National Association of School Psychologists as "aggressive behaviors ranging from overt acts of physical violence to more subtle patterns of cruelty" is still a national concern.

According to a 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Education, 28 percent of students age 12 to 18 reported having been bullied in the previous six months on school grounds.
Ruby Alvarado Hernandez of the Arizona Prevention Resource Center said one in four children who bully will have a criminal record by the age of 20, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Even though states are realizing the need for bullying prevention efforts, results are hard to track and it's often one of the first programs to face budget cuts, Alvarado Hernandez said. "Chances are it (bullying) will increase, not just because of the loss of SROs but the removal of social workers and counselors.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bully Article

Many parents are at a loss when they discover that their child is being bullied at school. Do they get involved? Let their child handle it on their own? They wonder why their child, in particular, is being picked on?

Even more alarming, however, is that fact that many parents are not even aware that their child is being attacked. This article addresses why children bully, how to identify if your child is being bullied, and what your child can do to prevent or stop bullying.

Children bully because it gives them a sense of power and domination over others. The bottom line is that it makes them feel powerful. More often than not their parents have used power-assertive discipline at home or they have been bullied themselves (e.g., by schoolmates, siblings, etc.). Many bullies come from homes where the parents are cold or uninvolved. Bullies typically carry a great deal of internal anger, pain, insecurity, lack interpersonal skills, and show little remorse for hurting others.

A larger set of children are not direct bullies but rather are bystanders. These bystanders tease others to go along with the crowd. While these students typically express some guilt over their actions very few go against the crowd to stop the bullying. Victims are more often harassed by groups of students than a single "bully."

Boys and Girls differ in how they bully. Girls tend to engage in verbal bullying or relational aggression such as excluding someone from the group or spreading rumors about another person. Boys are more likely to engage in direct aggression such as physical fighting or verbal attacks.

That said, you may still be wondering, why my child? Your child did not cause the bullying. However, there are certain characteristics that victims of bullies often share. They are typically (but not always) withdrawn, anxious, timid, children who react to bullying with overt emotion (e.g., fear, crying). They give the bullies the reaction they want. Also, victims may be targeted for looking or acting differently. Body weight, style of dress, high/low intelligence, race, ethnicity, and lack of social skills (e.g., appearing intrusive) are all common characteristics of victims.

Even more important is identifying the signs that your child is being bullied. Engulfed in our hectic schedules, we, as parents, may not even be aware that our child is being bullied.

Here are some signs to look for:

  • he seems more withdrawn or fearful
  • he cannot name a friend or does not talk about a friend at school
  • he does not call or invite any friends over
  • he comes home with torn or dirty clothes
  • his money or personal items are frequently missing
  • he often complains of school related illnesses (e.g., stomachache, headache, etc.)
  • he has a loss of appetite or eats constantly
  • he has sleep disturbances
  • he "hates" school and does not want to go
  • he shows a decline in school performance
  • he demonstrates increased anger or self-destructive behavior (e.g., eating disorder, cutting on self, etc.)

It is important to keep in mind that being shy and having only a few friends is not, in and of itself, a cause for concern. Having one or two supportive friends can mitigate many of the negative effects of being picked on. Most children are picked on at school, for a short period, at one time or another. One friendship can give your child the confidence he needs to stand up to a bully if necessary.

If you suspect that your child is being bullied ask your child directly but try to stay neutral (cool) and not get overly emotional about the situation; otherwise your child may feel even more helpless. Tell him that no one has the right to make him feel badly about himself. Encourage your child to tell you about these incidents--listen and share the hurt with him. Assure him that he is not defective and that there are things he can do to prevent or stop the bullying.

Bullies have an ability to detect and prey on insecurity. Therefore, advise your child to stand tall, look the bully in the eye, use a firm voice and say, "You are being a bully and you need to knock it off. You are not funny." Tell him to stay calm, neutral and try not to show his fear. Practice this response at home with your child and encourage him to practice these responses in the mirror over and over until he feels comfortable and confident. Work on building his self-esteem through activities he is good at and by spending more time with supportive friends.

Also encourage your child to report the incident to a teacher or administrator he trusts. If there isn't anyone he trusts, offer to get involved. Administrators and teachers should promise discretion and anonymity.

No parent wants his or her child to be bullied. Bullying can go on for years and cause severe self-esteem problems. Be involved, empathetic, and constructive-- you can help your child prevent or stop bullying before it becomes a serious problem.

Here are some additional resources for parents and children:

Friday, May 1, 2009

Building Self Esteem in Kids

High Self Esteem in Children: Where does it come from?
Researchers of self-esteem development suggest that high self esteem comes from:

• Love, respect, and acceptance
• Being taken seriously
• Being listened to
• Having your needs met and taken seriously
• Honoring uniqueness
• Being healthy and fit
• Having a sense of humor, laughing, and playing
• Taking pride in your cultural heritage
• Having choices and a sense of personal power
• Having safety and security
• Competence and achievement

The Differences between boys and girls

Who is more apt to like themselves, think they have a number of good qualities, and be glad for who they are? Boys. Search institute researchers have discovered that 56% of boys have a positive self-esteem whereas only 47% of girls do. Why do you think that is?

Can a parent really affect a child’s self-esteem?

Life’s positive and negative offerings are the areas in which adults have great power and opportunity to impact self-esteem. Parents can provide positive messages to their children, love their children even when they make poor choices, and give specific suggestions when they want their children to act in different ways.

What can be done at school to help build self-esteem in your child?

Your SPI Specialist can help build your child’s self-esteem by focusing on his/her competencies, listening to your child, and strengthening his or her social skills. Ask to speak with the SPI Specialist at your school to find out how he/she can help build your child’s self-esteem.

Tips to Reduce Stress

Tips to Help Families Deal with Stress

We are all dealing with increased levels of stress in both our professional and family lives. Our children experience our stress as well as their own. Here are some tips to help your children, and the entire family, cope with stress more effectively.

1. Create daily, quiet moments with each child. Offer time to talk about how things are going, to ask, tell, discuss and listen. A few quiet minutes for airing little worries can prevent them from growing into big ones.

2. Listen to your child when he or she is ready to talk. Try to stop what you are doing at the moment and engage with him or her. If it's not a good time, schedule a date for an hour later. Avoid trying to always fix problems, just listening is powerful.

3. As a family, share ways that you effectively deal with stress. Let your child know that you feel stress and that you can cope with it. This is reassuring and is effective modeling.

4. Be mindful of your own negative reactions to stress (e.g. shouting, drinking, smoking, slamming doors, isolation). Intentionally or not we teach by example. When you’re tense, try a walk, talking things over, or taking deep breaths.

5. Encourage drawing, storytelling, creative play and physical activities that are healthy, readily available ways to discharge anxiety. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress.

6. Talk about stressors in the family rather than trying to hide them. Even when you think children don't understand the stressors in your life, they can sense them. It’s not necessary, nor fair, nor wise to share all adult problems with kids, but they probably sense when things are not right. Offer reassurance when you can and create an environment in which it’s ok to ask questions.

7. Share perspective. Remind children that although they may be having a really bad hour, or a really hard morning, somewhere in this day some nice things will happen too. At the dinner table, ask each person to offer a positive or highlight of his/her day.

If your child is having great difficulty dealing with stress please contact your school Prevention Specialist. We are here to help!

Scottsdale Prevention Institute

How the Safe Home Pledge Can Make a Difference?

This article appeared in the Scottsdale Republic, in response to “Scottsdale schools consider youth survey a call to action”, February 27, 2009:

If you are a parent, like me, with kids in the Scottsdale Unified School District, you probably found the results from the 2008 AZ Youth Survey regarding alcohol use alarming. 42.6% of eighth graders, 69.8% of 10th graders, and 79% of 12th graders have used alcohol. As I read these statistics, I felt helpless. I know that kids are going to experiment. So, realistically what can I, as a parent, do to protect my daughters from the real dangers of underage drinking?

A few of you may have heard of the Safe Home Pledge started by the Parents for Prevention several years ago at Arcadia HS and Ingleside Middle School. Basically, the purpose of the Pledge is to raise awareness and initiate conversations amongst parents. Parents who sign the pledge are designated in their school’s student directory with an asterisk beside their name signifying that they have committed to being a “Safe Home”. They pledge to not serve alcohol or other drugs to minors. They also pledge to not allow minors to consume alcohol or other drugs in their home or on their property and to supervise teens’ activities in their homes. They further promise to communicate with “Safe Home” parents of a child whom they observe using or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

The underlying promise is that we will look out for each other’s kids, not allow or tolerate the use of underage drinking, and let each other know if our children are using alcohol and drugs. It’s the old “it takes a village” idea. I know that if parents from my children’s school chose not to sign the Safe Home Pledge, I would seriously question letting my children go to their homes.

In recent years, the Safe Home Pledge has not been uniformly or consistently distributed throughout SUSD’s middle and high schools. I am working with Christine Roadifer, President of the Scottsdale Parent Council, to ensure that they are distributed next fall. Don’t wait for us, go to:

Ask the PTO and administrators at your school to include “Safe Homes” in the student directory. If taken seriously and followed, this Pledge can serve as an impetus for important conversations about the dangers of underage drinking and drug use within your family and amongst other parents in your community. There is no silver bullet to solving this widespread community problem but committing to the Safe Home Pledge is a parental step in the right direction.


Dana Sherman, Parent and
School Program Director
Scottsdale Prevention Institute

Our Prevention Approach

Prevention is based on building social, behavioral, and confidence skills of children, starting at a very young age. By utilizing these skills, as children grow and face more pressures, the likelihood of their turning to alcohol, drugs, and destructive behavior is diminished. Instead of giving children one-time drug presentations in school, this type of comprehensive, holistic approach helps them build a “tool box” full of skills to use to develop healthy relationships and make healthy choices.

Relational Aggression: Is it normal and acceptable?

Relational Aggression: Is it normal and acceptable?

What is relational aggression? Relational aggression encompasses behaviors that harm others by damaging, threatening to damage or manipulating one's relationships with his/her peers, or by injuring one's feelings of social acceptance (the Ophelia Project).
For example:

  • Purposefully ignoring someone when angry (giving the "silent treatment")
  • Spreading rumors about a disliked classmate
  • Telling others not to play with a certain classmate as a means of retaliation
  • Malicious gossip and rumor spreading
  • Taunting and name calling
  • Cyberbullying

What motivates relational aggression? Researchers from the Ophelia Project asked youth why relational aggression occurs, their responses included:

Belonging – "If I share the secret she told me with you, my information can get me ‘in’ with the popular group."
Fear – "I’m afraid of being rejected by my classmates, or that I'll be the next target, so I go along with it."
Drama – "I’m bored, and relational aggression creates drama and excitement."

Isn’t relational aggression just normal behavior? Parents who contend that relational aggression is just part of normal behavior perpetuates the myth that bullying and peer aggression, and the hurt caused by both, are "normal" or "just how kids are" or simply a "rite of passage." For the 160,000 children who miss school each day due to fear of being tormented by their classmates (National Education Association), relational aggression is anything but "normal."
Furthermore, research proves that relational aggression is related to increased depression; lower academic performance; increased suicidal ideation; increased anxiety, anger, and sadness; and other negative consequences

How can I protect my child from the harmful effects of relational aggression? Research suggests that adolescents who are more connected to their school (e.g. involved in activities, clubs, sports), have secure relationships with adults, demonstrate empathy and report more forgiveness are less likely to be involved with relationally aggressive behavior. Further, they report less tolerance of relationally aggressive behaviors in others.

What can SPI do? Prevention is our priority. Children and adolescents need to be taught how to establish and maintain healthy relationships. What children learn and tolerate during their early developmental years becomes a “training ground” for future adult relationships. Relational aggression is a stable, learned behavior and without prevention/intervention efforts, will not fade away after adolescence.

Join an after-school girls’ group to learn to deal with relational aggression. Nancy Cohen, an SPI Specialist, just completed a very successful Girls Inc. group at Sequoya Elementary School that was funded through tax credit monies.

Girls Inc. was offered after school for 4th and 5th grade girls. This was a 5 week program that addressed the following friendship topics:

  • What qualities should I look for in a in a true friend, who are my true friends, and am I a true friend
  • What behaviors interfere with healthy friendships?
  • What do bully behaviors look like and could I be engaging in bully behavior?
  • What are the four types of bullies?
  • How can I stand up for myself and my friends? What can I say? How should I react?

Resources for girls and parents to deal with relational aggression: