As a parent or educator these days, watching news reports can be
harrowing. Physical violence caught on tape, the implications of
unedited interactions on social networking sites and stories of
harassed victims lashing out are all too common.
The good news is this: Chicago educators take bullying behavior
seriously, by adopting zero-tolerance policies and putting
proactive measures in place to ensure that kids learn empathy and
appropriate behavior at as early an age as possible. By shedding
light on this type of behavior, educators are gaining ground on the
Time to act
Bullying is nothing new and spans all ages of development.
That's why, according to Pope
John XXIII School Principal, Rosalie Musiala, this type of
behavior is addressed at all levels, preschool through 8th grade.
"We focus on bullying and bullying prevention right from the
beginning," says Musiala. In preschool, there are signs in each
room saying "You can't say "You can't play.""
Teaching children acceptance of others lays the groundwork for
empathy and lessens the likelihood of social bullying down the
Cheryl Rogers, owner director of
Lakefront Children's Academy works hard to establish a family
environment with her early learners.
"Behavior is still easily modified with preschoolers," says
Rogers, who notes that kids love the notion of having a "Lakefront
"This idea really speaks to kids and they jump on board," says
Rogers. "By exhibiting inappropriate behavior, a child sets himself
apart. None of the kids want anyone to upset the good homey feeling
Involving all kids is key. At Pope John XXIII the bullying
discussion continues into the primary and middle school years.
"Instead of ignoring it, we focus on it," says Musiala. "When they
learn empathy, they're less likely to hurt other people."
Because of classroom activities and discussions, students can
easily identify the roles of bully, victim, bystander and ally.
Getting kids to integrate this knowledge into their behavior is
very important. "We talk about not enabling a bully, calling it
what it is, and discuss what we'll do in the future," Musiala
Prevention through policy and programs
Most schools have official policies in place to deal with this
type of behavior, although the terminology varies. At
Council Oak Montessori, focus is placed on appropriate group
manners and coping skills of the students, ages 3 through 14. Any
inappropriate behavior, such as bullying, falls under the general
umbrella of discipline.
"Our perspective is that it's just a behavior, we don't give it
a label," says Council Oak executive director, Patti O'Donoghue.
"It's not addressed as a curriculum topic as much as it's handled
as part of self-regulation."
Teachers act as guides at Council Oak Montessori, modeling
appropriate behavior for children in the classroom.
At Holy Trinity School in Westmont, the school applies the same
overriding message to all situations. "We ask the four same
questions about everything," says Principal Dr. Charles Terry. "Is
it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it what Jesus would
If a child answers "no" to any of the questions, the behavior
must stop. "Those four questions become the basis for the
discussion that will follow," says Dr. Terry. "And the kids will
tell you, you're guaranteed to get tripped up by the last
question." Whether schools use the teachings of Jesus Christ or
ethics training like Character Counts, it's helpful to have
guidelines for kids to follow.
Problem identification can be a challenge for teachers who don't
always witness the behavior. Early detection is imperative and
schools are working diligently to ensure that teachers are prepared
for this aspect of their job. "Each year, we do a faculty read of
two professional books," says Musiala. "For several years, we
focused on the topic of bullying."
Although teachers at all schools look for signs of this type of
Holy Trinity School, educators also depend on kids to keep
teachers informed. "The teachers don't want to advocate being a
tattle tale, but these are things they need to know," says Terry.
Creative means of collecting information, like an anonymous "tell
the teacher" journal in one classroom, makes it easier for kids to
"Kids have to know that it's cool to tell your teacher when it
gets to be too much," says Lakefront's Rogers. "They have the
tendency to stop telling at a certain age - they'll either accept
it or meet it with aggression." Teaching kids that it's right to
say "enough is enough" is key.
In the spirit of teaching self-regulation, teachers at Council
Oak mediate adult-style conflict resolution sessions with
pre-adolescent students. Children are asked to communicate by
writing to each other, explaining what happened from their
perspective, describing how they felt and suggesting ways they'd
like to be treated in the future.
"As children get older, they learn how to do this and can skip
the writing part and handle things verbally," says O'Donoghue.
"They build on what they learn at each stage of development until
they are acting like adults."
At Pope John XXIII, every incident is investigated. "We never
say that kids will be kids, we never tell kids to ignore what's
going on," says Musiala. At most institutions, discipline is
handled on a case-by-case basis after problems have been
After discussions and attempts to modify behavior, there are
times when a suspension, or worse, is necessary. "In the worst
scenario, we have expelled children for bullying behavior," says
Musiala, who has been principal for twelve years and an educator
Parental involvement in the process is seen as a crucial
component by educators. Parents should become knowledgeable via the
many available resources in bookstores and online.
"If a parent tells kids to ignore inappropriate behavior, they
are not helping," says Musiala. "They're allowing the status quo to
She advises that kids must be taught to accept others and to
remember that, although they have the freedom to choose their
friends, they don't have the freedom to hurt people, inside or
The same goes at Lakefront Academy. "We let parents know that
our experience proves their child is not the first to go down this
road," says Rogers. Gaining home support is essential whether
you're dealing with a child exhibiting inappropriate behavior or
helping a child that's been bullied.
"Sometimes parents need a gentle reminder that they can
reiterate our teachings at home," says Rogers. "Our terms like
"behaving in an acceptable manner" and "taking a moment of
reflection" translate into homework for parents."
Children, educators and parents now know that the old adage
about sticks and stones could not be further from the truth.
Survivors of a bullying scenario, no matter what their role,
understand that its effects are harmful and can last a lifetime.
Twenty-first century challenges further complicate matters as kids
"Access [to technology] and more lack of supervision than there
was years ago give kids more of an opportunity to act this way,"
says Dr. Terry of Holy Trinity. Combating these new world
challenges with parent and teacher efforts, informed students and
early intervention, will surely help.
Let us plan your weekend with the best family events and activities in Chicagoland.
Start the week right with deals, prizes, parent life hacks and more delivered straight to your inbox.
Need last-minute ideas for a weekend of family fun? No worries. We've got you.
Get the inside scoop on the people, places and things we are loving right now.
Resources, tips, inspiration and more for parents of children with special needs.
Score exclusive offers from our fabulous advertisers.