Yesterday I conducted an anti-bullying workshop with several large groups of kids at summer camp. Prior to meeting with the kids, I spent time talking with the counselors to find out what types of behaviors the kids were exhibiting.
One counselor told me, “Honestly, they call each other terrible names. Like ‘Dumb Ho’”.
“Mine do that too!” exclaimed another counselor. “I don’t know where they go that from! And they call each other ugly and stupid.”
“How about gay or retarded?” I asked.
“Yep, that too. This goes on all day long,” the counselors affirmed.
The ages of the kids?
Mostly seven to ten years old. Some six-year-olds.
I have no doubt that many of the kids are using phrases like “Dumb Ho” but do not know what the words mean. They all giggled and widened their eyes when I dared to say to the group, “Who knows what it means to be called a Dumb Ho?”
“It means something baaaad,” volunteered out one girl. “I hear the older kids saying it when they really want to be mean.”
“Who here has been called a Dumb Ho?” I asked.
An astonishing number of little girls raised their hands.
“Who here has called someone else a Dumb Ho?” I asked.
The kids looked around and giggled again as a large number of both boys and girls raised their hands.
“How did it feel to be called a name that is intended to be mean, even if you aren’t sure what it means?”
The room grew quieter. Some of the girls looked down. Others muttered, “bad.” A few hands went up, and I nodded at one of the girls. “It makes me sad,” she said. “I know it’s a bad thing for a girl to be. It hurts my feelings.”
When I asked the kids what types of conflicts tended to precede the flinging of insults, they answered with normal childhood behaviors such as budging in line, taking someone’s seat on the bus, not wanting to be someone’s partner in an activity, and not taking turns with a game or a toy.
“All of those things you described are what we call normal social conflicts,” I explained. “But instead of addressing and resolving the actual conflicts, some of you are responding by personally attacking each other, and that part is not normal. That part is what leads to bullying, and bullying is not okay.”
Over the next hour, we worked on identifying the behaviors that cause problems, such as budging in line or taking someone’s toy. Then I had the kids role play and practice resolving the real issue. The goal is to teach a child to directly say, “It hurt my feelings when you moved seats after I sat down next to you on the bus. Maybe we can sit together on the way back? Or can you help me find someone else who needs a partner?” instead of responding to the situation with “You dumb ho! I don’t want to sit next to your ugly ass anyway.”
The counselors did some role playing with the kids, working with them to find respectful solutions to the real conflicts instead of escalating the problem by launching personal attacks.
The kids were desperate to talk and share. Throughout the workshop, hands were raised and stories were shared. The general consensus? Nobody wants to be called a Dumb Ho. And everybody wants to feel valued. If we can teach our kids healthy conflict resolution skills at an early age, they are less likely to end up bullying each other when they grow older. Join me in teaching our kids to be respectful!
Carrie Goldman is the award-winning author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.
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