October is National Bullying Prevention Month. How To Learn is please to present the tips for preventing bullying and helping both bullies and those who are bullied below from Donna Jaffe, president of Peaceable Kingdom, a leader in the cooperative game play space.
1. Cooperative games encourage empathy, among other pro-social behaviors – empathy is the ability to name and recognize feelings, in yourself and others. There are many ways to build empathy, but the most successful are those that integrate the learning into something that is playful and fun. You don’t play cooperative games to be more empathic, it just happens. As a single team with a single goal, all players are tied to the outcome in a way that makes us share the emotional ups and downs. We feel the other players’ experience and respond to their feelings. When one player has to do something in the game that is not beneficial or might “help the bad guy,” often another player will feel that twinge of anxiety and say something to comfort that player.
2. Cooperative games teach kids to share – sharing is a small act of generosity with big impact – for both the receiver and the giver. When kids share they actually feel better about themselves. Not when they are forced to share, but when they share because they want to. Imagine sharing the movers in a board game. Instead of each player having his own mover and trying to get to the finish line first, all players move all the movers – whatever is the best move on the board on their turn. It’s a fairly radial thought at first for kids, but once they realize they’re working together, the sharing happens without even thinking.
3. Cooperative games are inclusive – everyone knows how to play Musical Chairs the competitive way. Cooperative Musical Chairs is the ultimate competitive game alternative. In cooperative musical chairs no player is ever “out.” Instead, players start with one chair less than the number of players and continue to eliminate chairs each round without eliminating players. Ever seen eight kids climb all over each other to “sit” on one chair? That’s teamwork without an enemy and gives kids the feeling of being included and valued, a sense of belonging to the group. Ever seen two kids scramble to be the only one to sit in the last remaining chair in competitive musical chairs? It’s a battle. The child who loses naturally feels as anyone would in that circumstance – like a loser and mad at themselves or others. Feelings of unworthiness, sadness, loneliness, or anxiousness can breed aggression. Bullies are fueled by those feelings.
4. Cooperative games build habits of cooperation – playing cooperative games gets kids in the habit of working together. Our lives are acculturated to competition – at home, in school, in sports. Competition is stressful for many kids. Sometimes that stress can lead kids to see themselves as rivals rather than peers – some kids becoming dominant and others more timid. Cooperative games build cooperative habits as a group – problem-solving, sharing in decision-making, taking turns, respecting other players’ input. Respect is a key ingredient in the best examples of cooperation. Imagine what it would be like for a kid who has been bullied or who is seen as a bully to be part of team where his opinions are honored.
5. Cooperative games have the potential to change our world – a sustainable, healthy, vibrant and peaceful planet needs people to work together – to cooperate. Cooperative habits are those that look beyond ourselves for our own gain and to the greater good for all. It starts with learning how to play together.
Donna Jaffe is the founder of Peaceable Kingdom.