School bullying statistics surveys show that 77% of students are bullied mentally, verbally, & physically.

This is a subject I’ve been working on for over 30 years as an educational consultant and author.

Through the non-profit I founded and direct called Lesson One, I work with schools nationally and teach skills such as empathy, self-control, self-confidence, respect for diversity and stress reduction. I go into classrooms, sight-unseen, to promote a culture change within each classroom and the school as a whole.  As a result, the schools are able to immediately replicate and institutionalize the intervention where teachers, administrators and parents integrate the skills with the academics on a daily basis. 

What’s exciting about the work is that children have fun as they play simple yet transforming games where they use these skills while engaging in an interactive classroom activity. The skills children internalize foster a safer learning environment and a healthier school community with less bullying and violence.  

As the anti-bullying movement comes more and more to the forefront, self-control is one skill that can help children learn to resist the temptation to bully and also walk away from a bully. 

It is the job of both parent and teacher to help children learn skills like self-control to avoid making choices that are unsafe and illegal.

In fact, a paper published last January in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences touted self-control as the main predictor of future success.  Children in the study that showed self-control throughout their childhood were more likely to be healthy, wealthy, and law-abiding as adults. 

As a first step, when talking about skills children can use to avoid bullying, teachers must make sure children thoroughly understand their meaning.  If teachers tell their students over and over to use self-control, how do they know that the children understand what they are saying?   The educational pioneer John Dewey theorized that children learn best through experiencing.  So when teachers talk about something like self-control, they can play a simple game to help children experience it.    For example, children can shake their hands when they hear the sound of a musical instrument.  When the music stops, they stop shaking.  Teachers can then ask, “who made you move and stop?” Quite often children think the instrument or teacher did, but they soon learn that they are in control of their hands and themselves and that is what self-control is.  Another activity involves blowing bubbles and asking the children to use their self-control to resist the temptation to pop them.  It’s a tangible and powerful exercise especially when making the connection that the bubbles represent the temptation to bully and/or walk away from a bully. 

It is also essential that adults share when they use self-control or haven’t used self-control in their own lives. Having discussions relating to self-control puts them on the same page with children.  This way they are not preaching, but giving all involved the opportunity to learn from each other (adults need to practice these skills just as much as children do). Both at school and home, adults must make it a priority to ensure time is given for such discussions to help children understand and internalize self-control. 

Once children internalize self-control, they will be less likely to be a perpetrator of bullying and more likely to be able to walk away from a bully and be proud of that decision. 

I have seen first-hand the results of the hard work schools have undertaken in implementing bully prevention strategies mentioned above where, remarkably, schools have reported of up to an 80% reduction in suspensions. 

It is admirable that Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga and other celebrities have joined anti-bullying cause. Lady Gaga’s partnership with Harvard University to combat bullying will certainly help make a difference in the lives of children and young adults.    The agenda must include the teaching of self-control, self-confidence and other social/emotional skills.  There are not quick fixes and like we teach academics we must make the needed investment to teach these skills for children to have a lifetime of success.  Without first laying that foundation, we will continue to hear disturbing statistics and troubling stories of bullying, violence and crime. 

Jon Oliver is the director of the non-profit Lesson One and is a nationally recognized educator, presenter and author.  He holds a bachelor’s degree from Emerson College and Master’s degree from Lesley University.  For over 35 years, Jon has been working in schools and communities to help make a culture change for social and academic success.  He has also been a frequent presenter at workshops and conferences throughout the country and Canada. His book, Lesson One: The ABCs of Life was released in January, 2004 to rave reviews from professionals in the field of child development.  Dr. James Comer of Yale said, “Lesson One:  The ABCs of Life is accessible and an excellent guide for parents, educators, and all who work with children.”    Dr. Alvin Poussaint of Harvard said, “Jon Oliver’s entire career has been an expression of his passion for helping children and adults learn the practical skills for happy, healthy and productive lives.”  Bill Cosby wrote, “Lesson One is full of good, workable suggestions.  Let us pay attention, now.”  Jon has been invited to a White House ceremony where his Lesson One program was lauded as a model.  He has appeared frequently in the news media including on Dateline, World News Tonight, CNN, and in Parade Magazine.

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