Our society has adopted some dangerous ways of thinking in terms of relationships, bullying, and conflict resolution but you CAN break the pattern!

by Susan Fitzell


Throw Out Patterns of Thinking that Accept or Excuse Bullying

Relationship Skills and Our Role as Teachers and ParentsWe have reached a point in our society where it can no longer be acceptable to sit back and watch children engage in name-calling, taunting, pushing, and grabbing, as if resigned to the inevitability of this kind of bullying. Also, in regards to gender stereotypes, the adage that boys will be boys is a dinosaur. If we want children to be of good character and able to handle conflict peacefully, we need to cast out patterns in our thinking that say, This behavior is normal. Its been going on forever. There is nothing I can do about it. There IS something you can do! Children need to have their natural sense of empathy fostered and encouraged. They need to be taught to see other people’s points of view. It is important that the consequences of their actions are explained to them in terms that drive the point home.

React with “Moral Feeling”

Thomas Lickona in Educating For Character (1992) states, “Recent child-rearing research finds that children who are the most empathic and altruistic have parents who react strongly to their children’s offenses.” For example, you might say, “You hurt Amy. Pulling hair hurts! Don’t ever pull hair!” rather than “How do you think it feels when you pull Amy’s hair?” or “Do you think it’s a good idea to pull Amy’s hair?” It’s the combination of the parents’ moral reasoning and moral feeling that appears to motivate children to take seriously what they have done and to become sensitive to the feelings of others. I personally have found this to be true with my children. If emphatic moral feeling is attached to the reprimand and reasoning, children pay attention. By simply saying, “Don’t pull Amy’s hair. It’s not nice.” — with or without punishment — we will not teach the child to relate his/her behavior to another’s hurt.

Reduce and Monitor Television Viewing

It is also important to note that learning relationship skills is taking a back seat to watching TV and videos and playing video games. Children are not interacting with each other to build necessary social skills. Children bring their computer games to school, which further decreases interactive games and activities. Preschool and primary school teachers repeatedly tell me that children are coming to school without basic social skills. These teachers believe that the media play a large role in this situation. The TV is a wonderful baby-sitter! The price we pay for that “baby-sitter” is costing our children the ability to develop socially.

Teach Social Skills and Expect Courtesy

We need to teach relationship skills in our classrooms and homes. We get so many mixed messages from society and our culture that it is sometimes difficult to know which relationship skills we are missing. Courtesy has gone by the wayside. We often don’t even notice when our children don’t say “please,” “thank you,” or “excuse me.” Language has become littered with vulgarity. Vulgar language seems so commonplace now that it is the accepted norm in many families. “Put-downs” are a form of accepted humor. This is reinforced by countless “sit-corns” where we are entertained by family members and friends insulting each other all in the name of humor.

5 Practical Suggestions for Relationships

  • Teach social skills.
  • Teach and reinforce courtesy.
  • React with “Moral Feeling.”
  • Throw out patterns of thinking that accept or excuse bullying:
    • “Boys will be boys!”
    • “Hazing is a tradition!”
    • “Name-calling is normal!”
  • Reduce and monitor television viewing. Encourage interactive play with other children.

Free the Children, Conflict Education for Strong, Peaceful MindsFor more information about conflict education and caring communities, see Susan Fitzell’s book, Free The Children, Conflict Education for Strong and Peaceful Minds. Available in both print and electronic versions!

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