The Purple Hands Pledge

Bullyproofing our kids

by laura tode

The students at Highland Elementary start each school day with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the Purple Hands pledge.

“I will not use my hands or my words for hurting myself or others.”

The simple pledge is a daily reminder to treat one another with kindness, tolerance and support. In the hallway, children pass a large bulletin board papered with purple handprints, each with a student’s name and a red heart in the center. Again, it’s a reminder that hands and words are not for hurting.

“I don’t like to think bullying is normal, and it shouldn’t be a part of growing up, but it happens, and most kids are probably going to feel bullied at least once in their life,” said Tanya Kirschman the school counselor at Highland.

Kirschman implemented the Purple Hands Program last year to enhance the anti-bullying curriculum that’s already used in School District 2.

Across the district, every grade level from kindergarten through the sixth grade receives at least three bullying prevention lessons per year. The curriculum is aimed at teaching students how to recognize bullying and how to deal with a bully as well as what is expected of them if they witness bullying behavior.

Bullying is an intentional pattern of taunting, teasing, humiliation or intimidation that singles out an individual child. At times it can lead to physical harm. The worry and fear caused by a bully can distract a child from his or her schoolwork and inhibit their social development.

At each grade level, Kirschman hopes they learn more independent, peaceful problem-solving skills. Kindergarteners learn assertive statements like “I don’t like that. Please stop.” Older children are encouraged to add feeling statements, like “That makes me sad” or “I’m frustrated by that.” Using a feeling word helps, because all kids can identify with those feelings, Kirschman said. In the upper grades, she encourages empathy and fosters bystander intervention.

While schools are taking an increasing interest in bullying prevention, parents should also consider strategies to help their child avoid being bullied and, if it happens that they are a target, be prepared to help.

There is no way to determine if a child will become the target of bullying, but Kirschman said shy, reserved or sensitive children may be at a greater risk.

Be sensitive to your child’s demeanor and encourage them to stand tall, look everyone in the eye and be assertive, Kirschman said.

Self confidence is the best defense against bullying. Consider finding avenues where your child can excel, including sports, the arts or other enriching social activities. Becoming involved in group activities at the school can also help your child build a support network and feel less vulnerable.

Parental support and self confidence can help a child avoid being a target, but there is no way to predict whether or not it will happen to your child.

“Some kids won’t even talk about it,” Kirschman said. “So parents need to watch for changes in eating or sleeping habits or signs that they don’t want to go to school or be around other children.”

If you suspect your child is being bullied, ask questions to get them to open up. If you think your child might be reluctant to share, try using a hypothetical situation or the scene from a movie or television show to couch your questions.

“It can be embarrassing or shameful for kids sometimes, and they might feel like it’s their fault,” Kirschman said. “It never is, but they might think they have to deal with it on their own or they worry it will get worse if they tell an adult.”

Be a good listener, and be supportive, Kirschman said, but avoid jumping to conclusions or becoming overly involved. Try to gather all the facts and remember there is always more to the story.

“It’s emotional,” she added. “Nobody wants their child to be hurt, so it’s easy for parents to get upset. But it’s better to be calm and let the child do some of their own problem solving before getting too involved.”

Help your child come up with a plan to avoid the bully, or to avoid places where there is no adult supervision. Remind them to keep their emotions in check during confrontations. A reaction – anger, tears or even a snide comeback – is what a bully is looking for. Help your child develop some assertive responses and role play to build confidence if necessary.

Above all, don’t encourage your child to retaliate, Kirschman said. Your child will likely end up being unfairly disciplined alongside their bully, and the situation almost always escalates.

If the bullying doesn’t subside, parents should consider contacting school officials. Kirschman is always willing to help students deal with bullying. If a child is comfortable confronting the bully, Kirschman will arrange a conference.

“They usually discover they have a lot more in common than they thought,” she said. “They both want to be respected and treated nicely. Usually, we can come up with a plan to help them get along.”

If a child is uncomfortable with confrontation or fears retaliation from the bully, Kirschman can usually gather enough information to catch the bully in the act and intervene through regular channels of discipline.

If your child is ever hurt physically, or is threatened with physical harm, contact school officials immediately, Kirschman advised. SFM

Laura Tode is a freelance writer who lives in Red Lodge. She has written about children and families for more than a decade.