A recent study in Pediatrics shows that more than 90,000 kids visit emergency departments each year for “intentional” injuries despite a growing awareness of bullying. This number doesn’t even include emotional injuries and pain.
“We know anybody can be a bully or a victim depending on circumstances,” says Stephen Leff, PhD, a CHOP psychologist who is co-director of the Hospital’s new Violence Prevention Initiative.
Leff and his colleague, psychologist and violence prevention program manager Brooke Paskewich, PsyD — along with a team of psychologists and social workers — are changing the way children think and, therefore, how they act. It starts with improving social and friendship skills, then entrenching positive behavior with a partnership among kids, teachers and parents.
Partner for Prevention with PRAISE and PLAYS
The Partner for Prevention (P4P) initiative is multi-pronged and consists of the PRAISE (Preventing Relational Aggression In Schools Everyday) and PLAYS (Playground, Lunchroom And Youth Success) programs, as well as a program for teacher support and coaching, and parent outreach workshops.
The programs take place in four Philadelphia public schools and focus on children in third, fourth and fifth grades. The kids meet twice a week over 10 weeks.
The PRAISE program — with support from Pew Charitable Trusts — teaches kids how to recognize when they’re starting to get angry (what their face and body feel like) as well as some practical cool-down strategies using visual imagery.
“We’re teaching them how to slow themselves down, to become good detectives about why something happened and to help them think through their choices in each situation,” says Leff. “We use cartooning, video illustrations and role-playing to help illustrate those points in a fun and engaging manner.”
PRAISE teaches perspective-taking skills to increase empathy for others. Kids are also instructed how to be a positive bystander and shut down bullying behavior before it can begin.
Redirecting 'friendship problems'
Lunchrooms and playgrounds are frequently arenas for bullying. With the PLAYS program, communication skills are taught to kids, and recess supervisors learn similar skills for these two hot zones.
Supervisors learn how to engage the kids, as well as how to monitor them, enforcing clear-cut playground behavior rules and redirecting kids into positive play.
“If students are kept busy during recess time, they’re much more likely to get along with others and not become involved in fighting,” says Leff.
What sets the P4P program apart is how it empowers children. Conventional bullying prevention is turned upside down through the program’s positive, uplifting approach.
“Instead of saying to kids, ‘We’re helping you to stop bullying,’ we tell them, ‘We’re helping you with friendship problems,’” says Paskewich. “The kids really enjoy it.”
By Christine McLaughlin