Trigger Warning: This story mentions bullying and suicide.
Disclaimer: These lessons rely heavily on the book Chrysanthemum which you can get here by using an Amazon affiliate link.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”
Those words have been said by everyone at least once in their lives. However, the truth is, names can hurt and leave a lasting effect on some people. Kids are no different. Bullying, name-calling, etc. are becoming more and more prevalent even at a young age. That is why it is important to have a lesson about kindness at least once during the school; year.
It is not uncommon to hear students calling each other “stupid” or “dumb” even in young grades. The older students get, the more hurtful the names can become.
I recently learned that October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Having a month dedicated to the prevention of bullying is great. However, I think teaching kindness can and should be taught at any time!
When I started teaching one thing was very important to me was that each and every child that was in my class felt safe, happy, and appreciated who they were. Bullying prevention is something I am very passionate about. Why? Because I was bullied.
My brush with being bullied started in middle school and extended well into high school. I was the new kid. The unfashionable one. The nerd. My teen years were spent getting drinks thrown on me, getting spit on, having horrible things written on my locker, and being called “dog” and “ugly”.
When you are a teenager and your parents are telling you not to listen to the bullies, you ignore your parents and listen ONLY to the bullies. Sadly, this is true for people of any age.
I honestly barely survived and like so many bullied teens, began to self-harm and had a suicide attempt. It is not something I really like to talk about except to show that words do matter. My hope is to one day have a world with no bullying whatsoever and my heart goes out to anyone who also lived through it.
A kid shouldn’t fear going to school, or fear retaliation if they do seek help from an adult. Bullying is spreading like cancer because there are so many more tools for a bully today.
Long gone are the days of simply stealing someone else’s lunch money. Now someone can simply log onto social media in the comfort of their home (and away from teachers’ discipline) and launch an attack on anyone. With so much going on outside the classroom, children, no matter how old, should learn the effect their words have.
Preventing Bullying in the Classroom
When I became a teacher I was a little shocked to hear hurtful words sometimes come out of a little second grader’s mouth. I had my fair share of bullies in a few of my classes and I will admit, some were harder to reach than others.
The one thing I would say to these bullies is to think about the future. I would ask them to think about if they were to have children one day, how would they feel if their own child was the bully or being bullied?
With older children and teens this lesson becomes even deeper. Depression, suicide, etc. are surprisingly words one class knew. They began to realize that what they do or say can affect someone else in such a horrible way.
I searched high and low to find a way to teach kids about the effects their words can have. When I started using this lesson along with the book, it was like a light bulb came on! At the beginning of the school year, I read the book Chrysanthemum to my kids. In the book, a mouse is starting school and she is so excited. It helps that her name is “absolutely perfect”, until the bullies begin their taunts, mocking her once-beloved name.
While Chrysanthemum focuses a lot on the main character’s name, there is so much more to it. To me, this book teaches children, teens, and yes, even adults such as myself, to love and accept who they are. Whether they have a unique name, don’t look like their classmates, have learning disabilities or anything else!
A wrinkled heart is one of my favorite lessons and the best thing about it, aside from the fact that it really does teach kids that words matter, is that it is super easy!
Prior to reading the story, I had my kids cut out a paper heart and write their name on it. I explained that each time the bully said something mean to Chrysanthemum I wanted them to crunch up their heart. Towards the end of the story, all my kids were holding shriveled red construction paper balls. I then told the kids to try and flatten their hearts each time Chrysanthemum felt a little happier.
The lesson was this:
No matter how hard you try, you cannot erase the wrinkles on a heart put there by words.
Teachers Make A Difference
In my year’s teaching, I always tried to make each of my students feel loved and confident in themselves. I honestly had a hard time telling them “It will get better” because, in reality, it doesn’t always easily get better. My first class of students is now in middle school or high school, and I know some of them are going through rough times. I keep a separate Facebook account because a lot of my old kiddos kept trying to add me, so I made a teacher page. Reading status updates that hinted at suicide or reading about their latest heartbreak is so hard…and I am not even their parent. Teachers, please realize bullying can occur at any age!
Even if a child is not in your class, the biggest key to preventing bullying is to try and spot it or teach how to prevent it before it becomes worse. This is particularly important now with cyberbullying, students should learn how to combat even the cyberbullies at home. I know sadly bullying will never truly end, but it is our job as educators not only to educate children on subjects but how to be a kind human beings.
If you are looking to enhance this lesson, even more, check out my Chrysanthemum Unit. My Chrysanthemum unit has been completely updated and now includes even more math and language arts Chrysanthemum-themed printables, several writing crafts, and, ideas for teaching kindness that can be used during any time of the year!
How do you eliminate bullying in the classroom and help kids have great self-esteem?