This year Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week is November 19-23.Schools across the region will be planning initiatives and activities to promote respect, empathy for others, to build awareness and prevention of bullying and mistreatment. Various activities have been planned including classroom discussions about what constitutes bullying and how to respond, large group presentations, creating posters against bullying behaviour and sending positive messages about kindness, respect and being inclusive. These types of activities are important because they do increase awareness, highlight the need for renewed efforts against bullying and because we have an opportunity as an entire school system to reflect on how bullying affects us all. As well teachers, schools and the Boards also send the message that bullying and mistreatment are unacceptable in our culture and must be addressed.

Unfortunately most of the kids already know bullying and mistreatment are unacceptable and the “wrong thing to do.” For some these types of activities could strengthen their resolve not to bully or to support those who are mistreated. Although these types of activities are positive and useful in the struggle against bullying the biggest impact a teacher or school can make is to develop an ongoing program that teaches kids the skills they need to solve problems in socially acceptable ways. In my view this can be accomplished over a period of time by implementing Collaborative Problem Solving(CPS) on a school wide level so we teach kids the skills necessary so bullying and mistreatment can not take hold in the school environment.

Using CPS is not easy. Staff need to be trained and then supported or coached to develop their skills and comfort with the process. Research has shown that CPS is an effective tool to reduce challenging behaviour, solve problems durably, teach cognitive thinking skills, develop intrinsic motivation to behave in socially acceptable ways and build the helping relationship kids need with their teachers and parents. This is done through a relational approach using real situations that are relevant to the child(ren).To have a significant long term positive impact and reduce bullying behaviour we need an ongoing program that teaches the problem solving, frustration tolerance and cognitive flexibility skills kids need for success.

As a start for anyone not trained in CPS consider these four simple ideas:
1. “Kids do well if they can.” They are not intentionally manipulative or mean spirited.
2. How you explain the behaviour determines how you respond. Think about what caused the behaviour as something to figure out. Don’t focus on the behaviour itself when trying to problem solve.
3. Think “skill, not will” as the issue. The kid doesn’t have the skill to do the right thing. If he did have the skill he would, as doing well or the right thing, is preferable to doing poorly.
4. Stay calm when challenging behaviour occurs.

Doing Plan B effectively is hard although starting with the ideas/thoughts above can help us make some progress toward collaborative solutions.