Bullying Stopped by Love and Accountability

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington and Nancy Higham

In The Higham Family School (a private school for grades K-3 students), there were no bullies. How did they stop bullying and create an encouraging environment? How did they make a difference in their students' live?

Nancy Higham explains:

In our school, we had no bullies.
Students may have come in that way, but they didn't stay that way long. To stop bullying, I think there needs to be a better understanding of the following:

  • You don't do children favors by letting them off the hook.
  • There has to be accountability.
  • You have to hold students to appropriate behavior.
  • There have to be discussions about what to do the next time they're in a similar situation.
  • Bullying is simply NOT okay.

We were models for the students. We respected them.
We never talked down to them, never saw them as immature or incomplete. We knew they had all the tools necessary to be respectful and successful.

What happens in public schools is backlash: you get bullied, so you dish it down. That didn't happen at our school. We let the students know that of course there would be people they'd rather spend time with, but they had to respect everyone.

It's also really important to have kids develop empathy for others.
My husband and I ate lunch out on the deck where we had conversations with the students and could assess how they were interacting. We didn't allow kids to gang up on someone. Whenever there was an issue, we brought the kids together and discussed the situation right away. If one child had hurt another's feelings, the two would talk. The one would explain how his feelings had been hurt, and the other would explain his point of view and then apologize if appropriate. Either the lesson was learned, or there was a consequence, or both. In the end, there was healing.

In my classroom, as in my husband's, the students and I were a team. We worked together to help others.
I had some kids with learning disabilities. I paired each one with another student who could help them stay focused. There was one student who couldn't speak; another had emotional problems. One of the learning-disabled students found music, and what a gift it was! We had managed to make it safe enough for these challenged students to be at the school. The kids were very good to them. They never ever teased or ostracized them.

We had the expectancy of a loving environment, and the students responded to it.
We believed in the goodness and innocence of all of our children. We did not hold any history a child might have against him. Rather, we saw the child's God-given identity and allowed each child to move past a bad or uncooperative attitude. We didn't put our students in permanent boxes or label them. We forgave the students, but we didn't excuse bad behavior. We held the students accountable and allowed them to start fresh each day.

We also helped re-educate parents. We wanted students to contribute to their families.
There were a few times when we had issues with parents who wanted to be god to their child, fix everything for their child, and be the only source for their child. We, on the other hand, were teaching children how to communicate and to be independent -- to make their own lunches (as much as they could), do the laundry, cook, and make a contribution to their family. Our school wasn't for everyone.

We ran classes for parents, who were able to discuss issues that were bothering them. One such problem, which doesn't have anything to do with bullying, had to do with family. One child just could not get going in the morning. So we told his parents to bring him to school when it was time in his pajamas, and we'd feed him breakfast. They did. After that, he was more cooperative with his parents.

We were there for parents as well as their children. We helped them find ways to be consistent with their children. We were available at any time to carry on a dialog to help families.