Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
How profoundly true this statement is when it comes to bullying. Bullying happens in schools and communities every day. It may come in the form of physical, verbal, or relational abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ anti-bullying website, children who are bullied have a greater risk of struggling with anxiety and depression while children who bully have a higher risk of abusing alcohol and drugs. Bystanders have an increased risk of both.
“It takes an entire community to build a positive social culture that rejects bullying,” observes Amanda Cook, founder and director of The Respect Program, a part of the Exchange Club Family Center. In order for children to become successful in life, they need safe places to live, learn, and play.
The Respect Program builds resiliency skills in children ages 2 to 14 and reduces bullying through literature and artistic expression. The program runs for seven weeks where children meet once a week for an hour to listen to stories and create an art project. Adults also receive an anti-bullying workshop that covers topics such as bullying basics, play and social skills, and using literature to address bullying.
I attended a workshop offered at the Lucius and Elsie Burch, Jr. Library in Collierville with my children. Cook used role play to demonstrate the various tools you can use to stand up to a bully. My 10-year-old son’s favorite part was when she showed us how to change the subject when encountered by a bully. When someone teases you, distract the bully by talking calmly about other things, saying, "Hey, I really like your cool shoes."
Cook says ignoring a bully never really works; the bully tries to push our buttons to get our reaction. At the end of the workshop, children are given a small wooden treasure chest to decorate, writing down their talents on small slips of paper, and placing them in the box.
Cook further points out that the program provides children a language to discuss bullying. It uses age appropriate stories, poems, role plays, journaling, and visual art projects to help children regulate emotions, be assertive without being aggressive, and develop healthy friendships.
“By addressing bullying, we can continue to keep King’s vision alive of a world where people from different backgrounds can live in peace with one another,” concludes Cook. To bring The Respect Program to your school or community agency, visit growingrespect.com or call 483-1995.