Empower kids to help each other

2008-09-22 00:00

When we read Simon Weaver’s article published in The Witness (September 9) we were very encouraged to see a school concerned with the severe global preoccupation with violence in schools.

Bystanders are certainly the first witnesses to a bullying situation. To step up and do something, do they need courage or do they need knowledge to understand the meaning of the act of bullying which leads to conflict?

According to Barbara Colozoso, author of The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystanders, bullying always involves three elements:

• an imbalance of power;

• an intention to harm; and

• threats of future aggression.

This future aggression becomes conflict. Bystanders and bullies both live in a violent environment. Who is responsible for this violent environment? Adults, the media, society and sometimes the family have played an active role.

Adults expect bystanders to act and solve the bullying problem. But how often do adults, consciously or unconsciously, show an imbalance of power, intend to harm and threaten their peers? Is it not time for adults to start changing their own behaviour? Or are they afraid to lose power?

In a bullying situation between two children does “getting the support or mediation of a more powerful agency such as an adult or teacher” not cause another power conflict between adults and children?

Bullying situations can be observed as early as during the pre-primary years. This is why the Psychomotor Programme was introduced into pre-primary schools in Pietermaritzburg in 2000. This programme is based on the non-violent communication philosophy of Aucouturier: “We do not hurt ourselves or hurt others.”

The Canadian technique (Prodas) is used in this programme to help children express their emotions and understand their behaviour. The activities promote self-discipline and install social rules. This programme has been recognised in many schools to have decreased the level of violence among children.

As an extension to the Psychomotor Programme, mediator training was introduced in 2004 into the Grade 4 class at Cordwalles. This training gave the boys skills with which to deal with conflict resolution resulting from bullying incidents. They followed the Prodas techniques and were able to be critical in a bullying situation and offer the parties involved their knowledge and strategies, without adult intervention. These boys were operational in the playground in 2005. Unfortunately, the second group who were trained in 2007 did not find enough support in their environment and were unable to implement their skills this year. These boys were not bystanders. They were informed mediators unsupported in their role.

Can we trust our children and let them be mediators or do we continue to always rely on a more powerful agency to intervene?

• Michele Kocheleff and Lynne Freestone are psychomotor educators.

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