Davidson Institute for Talent Development
This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Dr. Fred Frankel, who provides a number of strategies to help gifted students avoid bullying and develop friendships.
The following are excepts from my current book "Friends Forever: How Parents Can Help Their Kids Make and Keep Good Friends," and from a book I am current writing for Jossey-Bass to help teachers.
I define bullying as the chronic and systematic intimidation and or actual violence against one child by one other child who has significantly more power. This power may come from the perpetrators physical strength aggressive prowess or with the help of a group of friends of the perpetrator who assist them in bullying.
School is the major place where bullying occurs. Bullies have to feel that no one is watching and they have the upper hand in the power equation with their victims. Bullying occurs out of sight of adult supervisors. Most frequent locations are going to and from school including school bus, in bathrooms, and poorly supervised areas of the schoolyard. Bullying may also occur in cyberspace or on SMS or voicemail. It can occur through threatening messages to individuals. Steps that schools can take to prevent bullying:
- Separate grades
Since many bullies are older than their victims, interaction between grades can be discouraged. This can be accomplished in one of two ways: Each grade could be assigned its own area, with a large “no man’s land” between areas so that cross-overs can be easily detected. This might involve painting stripes on the play yard. Another alternative would be to assign recess at different times to different grades.
- Keep track of bullying incidents
All incidents of bullying should be reported in a central place so that someone in authority can determine if there is a pattern of one child being victimized. Otherwise bullies that prey on younger children may go undetected, victims may not be noticed or the gravity of their victimization may not be realized. Yard supervisors should report all incidents and should not accept the victim’s word that everything was in fun. If a bully-victim pattern emerges, schools have the evidence to purpose immediate action.
- Provide consequences, graded in severity according to the severity of bullying
Mild offenses that have only happened once should receive immediate but mild consequences, so as not to discourage reporting. A severe consequence for mild bullying may have the unintended consequence that people will be unwilling to report.
- Make it a school policy.
If school personnel have to enforce sanctions against a bully, they will be on firmer legal ground with a no bullying policy. The rule itself makes the very important statement that the school does not condone fighting and bullying. Some examples of school rules:
- No teasing. Do not refer to another student by anything but his/her name.
- No talking about things you didn’t actually see another child do.
- No fighting or threatening.
- Do not watch others fighting or teasing. Don’t join in teasing, even if you don’t like the victim.
- Do not listen to others who tell you to exclude someone. Decide for yourself whether you’d like to play with them.
Friendships protect against bullying. A potential victim who is alone is more enticing for a bully than one in the midst of a circle of friends. Also, friends can serve as witnesses to help report bullies.
Social Skills groups
There was a review article on the effectiveness of social groups that are never-ending, without a clear purpose or selection criteria for entry, and without any type of assessment. These are common to find in your community. They tend to produce little lasting effects upon children who are at least average cognitive abilities (goals may be different for children with developmental disabilities).
More effective social groups are ones that
- Screen children who may fit in so that they are within a narrow range,
- have a syllabus of evidence based skills to teach, and consequently, and
- are time limited.
In my groups,
- we prohibit the kids from social contacts with each other outside the group (e.g., no competition between group members for play dates; you are not forced to agree to a play date with a child you think is a poor match).
- we require one parent to attend and receive instruction on what they can do to support their child's friendships.
The evidence base for our groups is pretty strong. See our website for a more complete description of my intervention as well as the published studies demonstrating effectiveness: http://www.semel.ucla.edu/socialskills
Helping your child find friends
- Have your child join new after school activities (clubs, sports) that your child likes to do in order to meet new children with common interests. Mutual interests drive beginning friendships. Find activities that your child likes and hang around yourself to network with the parents when your child attends.
- Ask your child's teacher to suggest a good match. Be sure to give criteria - (1) may like each other, (2) have similar interests and (2) often chooses to play with each other during unstructured time.
- Beginning of the school year is a good time to meet new friends. Public schools tend to randomize assignment for every new grade, which has its good and bad points. The good is that if a girl doesn't happen to gel socially with her classmates, she has another shot at the beginning of the year. The beginning school year resorting can be advantageous for kids trying to make new friends because the whole class is doing it.
- For the elementary to middle school transition, look to sports or other local activities as the source of your son's best friendships. Put him in after school sports activities he likes which draw not from his elementary school, but his future middle school. Linger before and after the activity and see who he likes that you think is nice. Try to chat with the parents of these nice sports kids and try to make play dates with these kids.
A best friendship is a mutual relationship formed with affection and commitment, formed between people who consider themselves as equals. It is a child's first experience with true love.
A study matched either a pair of best friends together or a pair of kids who didn't know each other. Experimenters separately told each child diametrically opposite rules of a game they were about to play. They measured social competence before and after the game was played. Results were that the best friend pair quickly resolved their differences, went on to play the game, and their social competence increased as a result of their discussion. The unacquainted pair never got past their differences, didn't want anything to do with each other after the experience, and their social competence did not improve. Other studies have shown that people who have at least one best friend (brother/sister don't count), are more altruistic, better problem solvers and grow up to be better adjusted adults. The best way to promote best friendships is through parent-supervised one-on-one play dates, taking place at home.
I just had a study published that demonstrated that children with more hosted play dates at their home had higher quality interaction with peers on the school playground. A play date is a boost to self-esteem- to have someone over who chooses to be with you on a play date.
Play dates and skipping a grade
Parents of gifted and talented who wish to keep their children in public elementary school are often faced with lack of services for their children, especially in the early grades. Special pull-outs for older children often fall short of providing adequate educational stimulation. One option is to have the child skip a grade.
Perhaps the best time to try this approach is in the early grades (K and 1), when the new peer group is less likely to notice the skip.
Many schools will consider this option. In addition to requesting documentation for academic competence at the higher grade, they also consider the social ramifications. They will frequently consider of the child is mature enough to fit in with the older peer group. Misbehavior in an earlier grade (even due to under-stimulation / boredom) may count against the decision to advance a grade.
It may be best at some point to switch to a school specializing in gifted or highly gifted children so that the child and his peer group remain compatible as they grow up.
A good way for parents to assist their child to make these transitions, as well as to promote best friends in the new grade, is to have parent supervised play dates with peers who are in their new grade. I outline how to do this in step by step format in chapters of my book.
These play dates help develop friendships that cross over to the new class, so that the child will not feel lonely during recess and lunch and allow parents to intervene during "teachable moments" with peers.