Bullying, as defined by the US government’s anti-bullying website, stopbullying.gov, is “intentionally aggressive, usually repeated, verbal, social, or physical behavior aimed at a specific person or group of people.” The sad truth is that as of 2014, bullying has risen to epidemic proportions in this country. According to DoSomething.org, an overwhelming 90 percent of youth from Grades 4 through 8 have been bullied at some point.
Behavioral counselors agree that bullies are bred, not born, and that educational activities designed to teach children about the hazards of bullying are highly effective at getting the message across early. With that in mind, following are some of bullying activities for kids which have been developed to teach children about the negative effects that bullying has on another person.
The Wrinkled Willow Exercise
The Wrinkled Willow Exercise is a great activity to use with younger children. Guiding children through this exercise is rather simple. Starting with a clean, crisp sheet of paper, have participants to draw an outline of a person (be sure the participant draws a full body outline, not just a face or stick figure. You can also provide an cutout which students can trace to create an outline.).
Next, students will assign a name to the person represented by the outline. In this example, we will use the name Willow. All over that outline, participants will write all types of rude, disrespectful, bullying comments. For example, comments could include such statements as, “Get away from us; nobody likes you,” or “You’re such a loser,” or “Willow, you’re stupid.” Have participants to cover the entire outline with bullying statements directed toward Willow.
Once they have finished, have each participant to crumple the entire sheet of paper, then undo the crumpling, trying to smooth out the page again. From here (if you have enough space), post the pictures around the room or on a board at the front of the room. From here, the pictures offer the participants an image that can be translated to what bullying does to its victims.
Explain the negative impact those harsh, critical words have had on the bullying victim, how those negative statements can damage a person’s self-image, can lead to feelings of defeat which is often reflected in a person’s body language. More importantly, those wrinkled sheets of paper remind participants that you cannot “take back” negative words or undo their effect, just as they could not completely remove the wrinkles from the sheet of paper (though they tried). That’s what happens with bullying victims, and those sheets of paper provide children with a tangible example they can relate to.
To offer a contrast, have students repeat the outline, giving the outline the same name, but this time, not crumpling the sheet of paper. Have participants write nice, positive, uplifting comments. Post the second outlines around the room or on the board, then enter into an open-ended discussion with the entire group, or break up participants into smaller groups.
The Toothpaste Challenge
The toothpaste challenge is an easy, quick and inexpensive activity that can be performed with students of varying ages (including young children). In this activity, simply take a piece of masking tape and place a portion across a desk. Set a tube of toothpaste right next to it.
Next, ask for a volunteer to come up. The volunteer will use the toothpaste to cover the length of the piece of masking tape. Once the volunteer has completed this portion of the request, ask him or her to now take the toothpaste which was just dispersed across that piece of masking tape, and put it back into the tube.
Obviously, this individual will attempt — unsuccessfully — to return the toothpaste to the tube, and it will take a few minutes of trying before it becomes clear to both the volunteer and all the other participants in the room that this simply is not possible.
The purpose of this exercise is to relate the effect of harsh and critical words to the toothpaste, demonstrating that the toothpaste, like those words, simply cannot be taken back. One of the most important things to remember in selecting bullying activities for kids is finding exercises which underscore to them what those poorly chosen, hurtful words do to the victim. However, participants should also be reminded that the damage cannot be reversed.
In Positive Self-Talk, students learn to counter any negative messages with positive messages they speak about themselves. Start with a blank piece of paper, asking students to list messages–positive or negative–that they’ve received from others. Then, ask students whether or not they’ve adopted those messages (and whether or not they still believe those messages today). This activity can often prompt thought-provoking conversation, and provides a great lead-in to conversations about self-acceptance.
Have students to write out Positive Self-Talk statements (similar to these examples) and ask them to repeat those PST statements daily:
- I am a good, caring person who deserves to be treated with respect.
- I deserve happiness in my life.
- I’m capable of achieving success.
Bullying activities for kids in the middle grades or in high school are often effective when stimulating discussions and group activities are involved. These are the years when peer pressure reaches new heights, but after discussing the irreversible damage caused by bullying (perhaps using activities such as the Toothpaste Challenge), students can choose to participate in a Unity Pledge, which will involve the signing of a Unity Petition.
A Unity Poster can be printed, and each student can sign the poster, along with a printed or digital petition which essentially says that individuals signing the poster/petition agree not to participate in any bullying activity. From there, a classroom-wide or school-wide essay contest can be entered into, students can be assigned the task of writing an anti-bullying announcement (to be read over the school’s PA system during morning announcements or within the individual classroom) and the petition or pledge can underscore their commitment to prevent and to end bullying.
Because students in middle grades and high school are often really interested in both media and social media, having students collectively participate in the creation of a PSA against bullying is a great way to prompt stimulating discussions, to promote unity and to offer a platform for students to express their opinions on the subject. Students can use statistics, activities, personal accounts, etc., to underscore the damage bullying causes. This activity can be done by one or more classrooms, as a contest, or as a grade-level or school-wide project.