4 Steps to a Safer Recess


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Expert advice on dealing with bullying

By Lori Hadacek Chaplin

TCT talked with Lynne Lang, author of Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline (OSV Publishing), about some of the dos and don’ts of dealing with inappropriate recess behavior. Lang has nearly 30 years of experience in the field of safety and violence prevention. She’s an advocate of Restorative Practices, an emerging social science that studies the human need for dignity and belonging and how to cultivate healthy relationships. ∞ RestorationMatters.org

No bully labels

Lang recommends that the school remove the “bully” label from your school. She told TCT, “Labels are sticky and prevent students from returning to a place of belonging in the community.”

When dealing with bad behavior, Lang recommends that teachers begin from a place of virtue rather than swift punishment to help the offender to understand how they have hurt another person.

For example, if a teacher sees a child push another child, many times the teacher has a knee-jerk reaction. She might say, “I saw you pushing him, and you will sit out for the rest of the recess.”

This is not the most helpful response because it doesn’t repair the harm between the two students. Instead, the offender walks away angry, resentful, and looking for revenge.

“It’s the simmering pot, and it doesn’t ever really come to a positive resolution,” she shares.

“Another less helpful response would be a forced apology. Without a sincere apology, the student cannot take full responsibility for the pain they have caused another person,” adds Lang.

Ask questions

“What I’m observing as an adult might be very different than their reality. I don’t have all the information,” notes Lang.

She suggests asking the children in the dispute four questions:

  • What happened?
  • Who was affected by what happened?
  • What has been the hardest thing about this?
  • How can we make things right?

Though it takes more effort, teachers can have a positive impact by showing respect for the dignity of each child.

“It will always be easier to suspend, expel, isolate, or medicate students than to work at improving the quality of relationships,” she says. “When children seem most unlovable, that’s when they need love the most — and this is true for us as well.”

No tattletale label

Another label that’s harmful to students is “tattletale.” Lang maintains that we need to wipe out the term because it has caused a great deal of pain and harm. Children should be free to talk about the impact other students’ behaviors have on them.

She points to the Columbine school massacre as an example of when students knew something terrible was going to happen, but failed to report it.

“Look at how many kids were standing in the rotunda waiting for the attacker because they knew what was going to happen, but they instinctively didn’t want to tell,” she says.

“We want to make sure that we let kids know that whatever they have to say is important. And we have to teach them the difference between reporting versus tattling. They should understand that tattling is wanting to get somebody into trouble, but reporting is trying to keep someone out of trouble.”

Why the bullying problem continues

Children learn to resolve conflicts by watching their parents.

“They walk into the world we create for them,” Lang states. “Bullying is an adult problem. When families lack the skills to handle conflicts at home, children come to school with a lack of skill, waiting for us to teach them.”

Lang explains that school safety involves the parents, the school staff, and the students. All three have to work together respectfully.

Our schools are a microcosm of society. The violence in our culture is amplified, and our children are watching us, waiting for us to make a better future for them. Children are our hope for the future, but we are the hope for theirs. (Lynne Lang)

Lori Hadacek Chaplin is a senior writer and columnist for Catholic Digest magazine. Her articles appear regularly in Today’s Catholic Teacher, National Catholic Register, Celebrate Life magazine, and OSV Weekly. She lives in Idaho with her husband David and their four children.

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