Leadership Insights

Champions Against Bullying Founder Alexandra Penn: Start Teaching Social Skills Early

By Erin Flynn Jay February 24, 2016

Alexandra Penn, founder and crisis intervention specialist at Champions Against Bullying (CAB), urges teachers to use lesson plans that include tools for building confidence and self-esteem and discuss the importance of friendship and understanding individual differences.

“We may look different, observe different holidays [and] dress differently, but inside we all want to belong and fit in,” she said.

Start social-emotional education early

Formed in 2003, Champions Against Bullying is a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization. It offers anti-bullying programs, information and resources for educators, parents and students as young as preschool.

“Kids learn self-protection at an early age. They don’t mean to be mean when they grab a toy; sometimes they just don’t know how to ask for it,” said Penn. What does a healthy start for a 3- or 4-year-old look like? “Language is an important part and also the sharing concept. That’s one of the big things we want teachers and parents to look at,” she continued.

Because children can exhibit bullying behavior as early as 30 months, CAB has children’s workshops beginning in preschool. Workshop leaders teach social-emotional skills such as kindness and empathy using stories, pictures, and role-playing.

Develop social skills and reduce aggressive behavior in preschool

Together with her CAB colleague Leigh Faith-Fujimoto, Penn has written a book for preschoolers called “There’s A Bully In My Belly.” It’s written in rhyme because “the young set really remember rhymes, and they relate to it,” said Penn. The organization has been taking it into classrooms to test students’ reactions. “The enthusiasm of the children [and] the teachers has been complimentary,” she continued.

The authors created a bonus guidebook for parents and teachers with activities and discussions to enhance the conversations and develop social skills that boost learning and reduce aggressive behavior. “It’s through the social and emotional learning we’re doing this so kids can relate to the sharing, confidence and self-esteem,” Penn said. “The exercises build resilience.”

Educate older students about healthy relationships

As children get older, exclusion is another area Penn wants teachers and parents to talk about with their kids. “While they may not want to play with everybody at the time or invite everybody to their party, we want to give them the choice of language so they know how to say no without necessarily hurting someone’s feelings,” she said.

Champions Against Bullying’s workshop for tweens and teens address relationships, consent and boundaries. Students who participate in “Empowering Our Inner and Outer Selves” learn about sexual harassment, self-esteem and the way that music and media can portray or distort real life.

“We go into schools and do assemblies. We want to look at the entire school, the school climate — how does that influence what goes on in the school hallways, classrooms and cafeteria? Why are kids afraid to go to the wash room? This kind of thing,” said Penn. “For us, it’s looking at the whole picture, developing school safety policies and procedures, doing spot checks, anonymous reporting procedures.”

Educate parents through anti-bullying campaigns

Champions Against Bullying also provides workshops for parents. “Because the big thing about bullying is silence, denial, shame and blame. Silence is still a big thing among kids,” she said. “We want to educate the parents on how to learn about the signs of bullying and how to listen between the lines. We want parents to be the anchors.”

And being kind to everyone is key, concluded Penn.

Erin Flynn Jay is a writer, editor and publicist, working mainly with authors and small businesses since 2001. Erin’s interests also reach into the educational space, where her affinity for innovation spurs articles about early childhood education and learning strategies. She is based in Philadelphia.

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