By Maja Watkins
Why are they acting like a bully?
My students often ask me this question at recess. I am a Social and Emotional Learning Specialist and work in classrooms as well as help create a positive recess experience every day at school. I have noticed that kids are trying to understand why their peers act the way they do. It is natural to be curious.
Bullying is when someone repeatedly and on purpose says or does mean or hurtful things to another person who has a hard time defending themself. Bullying is an intentional, negative act and is typically a repeated behavior and involves a power imbalance.
When addressing bullying, it is important to help the victim as well as the person demonstrating bullying behavior to prevent future occurrences. When we have empathy for both the kid being bullied and the kid demonstrating bullying behavior, we form a better understanding of one another, which nourishes social-emotional growth.
Helping kids better understand one another is not always easy … which got me thinking.
Is there a way to play an improv game that encourages a productive conversation about bullying behavior?
My game brain went into high gear. I started thinking about the definition of improv and the concept of “yes-and.”
To improvise is to accept the information given and expand through communication, allowing the interaction to continue. This, in the improv community, is called: yes-and. To yes-and is to take another person’s idea and add on instead of denying the idea. Since bullying behavior often triggers kids to ask many questions regarding this behavior, what if we added “why” to the concept of yes-and and turned this into a game?
I’ve decided to call this new game: Yes-and, why?
I played Yes-and, why? with a group of students. The dialogue went like this (I changed the names of my students for privacy reasons).
Me: “This person we are creating has a powerful singing voice.”
Andrew: “Yes, and they love to play with cats.”
Greg: “Yes, and they read a lot of books.”
Sean: “Yes, and they often stay home on the weekends and read instead of going to a party or out with friends.”
Jill: “Yes, and they love to go on long walks.”
Me: “Yes, and they sometimes tell other people’s secrets and spread rumors.”
Sam: “Yes, and they play the piano really nicely when they sing.”
Darcia: “Yes, and they wear the same color shirt every day.”
Stephanie: “Yes, and they jump up and down when they get excited.”
Me: “Yes, and they often pick on people.”
Kristen: “Yes, and they wear a baseball hat every day.”
Chris: “Yes, and sometimes they get mad.”
Me: “Yes, and they wear gloves on their hands.”
I inserted some bullying behaviors while playing the game to help encourage a conversation later on.
After each student was able to add their “Yes, and” idea, I told the class to either explain why this person has the quality they stated and/or they could expand on an idea that someone else said.
See below what the discussion turned into once we added the “why” element. I simply started off with what I originally said and then added “because” afterward to illustrate the concept to my students.
Me: “This person we are creating has a powerful singing voice because they studied music their whole life.”
Andrew: “Yes, and they love to play with cats because when they were younger they weren’t allowed to have a cat because their parents were allergic. I also want to give an idea on why they wear the same color shirt every day. Maybe it’s because they get nervous if they have too many options?”
Greg: “Yes, and they read a lot of books because they like fantasy and pretending to be other characters.”
Sean: “Yes, and they often stay home on the weekends and read instead of going to parties because they have a hard time talking to people.”
Jill: “Yes, and they love to go on long walks because they want to make sure they stay healthy because some of the books they read are actually health books as well.”
Me: “Yes, and they sometimes tell other people’s secrets because they don’t have too many friends and think this will get other people interested in what they have to say.”
Sam: “Yes, and they play the piano really nicely when they sing because their dad played the piano and taught them. I also want to add a reason why they don’t go out on the weekends, it could be because they prefer to just play video games?”
Darcia: “Yes, and they wear the same color shirt every day because of what Andrew said and also because the shirt is red, and red is their favorite color.”
Stephanie: “Yes, and they jump up and down when they get excited because they feel such big emotions they can’t stay still with their bodies.”
Me: “Yes, and they often pick on people because they have a big brother who picks on them at home so they think picking on others is the cool thing to do.”
Kristen: “Yes, and they wear a baseball hat every day because their brother game them this hat and they think their brother is so cool.”
Chris: “Yes, and sometimes they get mad because their brother gets really mad and that makes them mad.”
Me: “Yes, and they wear gloves on their hands because they are worried about germs. I will also add to Chris’s idea that they get mad and say that they get mad because they have to stay late at school every day, even on days they don’t feel that good.”
As you can see, the students thought about why this imaginary person is the way they are. In a subtle way, I added ideas that may remind the students of bullying behavior to help get them thinking of the “why.”
This game is great because no one names specific names in the exercise but perhaps the student who does bullying behavior will find some similarities or the one who is being victimized will find a connection that will inspire them to think deeper about the other person's actions and/or speak out on what is happening.
Using this game when discussing bullying behavior could add a learning component on why someone does what they do and how we can empathize. If kids can empathize with one another, they will naturally find the desire to show kindness. This happens because they build a relationship and see the wholeness of their peer rather than just viewing them as a “bully” or someone to bully.
Yes and, why? can be the launching point to discussing bullying behavior at school.
It is important to note that we can understand why someone demonstrates bullying behavior yet it is also important that we empower other students to defend and speak out against bullying.
It takes the whole school culture to stop bullying behavior, not just the ones doing the acts themselves. When we teach kids to understand where others are coming from, it encourages honest and open communication to help parents and teachers address bullying in a thoughtful, positive, and beneficial way.
Having open discussions about real issues with kids is what fosters a safe space to learn and communicate. When we encourage kids to discuss with adults and peers their concerns and observations around bullying, we give a voice to each individual. This enhances listening skills and helps prevent anyone from practicing bullying behavior or becoming the victim of bullying behavior. Playing a game like “Yes, and, why?” gets the juices flowing and I can say firsthand that kids start opening up with one another in a way that is truly beautiful to watch.
Playing improv games with your kids, free of devices, even for just 10 minutes a day for 10 days straight, will decrease attention-seeking behavior and increase laughter, joy, and fun. How can you do this? With our new e-book full of games that bolster social-emotional learning in children (and adults, too)!