Weston's Donna Housman, a child psychologist and early education specialist, will lead two discussions on bullying prevention, in addition to hosting an advance screening of "Bully," a documentary on the topic.
"Bully" will be screened at the in Brookline on Wednesday, April 4, at 7 p.m. Housman will lead an informal discussion on bullying and answer questions following the screening. Tickets to the film are free, however registration is required.
Housman, founder and executive director of in Weston, will also give a talk on bullying prevention at the Beginnings School on Wednesday, April 11, from 7 to 8 p.m. More information is available on the school's website.
Weston Patch spoke with Housman on bullying earlier this week.
Patch: Who do you think should see "Bully" – and why?
Housman: I think everyone should see it. Parents, educators, administrators, children – everyone could really benefit from seeing the film. I think it’s a very important, powerful, disturbing and courageous film. My understanding is that the rating was changed to unrated. It was given an R rating initially because of language. But it’s really the language of kids, and kids really need to be there, probably starting in fourth grade. Incidences of bullying peak in fourth to eighth grade.
Patch: What part of the documentary resonated most with you?
Housman: What resonated with me was the pain that these kids experience. And the lack of adult awareness, to be able to be there, to help these kids on both sides — the person being bullied and the person who is the bully. We need to really understand the impact of this behavior, and the cause and effect in children’s lives. Adults have to be aware, to be there for kids, to listen, and to help kids understand their problems and solve them in more productive ways. This film is raising awareness among adults on what is really going on with bullying, to be there to help kids understand their emotions and be able to communicate in healthy ways.
Patch: When in childhood does bullying begin, and are there warning signs that a child is becoming a bully or being bullied?
Housman: I see it happen with children at school here at the Beginnings School of Weston — it really starts as “teasing.” We’re here to help children from very early on, in the first three to four years, become aware of their emotions and communicate in more empathetic ways. In doing so, children realize that teasing has an impact on others. We talk about what happens, and other ways to communicate with children that are more helpful, kind and respectful. We see it as early as preschool. That is why it’s important for parents and educators to understand and help children become aware of their emotions. All emotions are fine, it’s what they’re doing with them that makes a difference.
Patch: What can parents do to keep their kids from becoming bullies, or being bullied?
Housman: I think parents can be very helpful in being there for their children. By watching for certain signs — when they start seeing their child behave in different ways, that’s a signal that something is up. To be able to be there to ask a child what may be going on, in a way that makes the child feel safe about sharing, and not be ridiculed for what’s happening. Children need a safe haven to be understood, and someone to sort through conflicts with, in productive and constructive ways. When parents and educators can be available to kids by helping them be emotionally competent, it allows them to feel confidence and resiliency to deal with day-to-day struggles in a more constructive way.
Patch: How important is it for adults to talk to kids of all ages about bullying?
Housman: There’s never too early of an age to talk about being kind to one another, and how to talk in ways that don’t hurt another person. It’s never too early to help children understand and channel their expressions in more compassionate, aware ways. It is common that they are feeling something or needing something, but need to be respectful that the other person has feelings about a situation too. At least 56 percent of children in the U.S. are bullied. And close to 75 percent of children who are on the spectrum are bullied. It’s far greater that children with a disability are being bullied. It’s too great with any child, but it’s even greater with children with disabilities.