How stories can help tackle bullying

How stories can help tackle bullying

The 11th – 15th November might be Anti-Bullying Week but there’s never a wrong time to talk about bullying or to find ways to deal with it.

Stories are a versatile and powerful way of helping children (and all of us come to that) learn. It was through our work with early years practitioners that it became apparent that stories would be a great way to help practitioners identify safeguarding issues and to help them assess whether they might need to raise a concern sheet and bullying definitely falls into that category.

Why use stories?

Children will naturally use stories and play to help them make sense of things or to help them solve their problems. Psychologist Gopnik, Meltzoff and Kuhl explained how we all use stories in their 1999 work “The Scientist in The Crib”.

“Our brains were designed by evolution to develop story representations from sensory input that accurately approximate real things and experiences in the world. Those programs…let us predict what the world will be like and so act on it effectively. They are nature’s way of solving the problem of knowledge.”

Stories help us to build empathy by giving us the opportunity to put ourselves into the character’s shoes. It helps children to either identify how their behaviour affects others, or to help them identify what is happening to them and how they can deal with it.

What are the signs to look for?

Storytime is a great opportunity to help you understand what might be going on in a child’s inner world. So when children are playing and telling stories, watch how they interact with others and listen to the stories they make up; it might give you some clues as to what they are trying to deal with. Take note if:

  • A child who would normally join in seems withdrawn
  • They are reluctant speakers
  • They are being deliberately naughty. Children will sometimes be naughty to get attention even though it’s the wrong attention. They could also be copying behaviour they think is normal
  • A child is showing signs of frustration

Other signs children are being bullied are eating problems, sleeping problems or complaining of tummy aches and are reluctant to come to the setting.

So how can you use stories to help tackle bullying?

Creative storytelling
(no article from me would be complete without it!)
This is where the children make up puppets of the characters in a story or something linked to the story that helps them retell the story with you. This is useful in a number of ways:

  • You can watch how they interact with others
  • You can listen to the stories that the children tell with their puppets – often once they have retold the story with you, they will go off and make up their own stories which should be actively encouraged. This gives you an opportunity to observe; are they mimicking behaviours they’ve seen elsewhere?
  • You can talk to them about the story they are acting out with you and ask them relevant questions. Children will often open up when they are using a puppet because it’s not about them. In addition for any child who is bullying they need to understand the repercussions and consequences of their actions as our role is help these children grow into responsible and compassionate adults, and as we all know, our childhood can shape the person we become. By discussing how and why a character has acted in a certain way, this can be explored.
  • It’s also a great way to build teamwork and sharing, so it helps them to develop friendships.

Fairy tales
We like to use fairy tales proactively to discuss topics and they are an ideal way to introduce the subject of bullying. Stories are rich in metaphor and children use metaphor quite naturally so it’s a great way for them to learn right from wrong.

Identify what’s happening in the story and talk about it. Listen closely to what they tell you in their responses and how they interpret the story.

For instance, with “The Ugly Duckling” story, get the children to make two duck puppets and they can take turns being the one being bullied and the one doing the bullying.

Making up stories
Use feelings and emotions cards which have a picture of a scene on one side and prompts and questions you can use on the back. They are a great way to start a discussion and something that early years practitioners have found useful as a way to broach a subject.

With small groups if you are trying to find out whether there is a problem, then why not get the children to tell you a story entitled ‘If I could make something disappear in my life, what would it be and why?’

So these are just a few ideas of how you can use stories to help deal with the bullying or to help children understand more about bullying and the effects it can have.

We also run practical interactive workshops on how to use stories to keep children safe as well as how to record stories with children, so for more information go to www.littlecreativedays.co.uk or contact us on 01488 468901. Why not join us on the 27th January, 2020 when we are running two workshops, Recording children’s stories and Tales around the world for EYR in Manchester.


 About the author

Tonya Meers is the Chief Storyteller at Little Creative Days. Tonya believes that stories are the most versatile and powerful educational tool you can use and there isn’t anything that you can’t teach through a story. She is co-author of the multi-award-winning Pojo series of educational creative storytelling kits, which have won awards for their promotion of communication and language skills for early years and primary school-aged children. In addition, she and her storytelling sister/business partner also deliver training and workshops for early years practitioners, local authorities and primary schools. They offer a range of interactive workshops to encourage, engage and enable children to develop a love of literacy.

You can contact Tonya at Little Creative Days via email@littlecreativedays.co.uk, on Twitter or via Facebook.

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