JFS Perspectives

Monday, October 15, 2018

Girls Friendship Group Helps Prevent Bullying

Girls Friendship Group Helps Prevent Bullying

Did you know that JFS provides free mental health services to students and their families in schools? KidSuccess is a program that puts trained therapists work in 11 Denver public schools and one private school. One of the many issues our therapists address is bullying. October is National Bullying Prevention Month and we want to highlight how KidSuccess therapist Dana Polley successfully helped a group of fifth-grade girls.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics in 2016, one out of every five students reports being bullied (and many do not report these incidents). As we learn more about bullying, we see patterns differ between girls and boys. Often the studies about bullying focus on boys as physical aggressors, but girls can also be bullies, and it looks entirely different. Relational bullying, using isolation, name calling, cyber-bullying, and spreading rumors are the tools in the female bully’s arsenal.

Fifth grade can be an especially challenging time in the life of a student. Classwork and school expectations are steadily rising, the upcoming transition to middle school is looming, and social roles are shifting—all of which increase stress that many fifth graders face. Last school year, the KidSuccess team saw an increase in referrals at one school from fifth-grade female students, particularly around social skills, peer relationships, and bullying.

To respond to a growing bullying problem at the school, KidSuccess therapist Dana Polley implemented a friendship group that focused on problem solving, communicating feelings, and building empathy to address the specific needs that emerged in the school’s classrooms, playground, and hallways. During this weekly group, Dana helped girls learn about each other and discuss their feelings, and she provided tools for navigating their changing world.

According to Charisse Nixon, PhD, co-author of Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying, and an assistant professor of developmental psychology at Pennsylvania State University , girls bully due to feelings of jealousy and superiority, poor impulse control, and lack of empathy. Nixon believes girls bully when their basic needs of "ABCs and me"—acceptance (by self), belonging (among others), control, and meaningful existence—are thwarted. "These needs apply to everyone—children and adults," Nixon notes. “People will do what they need to do to get those needs met.”

Dana incorporated art activities, mindfulness practices, and empathy-building into the friendship group to enhance the students’ “tool boxes” of skills they may be lacking. Providing a space for girls to come together and an opportunity to share their experiences can help build those “ABCs and me.”

The group ended after 12 weeks as the girls prepared to move onto their next stage in life and education with more skills, hopefully more empathy for others, and a better awareness of the negative effects that bullying can have on each another.

To learn more about the KidSuccess program, please contact Lisa Rincon, School-based Mental Health Program manager.