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NewsTribune photo/Shannon Crawley-Serpette Sadie Heinrich (from left), Katrien Holocker and Anthony Robertson, all fifth-grade students at Putnam County Elementary School in Hennepin, do a role-playing exercise in which Robertson is a bully and Heinrich and Holocker must handle the situation. Role-playing is one way in which school social worker Brandy Baele teaches children how to handle themselves in difficult social situations.
Signs of trouble
Possible signs a child is having a problem at school: - The child may want to stay home. - The child may have stomach aches. - The child may become quiet or withdrawn. - Even if a child is having social problems at school, he or she may not bring it up to family members.
HENNEPIN — Social problems at school can cause anxiety for both students and their parents. Teaching students how to cope with these issues is an important, ongoing pursuit for school districts. Brandy Baele, a school social worker in the Putnam County School District, who works with prekindergarten through fifth grade students, said that social skills are constantly being taught and reinforced at school. “One of the things that I enjoy doing is facilitating classroom social skills groups. I have always felt that it was important for me to be in every classroom so that all students understand the age appropriate social skills norms and expectations,” Baele said. “Also, I like to know who the students are and for them to know who I am in case they ever have a need to speak to me on an individual level. Hopefully, knowing who I am would make them feel more comfortable to speak to me.” Teaching children from an early age how to treat others and themselves is vital, according to Baele. “All of my classroom groups, no matter what the social skill subject, really center around how the students treat others as well as themselves. Some of the subjects that I focus on include friendship, problem solving, bullying, self esteem, calming down and coping skills, feelings, anger management, the Character Counts! pillars, listening skills, safety and stranger danger.” Baele said she concentrates on what is age appropriate when talking with students. For younger children, puppets and songs are great learning tools. For older children, she has discussions and uses visual aids and stories. Helping children understand the differences between things — such as bullying versus ordinary peer problems and tattling versus reporting is critical. “Bullying is overused,” Baele said. “It’s in the media so much.” While Baele is glad to see awareness about bullying, she wants children to understand the distinction. “If you are friends with someone one day and the next day she calls you a name because she is mad at you, then that is a friendship problem,” Baele explained. “Bullying occurs when there is a difference or perceived difference in power between the bully and the target. The target is typically scared of the bully and the occurrences usually are ongoing as the bully wants power and control over the target.” Baele said, from prekindergarten through fifth grades, she sees more peer problems than she does instances of true bullying. The bullying that she does see is more verbal than physical. What constitutes tattling is a subject taught to children at a young age in the Putnam County school district. “There is a huge difference between tattling and reporting. Tattling is when someone is just trying to get another person in trouble, trying to look better than someone else, or doesn’t want to try to solve their own problem,” Baele said. “Often tattling occurs when there is a friendship or peer problem that a student did not try to solve on their own first.” Baele also expresses the importance of reporting serious situations to the children. “I encourage students to report to an adult where someone is in danger and needs help, is being hurt in some way or if they hear of any threats that someone is being hurt or going to be hurt. Even if they hear a rumor that someone may be in danger, we want students to report it right away,” she said. In the case of rumors, if the information turns out not to be true, the child who reports will not be in any trouble. “We always praise the kids who report,” Baele said. “We do say (to them) that it is confidential.” Teaching children about the different types of social situations that can arise and ways to solve those conflicts is beneficial for them. “I want to empower the kids to be able to solve their own problems,” Baele said. When their children are having problems with other students at school, many parents have the tendency to want to help out their child by solving his or her problems. Or they simply tell their child to ignore the bully - which is advice that won’t help their children. “Ignoring does not work in bullying,” Baele said. With true bullying, the target feels helpless. Ignoring lets the bully know they can get away with it. Children who are being bullied should tell the bully to stop it or they’ll tell an adult. “It’s hard for them. I know they’re scared,” Baele said. One of the worst things parents can do is overreact to a social situation involving their child, according to Baele. Swooping in to solve the problem doesn’t teach children how to fend for themselves. Plus, parents should always remember there are two sides to every story, Baele said. Anthony Robertson, a fifth-grade student who recently transferred to the Putnam County School District, said he occasionally has been bullied over the years when students have made mean comments to him. Robertson said he doesn’t tell his family when he is having problems with another student at school. “I try not to do that,” he said. Katrien Holocker, a fifth-grade Putnam County student, said she has never been bullied, but she has had problems with her friends at times. When that happens, she tries to solve the problem by discussing it with her friends. Holocker, Robertson and Sadie Heinrich, another fifth-grade student in Putnam County, are glad their school district helps students learn social problem solutions. Holocker agrees that students should work problems out on their own whenever possible and not rely on parents to do so. “It’s nice they care, but sometimes people need to solve their own problems,” she said.
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