Saturday, March 1, 2014

Is Your School Drowning? Responding Effectively to the Distress Signs of Bullying

Is Your School Drowning?

Responding Effectively to the Distress Signs of Bullying 

Many years ago when I was visiting Santa Barbara with my two sons, we rented kayaks to cruise around in the calm waters of the harbor where the boats are docked. We decided to venture out of the harbor, but as we got out of that protected area I realized the water was not as calm. The rolling swells of the ocean made me nervous so I decided to turn around and head back to the harbor. As I maneuvered my kayak to turn around, it aligned with a swell and rolled my kayak over, dumping me into the water. Now I don’t know about you, but the thought of being in the ocean freaks me out! Flashing through my mind were visions of “sharks” and “jellyfish” and “sea monsters” grabbing me and taking me into the dark abyss”! (I know- too many scary movies in my youth!) So I panicked and grabbed the nearest thing to me which was my sons kayak, trying to climb aboard and nearly pulling him in, until he talked some sense into me: “MOM! Calm down! You’re going to pull me in, too!”

My behavior came from my primitive part of my brain - pure adrenalin rush kicking into survival mode. That’s what happens when people feel unsafe or panicked in the water. They go into panic or distress mode because the brain is communicating “uh-oh- I need help… NOW!” Through pure instinctive reaction the behavior of someone panicking in water is thrashing about and grabbing onto something (branches of a tree on the banks) or someone in an attempt to get out of the water to survive.  In real-life water drownings when people panic, there have been times when they actually took the rescuer down with them. (As a result there are water-safety training techniques on how to help others panicking in the water while keeping yourself safe from being pulled in and going down together.)

I'm not really here to talk about water safety. Instead I would like to about emotional and physical safety and well-being. However, panicking in the water is what I think about when I look at what’s happening in schools, all across the world where children and teens are calling out for help. They are sending distress signals, thrashing about in the “deep dark water” in the form of bullying – hurting people physically and emotionally with words and looks and threats. Their distress signs are too often unheeded by adults and peers and they are “out there” fending for themselves – clawing at something or someone in an attempt to survive. The interesting thing is that the bullying someone does to you usually has nothing to do with you. It has to do with the stories in their life hidden beneath the surface where there is pain and anger and sadness and fear.  Poverty, hunger, financial stress, abuse, illness, depression, hidden disabilities are just some of the huge challenges hidden below the surface. We don’t know one another’s stories, or may only know pieces of the stories, but most of us have sharks and sea monsters hidden in the deep dark waters. We each have unique challenges and we are each, in our own way, clawing our way out and in so-doing we tend to pull others down. Once someone is pulled down, without intervention, they too, begin to panic in the dark waters. Bullying can result in an ocean filled (or school filled) with a high percentage of people being pulled under because of someone else’s story.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be like that. There are things we can do to get out of the dark without pulling others down. We start by recognizing and being aware of what we DON’T want: feeling out of control in the deep dark waters of life; and acting on what we DO want: feeling safe, peaceful, calm, happy. Bullying is a complex problem but rather than worrying about all the things that need “fixing” we can begin by consciously choosing what is within our reach and within our power already: to treat each other with more kindness and compassion: every thought, word, and action, every day, every opportunity. How can we keep safe from being pulled down by others?  By consciously choosing what is within our reach and within our power already: being open to learning, discussing, and practicing the skills or techniques or habits that will keep us emotionally and physically safe. All schools need a social emotional learning curriculum that includes developing emotional intelligence skills (like our Circles of Compassion program).

I recall a story I once read about a man who was passing by an overlook point along some ocean bluffs and decided to pull over and enjoy the view. He got out of his car and when he leaned on the fence he saw a girl down below sitting on the rocks. The ocean waves were crashing onto the rocks and soaking her yet she never moved. Between the crashing of the waves he became aware that she was crying. This seemed concerning to him so he climbed down to her and worked his way over to her cautiously and asked her "Is everything all right?" "It should be...but no, it's not!" she said. Bit by bit she shared her story with him and after a while she said: "You know I've been sitting here for most of the day. No one took the time to check on me. No one said a word to me. I could have been planning to jump in the ocean, and not one person cared… except for you. I was so upset with the world that I wasn’t going to leave until I got a sign that “it’s ok”. She began to cry some more. Not sure what else to say, the man replied from deep within his heart, “It’s ok.”

There may be “sharks and monsters” in those deep dark waters we call life, but there are lots of angel fish and beautiful things too. To the world you may be one person but to one person – you may be the world to offer them hope. What if we took the time to notice the distress signals of those who may be sitting out on the “rocks” or someone who is in distress out in the darkness? What if we chose to respond rather than ignore. A smile. A hello. A listening ear. A hug. Each one of us, can reach out to another and let them know “it’s okay.” Today, and again tomorrow, and the next day. That’s how we light up the world with more compassion! 

Dee DiGioia is a Compassion Coach and founder of Caring and Courageous Kids but it's not just for kids!

The mission of Caring and Courageous Kids is to awaken and inspire the hearts and minds of young children through adults to bring mindfulness and compassion into daily living with the intention to help stop bullying and start contributing to a more peaceful and compassionate culture in our homes, schools, and communities.

Dee provides workshops around the world to help others become Compassion-Fit ~ for children, teens, and adults at home, in school, in the workplace or in communities. A membership site is currently being developed. She has been invited to Portugal to share her Circles of Compassion program. Dee also provides certification training for Autism Movement Therapy. 

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Monday, January 20, 2014

The Story on Bullying

There is a story I once heard about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but   Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done. (Source unknown)

Isn’t this the story for so many of our experiences in life ~ whether it is at home, at school, at work, or in our communities? Think about bullying, for example. We may wish there was no bullying or violence. We may wish for people to be a little kinder, or a little more compassionate. We may wish for things to change, or for things to get better. But wishing doesn’t change things does it?

There has been interesting research on something called the “Bystander effect.” In events where someone was attacked, beaten up, being bullied, for example, and there were witnesses, there are numerous accounts when the no one did anything to help. When the witnesses, or bystanders, were interviewed they were asked why they didn’t do anything to help. As expected many responded that they were too scared, or they didn't know what to do, or some said they didn’t think it was their business to get involved. But the most common reason given was that Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Think about the bystander effect in your own experiences. Was there ever a time you can recall when you wished you stood up for someone? Or that you wished someone had stood up for you?  So often the memory that no one helped is felt with far greater pain than the act of the bullying  itself.

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends." ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

So is this how the story ends?  Nobody doing anything? That’s up to you. It’s not how it has to be! In fact, instead of the ending, I believe it’s time for a whole new chapter! However, it’s going to require a “plot twist” if we want to change the culture to be more mindful and kind-full! What do I mean by that?

Let me tell you another story I read about. It’s about Harry Houdini, a Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer, noted for his sensational escape acts at the turn of the century. He was famous for escaping from handcuffs, chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, having to hold his breath inside a sealed milk can, and more. One day he was challenged to escape from a jail cell. The door was closed behind him and he quickly, and confidently, got to work picking the lock with a little tool removed from his belt buckle. Only this time, he wasn’t having success. In frustration, 10 minutes goes by, then 30, 60… Two hours later he drops to the floor in sheer frustration and exhaustion. As he does so, his back hit the door and it swung open! It was never locked!

When we are facing bullying, it may seem like there is no escape or that we can never get it to go away. The lesson from Houdini’s story, as it relates to bullying, is that we can’t keep doing things the same way if it’s not working! You can’t stop bullying and violence with more bullying and violence. You can’t stop bullying by remaining silent. That’s like trying to “pick that lock” over and over, as most us have done for years. Instead, you have to do the things necessary that will be effective in helping to stop bullying, or to reduce its impact.

Think about it! You can’t wish to complete or even have a chance at winning a marathon, for example, if you never do the things each day to make you a better, stronger, long distance runner. You work-out!

To stop bullying, like an athlete, you work-out! You’re doing the things to help improve your emotional intelligence “fitness” skills, and improving your “cardio” by strengthening your heart-centered responses.

Thank goodness for influential positive role models before us who showed the power of taking action on a dream or wish such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela. They showed us it is possible to change a culture through nonviolence. They lived it. They lead and inspired others to do the same. One person… taking action… changed a whole country!

In fact there are lots of unknown people joining the current Compassion Movement in schools and communities across the globe, getting what I call “Compassion-Fit”- doing what it takes every day to contribute to a little more caring, a little more courage, a little more compassion in every day living to make the world in our homes, schools, workplaces, and communities a little happier!

Compassion is recognizing the pain of others and taking action to help stop it. People sometimes respond with “He hurt me, I’m gonna hurt him” (or someone else). This thinking keeps you stuck like Houdini in that cell by doing something the same way over and over which is not effective. Others may think "It's not my problem why should I get involved or why should I care?"

I am going to share a Secret that may help: Hurt people hurt people. They, too, are stuck in that limited way of thinking and responding. The pain is passed on over and over with the same results - not getting beyond the pain, or anger, pr fear. When people try to hurt us through bullying, it has nothing to do with us.  It’s “their story”- it’s what’s going on in their lives. Perhaps they are being bullied, abused, having family or relational problems so their anger, sadness, or pain is being directed out. It doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it can help us develop seeds of compassion if we understand this. When they are bullying we can see it as not being personal, and stopping it from becoming our story.

“If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.” ~Marvin J. Ashton
If we want bullying to stop we need a new "key". That key is to stop allowing the story of others to become our story. Take your pen back and begin writing your own story! In our "Circles of Compassion" program we expand on these concepts to write your “STORY”:

S = STOP: Practice heart-centered and effective ways to stop the bullying, as well as to stop our own reactions (fight or flight or self-destruction) which adds more aggression or pain and keeps us locked in that box/cell. 
T = TAKE 5: Practicing how to step outside the box/cell look at the infinite choices available to us through mindfulness and raising emotional intelligence.
O = OUTCOME: By utilizing our formula Events + Response = Outcome (E + R = O) we practice reminding ourselves of what Outcome we want (peace, happiness) and setting the intentions to get there.
R = RESPOND: Practicing responding with choices from the heart and mind and taking ACTION to produce new Outcomes (not wishing, not standing by).
Y = YOU: Practicing the skills and habits to help you succeed to become the very best version of YOU! Going for your personal best by setting goals to be Compassion-Fit with a commitment to non-violence to break the cycle of bullying and aggression by breaking out of that limited thinking. Keep raising the bar in compassion in every thought, word and action in daily living!

"The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday." (Unknown)

Everybody can do something about bullying. It begins with Somebody -ONE person making a conscious decision to reach out to Somebody. “To the world you may be one person, to one person you may be the world” when you reach out and show compassion. That’s how we change the world- one caring and courageous choice at a time. Let’s raise the bar on compassion beginning right now!!! I commit! I'm getting Compassion-Fit! Will you join our Circles of Compassion?

Get Compassion-Fit Video below!

Dee DiGioia

Dee DiGioia is author of “One Caring and Courageous Choice at a Time” which includes her original movie for elementary school-aged children to help stop bullying through learning to be Champions of bucket-filling and compassion. She currently teaches (coaches) her “Circles of Compassion” Teen Leadership pilot program in Folsom, CA. Approximately seventy 6th and 7th grade students are committing to becoming “Compassion-Fit.” A Coach is someone who carries us from where we are to where we want to be, so with a little guidance, the students learn and practice the skills to help them become positive role models in their peer groups to contribute to a more compassionate culture. 

Contact Dee DiGioia for your next conference or workshop for parents and/or educators to begin a "Compassion-Fit" program in your school or program!

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Wake-up Call on Bullying

Wake-up Call on Bullying: 

What are you waiting for? Get Compassion-Fit

At the start of every new year, people are filled with dreams and goals for the coming year as though they get to wipe the slate clean to erase the negative habits from the year past.  It gives us hope to think we can, for example, shed some pounds, quit smoking, become more physically fit, run a marathon or climb a mountain peak. Memberships at the fitness centers increase and classes are bulging at the seams but within a few weeks, the overcrowded gyms and running pathways dwindle down to the numbers of people who were already there – the ones who have cultivated the daily habits as a way of life.

Why is it that so many people do not stick to their goals?

Perhaps they have not had a “wake-up call”. Perhaps their reason, their “why,” is not grand enough. How many times have known someone was whisked away in an ambulance, or returned home from a doctor’s visit with sobering news of a health threat and they begin their fitness regimen to do the things we knew we should have been doing all along: healthy diet and regular exercise. Their wakeup call? Their diagnosis. The goal? To beat the looming threat of disease or health threat and live longer and healthier. However those who are unable to give up their habits despite the wake-up call, will unlikely be able to give it a fighting chance.

Another reason why they don’t stick to their goal is perhaps they really don’t see their negative habits as part of the problem or don’t really want to give up that way of life. Perhaps the goal was perceived to be unattainable, too big, too far, too long and so they give up. Or perhaps, when they have a set back or two, they give up on themselves and quit. Perhaps they never really believed things could change in the first place.

I find all of this analogous to why so many schools continue to be ineffective in dealing with the problem of bullying. Under certain conditions and without effective treatment or preventive practices or habits, cancer spreads and grows and has damaging outcomes. Did you just see the light bulb? The analogy? Bullying is like a cancer. The climate and culture of bullying spreads and weakens a school and home environment and without effective intervention or preventive practices or habits, it spreads and grows and has damaging outcomes.

Diagnosis- bullying is at epidemic levels
The wake-up calls are sending us information: crisis! People are crying out for help. Children need our help and we are failing them. When children are ending, or attempting to end their lives, to escape the pain and torment of bullying, or when children are taking out their frustration on others through violent rampages, I don’t know how the message could get any clearer. And yet day after day there are stories, only some of which make the headlines, or comments from people on social media how their pleas for help at school get dismissed or unanswered, or additional school shootings. The cancer is spreading.

We have all heard the rally “it takes a village to raise a child” yet when the child is at school we are told “it’s the parent’s responsibility” and when at home we are told “it’s the school’s responsibility”. When it’s not our child we say “not my child” and we stay out of it. When our child is accused of bullying parent's try to excuse it. Wake up! Bullying will only grow and spread more unless we are willing to stop it in its tracks. All of us. The whole village- at home, at school, and in the community.

Wake up! You don’t beat cancer by wishing it away or agreeing “isn’t it awful?” You face it and you do the things you need to do to make it go away, never to return (yup-like cancer!).  You don’t race in a marathon without creating a plan and many short term goals to work up to achieving that goal. You don’t jump the high jump without starting lower. You raise the bar after you become successful at one level and you practice, practice, practice. Too many people believe bullying is too big a problem to be able to do anything about it. You’re taking on too big of a goal. You begin with yourself. Look within. What can YOU do to help stop bullying?  We have all learned that in order to reach our fitness goals, in order to break the old habits, we have to replace them with healthier habits which will help us get closer to, or achieve those goals. We know we can’t achieve these goals without actively practicing the daily habits required to achieve them.

Wake up! You don’t beat cancer by continuing the habits that feed the cancer! You don’t beat bullying by responding with more bullying, aggression, and violence! You beat it by becoming a Champion of Compassion, Caring, Courage, and Character. You beat bullying and violence through a commitment to strengthening your own skills at being more compassionate in your day to day lives and being a positive influence on others. You become the change. You look at what needs strengthening in you; look at what negative habits need to be phased out; determine ways to routinely practice these habits (at home, in the classroom, school-wide, or in the community), and you never give up. Keep raising the bar on compassion and develop the life-skills necessary to change the culture. Make history!

What are you waiting for? Get Compassion-Fit

Caring and Courageous Kids is now offering a pilot program for teen leadership, “Circles of Compassion” at Sutter Middle School, Folsom, CA.

We also offer a do-it-yourself elementary school program. Order the book "One Caring and Courageous Choice at a Time" which includes the children's educational DVD "Which Team Will You Choose?"  This is a great complement to any existing bullying prevention program in schools or a spark to get one going. It is a great way for families to practice skills together to become Champions of Bucket-filling!

Join our Humaniteam to inspire a more compassionate culture.

Dee DiGioia

Friday, December 20, 2013

Teen Leaders Digging Deeper While Facing the Problem of Bullying in School

As students courageously faced one another in an activity called “Digging Deeper” during a 3 hour workshop at Sutter Middle School in Folsom, CA, the threads of commonality were being sewn between them. They were participating “full out” and exposing some of the things they usually keep below the surface, hidden in their tangled roots.  And now they were awakening to the fact that each of us have “lots of stuff” buried down there, some of us have more than others, and some of us have it perhaps worse off than others. For some, for the first time, those who exposed their roots felt the compassion and support from the others across the room who were sending the sign language gesture to express “I love you” or “I care about you”.  When we take the time to learn one another’s stories through the eyes and hearts of compassion, then we can begin to understand the enormous challenges that each of us faces on a daily basis. These are the seeds of compassion when we see the pain, and decide to treat one other more gently and kinder, with more patience, tolerance, respect and understanding.

“I am so glad you moved here!” Kevin Garmston, Vice Principal of Sutter Middle School told Dee DiGioia, founder of Caring and Courageous Kids, a when they first met just a few months ago.  Kevin said this middle school is one of the largest in the area with over 1,400 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students and he is not afraid to admit there is a bullying problem.  According to a recent school survey, about half the students agree that bullying is a problem at school!  Kevin described a program they used successfully in the past with some marked success, based on the framework where students who have natural leadership abilities in their peer groups are selected by teachers to participate in the program, and help to inspire stand up to help stop bullying and be a positive influence in their social groups. It was discontinued due to the high cost of the company offering it.  The format was a natural fit for Dee who is author of “One Caring and Courageous Choice at a Time” and producer of an original movie/story for elementary school aged students (on dvd), whose mission it is to inspire a more compassionate culture by having a caring and courageous heart to stand up and do the right thing. Approximately thirty 6th grader students and thirty 7th grade students are participating in the pilot program which is being funded by the Sutter Middle School Parent-Teacher Organization. 

Caring and Courageous Kids was founded on the premise of compassion in 2009. In fact, a compassion movement is on the rise all across the globe. What exactly is Compassion? It’s using one’s own pain and experiences or empathy when seeing another who is hurting or suffering, and then taking action to do something to help them feel safer, cared for, respected, happier and taking action to prevent it from happening again. How do we inspire it? By bringing people together, talking about it, discussing strategies and guidelines to more successful, modeling it, and practicing it over and over as opportunities arise (and they will)!

By the end of the three hour Digging Deeper workshop, students were getting WOW’ed:

W = Waking up:
Our eyes (and hearts) have been opened to notice the problem of bullying, and seeing, or noticing, what needs to change. This awareness is only the beginning. We can’t just know what we want or don’t want, and we can’t just know what needs to change. We have to actively contribute to being the agents of change or we will remain stuck in the victimization, and/or complaining and blaming. After waking up we have also stretch

O = Opening our hearts:
Compassion is like concentric circles. It begins with self, and moves out wider to include compassion for those close to us (family and friends), and challenging ourselves to  having compassion for even wider circles of to those not as close to us (at school, in the community) and even wider out  into the world. When we practice opening our hearts by digging deeper in our understanding of others, we are stretching our boundaries and beliefs and taking responsibility do something about the problem of bullying. By opening our hearts we are breaking the old negative patterns in our thoughts, words, and actions with healthier, happier, safer patterns.  Waking up and stretching are the beginning. Now it’s time to get up!

W = Walking the path to be the change:
Choose to get up and take action towards creating positive outcomes when faced with negativity in bullying situations. Here is where a leader or champion stands out by standing up and being willing to do what’s right, not just for self, but for others. Leaders take this path even if it means doing it alone and even if it’s not the popular choice.  Compassion is taking action to prevent or alleviate the pain or suffering of another. Once we have awakened the Champion’s spirit, we have an opportunity to be the change, break down the barriers, and create a whole new beginning together one caring and courageous choice at a time in the words we speak and the things we do for one another. We can say something and do something when we see bullying. Create ripples and WOW others.

Many of the students shared how they were WOW’ed during the course of the day by saying what was most meaningful to them about the day or how they would like to commit to helping to stop the culture of bullying to a culture of caring and compassion. Each enthusiastically agreed to get Compassion-Fit and join the Circles of Compassion humaniteam: Sutter Middle School Cougar Compassion Club!

7th grade Cougar Compassion Club

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Dee DiGioia

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Dee DiGioia resides in El Dorado Hills, CA and is currently teaching "Circles of Compassion" Teen Leadership program at Sutter Middle School in Folsom, CA