A new Canadian program is reducing school-based bullying behavior by changing attitudes in the classroom. University of Alberta researchers use the educational program to rid schools of bullying behavior specifically directed at students who stutter.
The program has been so effective at changing attitudes in the classroom that researchers say the template could be used to modify other undesirable behaviors.
Currently, the Teasing and Bullying Unacceptable Behavior (TAB) program is taught province-wide to students in grades 3 to 6 to reduce teasing and bullying directed at children with differences—particularly children who stutter.
A new study by TAB creator Marilyn Langevin, Ph.D., shows the program is getting bullies, victims and bystanders to recognize bullying behavior and deem it unacceptable.
“Attitudes predict behaviors. If we’re going to get behavior to change, a first-level intervention is changing attitudes in the classroom,” said Langevin. “TAB program is one of the building blocks of change.”
Children who stutter are at three times greater risk of being bullied at school compared with peers who speak fluently. In this study, Langevin and her team surveyed more than 600 students who participated in the TAB program to evaluate its effectiveness at changing attitudes about stuttering.
Researchers have learned that children who know someone that stutters—a family member, friend or peer—generally have more positive attitudes toward them.
However, for individuals with little exposure to stuttering, it’s a different story as stuttering is an unpredictable disorder characterized by repetitions, prolonged sounds or complete blocks that can be accompanied by head jerks, nods and facial grimaces.
A key finding of the study was that the intervention had the most impact on students who previously did not know anyone who stutters. Investigators found that these children displayed more positive attitudes and were more likely to engage in social interaction. These students were also more likely to resist peer pressure to socially isolate stuttering children.
“It’s the children who don’t know someone who stutters that generally have more negative attitudes toward kids who stutter. We’re very pleased to see this group had the highest change scores since they’re the group we wanted to target.”
Children surveyed were also more likely to take a dim view of such behavior after completing the TAB program, and had more knowledge of appropriate ways to respond.
The survey also showed that children who bullied were most resistant to the TAB program itself, compared with victims and “dually involved” students—those who have bullied but have also been bullied. Those results make sense because kids who bully can lose social status if their peers recognize such behavior is unacceptable, Langevin said.
“It’s sort of like getting your hand caught in the cookie jar—who likes that?”
Nevertheless, researchers discovered that some kids who bully acknowledged that their behavior was unacceptable and, in some cases, vowed to change.
“There was a subset of children who bully who were saying, ‘I didn’t realize I was hurting my friend or my sister,’ and there was an indication that they wanted to change.”
And although movies like the Oscar-winning “The King’s Speech” have helped change attitudes about stuttering among a wider population, real change takes time and repeated effort, Langevin said.
“It was the same with drunk driving and smoking cessation—you have to change public perception and attitudes in order to get robust changes that are maintained over a period of time. And you have to keep at it,” she said.
Source: University of Alberta