For some K-12 students, school isn’t primarily a place for learning, or even a place to socialize with peers. For them, school is, first and foremost, a place to be bullied. This reality prevents these students from getting the most out of their education and developing healthy relationships both inside and outside of class.

Bullying happens more often than we may think. According to PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, 25% of students report being bullied each school year. The reasons that these students are bullied are often related to physical appearance: body shape and race are among the most common reasons for bullying. Yet, the group of students most targeted for bullying are those with disabilities. “Children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers,” PACER reports. All bullied students share an increased risk of experiencing difficulty adjusting at school, sleeping, and maintaining emotional health. Many students become anxious and/or depressed as a result of being bullied.

Bullying doesn’t just disadvantage its victims, either. “Students who engage in bullying behavior are at increased risk for academic problems, substance use, and violent behavior later in adolescence and adulthood,” says PACER. When it comes to bullying, there are no “winners.”

October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness month. As a result, this month is dedicated to the work of “stomping out” bullying within grade schools nationwide. It may come as a surprise that some of the most effective helpers for the anti-bullying cause are classroom pets!

Classroom pets can prevent bullying by fostering empathy within students. “If there is one thing that is most important for children to realize, it is that they share a world with other beings who have needs similar but not identical to theirs. This understanding helps to develop the child’s confidence, empathy and respect for others,” said Craig Naherniak, general manager of humane education at the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA). Students can come to this empathetic realization by caring for and interacting with classroom pets. As students experience firsthand the needs of their classroom pets and the effects that their actions can have on them, they are taught that even other humans have unique needs and are impacted by the ways that they are treated.

Students who have been on the receiving end of bullying can benefit from classroom pets, as well. In a 1998 study on the emotional bond between children and pets, East Carolina University (ECU) associate professor of human development and family science Sandy Lookabaugh concluded that attachment to animals can minimize emotional trauma, alleviate fear and loneliness, and soothe anxiety among children and adults alike. Regular interaction with pets, said Lookabaugh, provides people with “unconditional love and opportunities for affection.”

This October, help to “stomp” out bullying in your community by raising awareness—and telling teachers you know about the benefits of classroom pets! Our teacher grants make getting a classroom pet easy. Apply online: http://www.petsintheclassroom.org/grant-app.

Sources

Building Empathy in the Classroom. (2016, March 16). Retrieved October 03, 2016, from http://www.petsintheclassroom.org/building-empathy-in-the-classroom/

Bullying statistics. (2016, January 15). Retrieved October 03, 2016, from http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/stats.asp

October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. (2007). Retrieved October 03, 2016, from http://www.stompoutbullying.org/index.php/campaigns/national-bullying-prevention-awareness-month/

Studies on the Human-Animal Bond in the Classroom. (2013, September 23). Retrieved October 03, 2016, from http://www.petsintheclassroom.org/studies-on-the-human-animal-bond-in-the-classroom/

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