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Hands are not for hitting
August 1st, 2003
JFS, CHAI seek to help children control anger without violence
It looks like a nice way to give a group of kids a good time; to sit and read a story to them with the help of a puppet. But when Appeals Court Judge Charles Schudson and Dwane the Crane did this recently for four- and five-year-old children at the Jewish Family Services Child Development Center, they had a very serious purpose in mind.
Schudson is one of about 20 men who have volunteered for a new program created by JFS and CHAI-Jewish Coalition on Family Violence that began in June. This program doesnt have a snappy name, said its creator, JFS psychologist Hirsh J. Larkey. My shorthand is The Books Program.
The effort is not purely about reading, but rather an attempt to help combat youth violence, which Larkey said is probably one of the top public health issues that face us.
The books that the volunteers read include When Sophie Gets Angry Really Really Angry by Molly Bang; Mean Soup by Betsy Everitt; and Hands Are Not For Hitting by Martine Agassi. All of them are are related to anger management, emotional literacy (being able to recognize emotional states in yourself and others) and conflict resolution, Larkey said.
The volunteers read the stories and then engage the kids in brief conversation, said Larkey, asking them Do you ever feel like this? What do you do when you feel this way? and so on.
Obviously, this type of story reading, which currently occurs every other week, will not effect miraculous transformations. But its a start, said Larkey, and it does appear to have produced some observable results.
After one of the volunteers read Hands Are Not For Hitting, Larkey said he heard that the kids have begun using that phrase. That doesnt necessarily mean theyre hitting and pushing less; but the idea is sinking in in some way, he said.
And it is important to keep reinforcing the idea, he said. All the literature says a sustained approach to violence prevention does in fact produce results in terms of decreased risk, said Larkey. It has to be part of an ongoing curriculum that is repeatedly experienced by the child.
Larkey said he conceived the idea about three years ago, when JFS executive vice president Elliot Lubar called to Larkeys attention a Chicago Tribune article. This article described a Head Start program in Chicago that incorporated anger management and conflict resolution in its curriculum partly through the reading of books aloud to children. (Head Start is the federally run program for increasing the school readiness of young children in low-income families.)
Larkey thought the idea was a good one, but also conceived the idea of having men do the reading as volunteers.
Traditionally, women have done the lions share of the work not only in the area of domestic violence but also of prevention, Larkey said. Yet the majority of the people who are violent are men and boys. So we thought this might be an opportunity for men who are concerned about this to become involved in doing something, and in a way they all know how to do.
After receiving a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, the endowment development program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, for the purchase of the books, Larkey and CHAI volunteer Joe Sectzer contacted men in the community they thought might be interested in the program. Among them were Schudson and all the men on the JFS board, including Michael Peltz, for a total of about 40.
Larkey said that about 20 responded that they could join immediately, while about 10 said they might be willing in the future. Their ages range from 20s to 60s. So far, Larkey has met with about 12 and three have actually done the readings.
Schudson jumped at the chance out of his longstanding interests in creative dramatics for kids and his pioneering work in helping to make courtrooms more child-friendly when children have to testify. Larkey watched Schudson and his puppet read to the kids and said the kids loved Charlie. Hes a natural . I could see how captivated the kids were.
Schudson said that volunteering isnt just good for the kids; it also provides benefits to the volunteers. Judging from the smiles, squeals and giggles, the kids had a wonderful time and learned important lessons, he said. And I was smiling the rest of the day from what they gave me.
Peltz, manager of international sales for the Recycle America Alliance, said, Its easy for me to say yes to something like that because it is very important for men to get involved in these issues.
He read to a CDC group some weeks ago and said he and the children both enjoyed the experience. It makes me feel good to give to the community, he said. And besides, children never cease to surprise you. They were cute and playful, I got enjoyment out of being with them and they certainly entertained me.
The program is seeking more volunteers. Moreover, Larkey said he wants to grow the program to include other area schools. In fact, he would like to place a set of the books used in every Jewish school in the community and every domestic violence shelter in Milwaukee.
For further information, contact Larkey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 414-225-1382.