A Cure For Mean Words: Warm Fuzzies and Cold Pricklies

If you call a kid out for insulting another they will often say either that they were just kidding or that they didn't say anything.  The insults tend to be used at just the right moment when they are closer to the victim then you are... and they say it just loud enough for the victim to hear it but not you.  This makes addressing the issue difficult at times.
On top of that, kids often don't truly understand what it feels like to be at the wrong end of an insult.  They do, however, know that when they insult another child that they get attention (and power) from it.

Do you remember as a child laughing at that moment that one kid called another a name, even though you knew how wrong it was.  It is similar to when a child sees an adult get hurt and laughs.  It is almost uncontrollable, like a nerve reaction.  No matter how uncontrollable the audience's reaction is... what it does is feeds the ego of the name caller and results in more of the same.

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I remember hearing a story at overnight camp about "Warm Fuzzies" but that wasn't the first thing I thought of when I had a class of five year olds saying not very nice things to each other.
Generally speaking my group had been quite nice to each other but they had recently hit a rough patch and I wanted some new ideas.
I consulted with my coworker who had been working with kids for far longer than I had, and was always full of good ideas.

Here's what she said to do?  Make a "cold prickly" and a "warm fuzzy."  I asked her about it and she explained what that meant.

You can tell a child a million times that it hurts another to call them names but when they hold the words in their hands, it will be undeniable to them.  Words can hurt.

So here's what you do.
Make words tangible.

What you'll need to do:
Prepare these two items (or multiples of each if you wish) before the activity.

make a "warm fuzzy": This can be achieved many different ways.  You can use a big craft pom pom, cotton balls, a piece of soft fuzzy material.  I needle felted a ball (shown left).  When I made a "warm fuzzy" the first time as a teacher I just covered a styrofoam craft ball with glue and then pulled apart cotton balls and stuck them all over it.
Like I said, many ways to achieve it.

make a "cold prickly": Use a ball of play dough for the center and stick either pieces of pasta  (shown left - also could use broken pieces of thick spaghetti), or tooth picks into it so it becomes a spiky ball.  Don't cover the ball so much that you can't feel the surface of the play dough.  Play dough is cool to the touch and that is part of the goal (hence "cold prickly").  Let the play dough dry so that it holds the pricklies in place.  Take precautions that children don't get hurt by the pokey ends of whatever you decide to use.  For safety sake: when you are not doing the activity store these two balls out of reach of children.

Next, plan a time when everyone in your class or family (depending on who this is intended for) will be available and receptive.  Gather everyone in a circle.  Explain that you have been hearing some name calling lately.  Do not name names.
Explain how it makes you feel when you hear words being used that way.
Tell the group that you have some things to share.
Take out the "warm fuzzy" and the "cold prickly."
Ask them to pass the items around carefully and ask them what they feel like.
Tell them that one is a "warm fuzzy" and the other is called a "cold prickly."

Explain that when someone says something nice to another it makes them feel warm and fuzzy showing them the "warm fuzzy" as you say this.  Pass it around again and encourage them to pat it.
Rubbing it on your cheek really gets the point across if you are not worried about germs being passed around.

Explain that when someone says something mean to another person it hurts them, because those words are cold and prickly.  Show them the "cold prickly" as you say this.
Now pass around the "cold prickly" (carefully) and explain to them that this is what mean words feel like.

Optional: If you want to get more specific you can have the group help you write a list of "cold prickly" words and "warm fuzzy" words on a big sheet of paper.

Ask them which one feels nicer, which one they'd want to keep in their pocket, which one they would want to get from someone else.

If you feel like the group has understood the point of the activity you can then place the warm fuzzy and cold prickly in a place where they can't touch them but can still see them (as a reminder).  This activity can be briefly reviewed (or referenced) with the group if they need a reminder.

Please let us know if you try this activity with your children.  We'd love to hear about how it went!

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