Thursday, October 4, 2012

Amazing Books to Help Teachers and Parents Combat Bullying

I am so excited about the new anti-bullying series that was just released by Free Spirit PublishingThe Weird Series, written by Erin Frankel and illustrated by Paula Heaphy, is perfect for kids in grades K-3, and I think teachers are just going to eat these books up. Below is an interview I did with author Erin Frankel. I know her books are going to help countless kids:

Tell us about the amazing fiction series you've written on bullying for younger kids.

It’s been a wonderful experience working with lifelong friend, Illustrator Paula Heaphy, and Free Spirit Publishing to create The Weird Series. It contains three books: Weird! Dare! and Tough! Each tells a true-to-life story of bullying told from three perspectives: the target, the bystander, and the child doing the bullying. Paula and I have had our own personal experiences with bullying and we wanted to use our experiences and talents to help make a difference. Weird! tells the story of a wonderful little girl named Luisa, who changes everything about herself to avoid being bullied and ends up learning important lessons about being true to who she is. We wanted to explore the roles that the bystander and the child doing the bullying played in Luisa’s story. This is how Dare! and Tough! came to life. We let the characters take us where they needed to go, and in doing so, I think the end result is a real sense of learning and healing from all three perspectives.

The Weird Series is completely unique in terms of books on bullying for younger children. What can this series help parents and teachers do in a way that no other books can?

Bullying doesn’t involve just one person. The Weird Series helps parents and teachers dig deeper into the roles that we all can play in putting an end to bullying. The books can be read separately or as a set, and regardless of the order in which they are read, each perspective opens a pathway to the other two books. If children wonder why the bystanders don’t speak up at first, or why the child doing the bullying acts so mean, or how the bullying made Luisa feel, parents and teachers can turn to these books for answers. The stories and illustrations are engaging and true-to-life, which means children will relate to the characters and will want to know more about their struggles. Each book includes “activity club” pages and discussion ideas that give parents and teachers even more ways to explore the topic of bullying with children.

 What are some important things parents need to know if their child is being bullied?

Here is what I have learned.  Bullying can affect every area of your child’s life. If your child is being bullied, don’t ignore the signs. For example, is your child suddenly more withdrawn or acting out of character? Has your child’s sleep habits changed? Have you noticed any unexplained physical injuries or does your child ask to stay home from school often? Targets of bullying are often ashamed and afraid to speak up about bullying. Help your child open up, and reassure him you’ll see to it that things don’t get worse as a result of doing so. Then, make sure to follow through.

Practice confidence-building and assertiveness strategies with your child to help her regain some of the confidence that bullying has most likely taken away. But most importantly, see to it that the school’s plan of action to stop the bullying is one that keeps your child’s dignity and safety intact. For example, your child should not be forced to sit down and work things out with his/her tormentor -- doing so can be re-traumatizing.  Also, any physical changes that are made in terms of seating arrangements, class adjustments, etc. should be aimed at the child doing the bullying, not the child who’s being targeted. Your child did not choose to be bullied and should not be the one inconvenienced or singled out. Educate yourself on best practices when it comes to bullying and don’t be afraid to share this knowledge with your child’s school. Here are a few websites for starters:

How can teachers and parents help kids resist bullying their peers and classmates?

The greater the empathy, the greater the resistance to cruelty. To build empathy, it’s important to provide children with experiences and opportunities which allow them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Children who bully often experience a disconnect between their behavior and its effect other people’s feelings. When children can define and understand their own feelings, it becomes much easier to take on another person’s perspective and feel their feelings. When feelings are put into the equation, bullying becomes less likely.

What can parents do to help their children avoid becoming a target of bullying?

Start talking about bullying early on. Raise awareness so bullying doesn’t catch your child off guard. Help your child develop a strong sense of self, and along with that, positive self-talk to build confidence or regain confidence in the face of bullying. Often, children who’ve been bullied say, “I didn’t know what to do.” Our reflection and dialogue regarding bullying must be such that children have no question about what to do. The Weird Series provides many specific guidelines on this.

If we raise awareness early on, and cultivate empathy, then children won’t have to be on guard. They can be who they are within a supportive culture of kindness rather than one of cruelty. They can go back to being kids.

 What else do you want to share with us?

Before writing The Weird Series, my understanding of bullying came from personal experiences as a child, mother and teacher. While working on the books, I felt a deep responsibility to further that understanding, given the seriousness of the topic. I turned to the research and experience of individuals who have made a difference in bullying prevention. It would be impossible to mention everyone. But if I could share a few with parents and teachers: Barbara Coloroso, Stan Davis, Michele Borba, Rosalind Wiseman, Trevor Romain, and . . . Naomi Drew! Paula and I have also provided links to some wonderful anti-bullying associations on our website:

Thanks for the opportunity to talk about something that means so much to me!

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Free "Upstander" Lesson (scroll down)

Teaching kids to be "upstanders" rather than bystanders is one of the most important antidotes to bullying. Here's a lesson you can use right now that's sure to help. 

Lesson: Standing Up for Others

Preparation. On chart paper, write: “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”—Helen Keller

Introduction. Ask students if they’ve ever chosen to be kind to someone other kids were acting mean toward. Ask if they’ve ever been an “upstander” for someone who was picked on. Discuss, acknowledging how hard this can be.

Tell students they don’t have to do it alone. They can team up with a friend to be an upstander for someone. They can ask a classmate to help too. Have a student briefly role play asking a classmate to team up with them to be an upstander for someone in the class who’s being picked on. Help them come up with some helpful things they can say to the person who’s being picked on. Ask them to think of some assertive – not aggressive – statements they can make to the person who’s being mean.

Invite a student to read the Helen Keller quote. Ask: What is “something we can do” when someone’s being called names or made fun of by others? Why does it take courage to choose to be kind when others aren’t, or to stick up for someone when no one else does?

Activity. Ask for volunteers to act out the following scenarios, choosing one or two students to play the role of “upstanders” in each case. After each role play, ask: What did the upstanders do to help? What would you do? Is there anything that would stand in your way of being an upstander in real life? How can we help each other be upstanders?

Brian gives the wrong answer to a question the teacher asks. Other kids start to snicker and make faces.

Mindy comes to school wearing a shirt with a big stain on it. Her hair is all tangled and looks like it hasn’t been washed in awhile. A few kids hold their noses as she walks by.

Jason has trouble reading. He stumbles over some simple words that most of the class can read with ease. Someone makes a joke about this at Jason’s expense. A few kids start to laugh.

Jessie tends to be awkward around other kids. Sometimes she talks too loud. People find her annoying. She always ends up sitting alone at lunch.

Distribute “8 Ways to Be an Upstander”  (below) and discuss more ways we can help people who are picked on or excluded. Have students come up with other upstander actions to add to the list.

Wrap-Up. Encourage students to “do the something they can do” when they see peers being mistreated.
Ask them to write about their experiences. Discuss what they experienced when they come to school tomorrow.

Adapted from No Kidding About Bullying by Naomi Drew, M.A., copyright © 2010. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; All rights reserved.

8 Ways to Be an Upstander

Team up with a partner or do it alone . . . 

1. Choose not to join in when people are picking on or laughing at someone.

2. Speak out against unkind words or actions.

3. Say something helpful to the person who’s being picked on or laughed at.

4. Ask people who are teasing how it would feel if they were the ones being teased.

5. Ask the person who’s being left out or picked on to join you in an activity.

6. Let an adult know what’s going on.

7. ______________________________________________________________

8. ______________________________________________________________

Take Action!

Team up with a friend or classmate to be an upstander for someone else. Write about your experience. What was it like? Did it help? How did the person you stood up for feel when you stepped in?

Adapted from No Kidding About Bullying by Naomi Drew, M.A., copyright © 2010. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Listening in Conflict: Free/Downloadable

Let's face it -- we've all had trouble doing it, including me. It's hard to listen when we're bursting at the seams. But conflicts don't get solved unless we're willing and able to hear the other person out. The only time this doesn't apply is when someone's being abusive or disrespectful. But in regular, day-to-day conflicts, if we can garner up the gumption to take the high ground, we stand a good chance of setting the tone to get the conflict resolved. So, give this a try, and let me know how you do. Teachers, feel free to download this and try it with your class:

7 Steps for Listening in Conflict

Keep an open mind, even if you disagree.

Keep your tone of voice, facial expression and body language neutral.

Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Breathe deeply and refrain from interrupting.

Paraphrase what was said and ask for clarification where needed.

Be respectful even when angry.

Give your point of view after you’ve fully heard the other person out.
Taking the high road prevents moments like this.

Avoid preaching and criticizing.
Model how to listen so they can do it too.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Photo for Our Times

Is it possible that the bullying, hatred, divisiveness, and intolerance in our world, can be overcome by simple acts between two people repeated over time and multiplied by all of us?  

Photo by Ishvara Devi

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Is Being Cruel the New Cool?

Bullying, intolerance, humiliation via the web -- many experts are calling it an epidemic of cruelty among our youth. This reality is echoed in schoolyards, classrooms, and campuses across the US.

Cruel language and violent behavior saturate video games, TV shows, and music kids adore. Victims are often seen as people who deserve the treatment they're getting. This concurs with anti-bullying research that cites “teaching him a lesson” as a reason kids give for bullying someone they find different or uncool.

It falls on all of us to take action in our homes, schools, and communities.  We each need to be part of the solution. Inaction allows the problem to continue. Kids need to know that cruelty in any form is never cool, and certainly not funny. Here are six things we can all do right now:

1.  Model respect under all circumstances.  Albert Schweitzer once said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.” Our children learn through imitation.  Whatever words come out of our mouths are likely to come out of theirs. It’s more important than ever to counter cruelty with compassion and tolerance and to be examples of this in our lives.

2. Call kids on words and actions that are hurtful.  Whether directed at a sibling, friends, or anyone else, don't let it go by.  Say something like, “That was disrespectful,” or “Please don't speak in such a mean way.”  Name it, call them on it, and be clear that it's never okay to be mean. Period.

3. Don't tolerate disrespect or hurtful comments directed at you.  Because kids are surrounded with cruel, sarcastic language, many are losing the ability to distinguish what's appropriate from what's not. It's okay for kids to express anger or disagreement, but it needs to be done respectfully regardless of how upset they might be.  Discuss all of this at a neutral time and brainstorm acceptable ways of expressing negative feelings.  Be sure to model this yourself.

4.  Monitor what's happening on cell phones and computers.  Many kids bully using texts, tweets, and social networking sites. Be clear that visiting a site that was set up to put down someone else is never okay, and initiating an act of cyber-cruelty is even worse. If your child is bullied via the internet, save what was sent and speak to your child's teacher, guidance counselor, or principal.  Even though the messages might have generated from a home computer, the impact continues at school.

5.  Find examples of kindness and talk together about them. What books, videos, movies, TV shows have heroes who are decent, respectful, kind, and assertive? You may need to do a little detective work, but decent role models are out there. We all need to talk more to kids about kindness, conscience and compassion,

6.  Let your child know that it’s cooler to be kind, and often shows more courage. Anyone can be cruel, but it takes a courageous person to speak out against cruelty. Martin Luther King had a gift for standing tall in the face of cruelty, never stooping to the level of those who hurled threats, insults, and worse. This is the highest form of courage and character. We each have this capacity within ourselves.

Delivering the message at The College of New Jersey.

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