Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Say NO to Bullying

This week is Anti-Bullying Week in the UK. It seemed to me an excellent time for a Book Chook rant about bullying.

I hate the devastation bullying can cause. I'm trying really hard to get myself out of the mental habit of thinking, "I hate bullies" because I don't think that's a useful or productive way to think. But when I contemplate the way bullying can literally ruin someone's life, the way it can erode self-esteem, robbing people of happiness or of life itself, I wish there were something I could do to lessen its impact.

That's why I was glad when my picture book, Monster Maddie, was published. I hoped it might help kids recognize that their own behaviour could be bullying, and help them see that there is always a different way to act. When Jeanne from A Peaceful Day reviewed my book, I realized all over again that bullying can be anywhere in our society and I echoed Jeanne's heartfelt plea: "Don't assume that your nice children would never bully another child. Please."

In fact, I urge all parents to discuss bullying with their kids. Even if you don't think your children are victims of bullying, or bullies, you can't watch over them every minute. Helping kids role play bullying scenarios so they have a possible plan of action, or reading and discussing books or videos about bullying means that you and your child are not powerless. You're taking what action you can to say NO to bullying.

Sharing a book with your child which has a bullying theme is one way to bring up the subject. I recommend Susanne Gervay's I am Jack, Blubber by Judy Blume, and a wonderful picture book, One, by Kathryn Otoshi. Jeanne also discusses the Newbery Honor book, The Hundred Dresses on her blog today, in a post I urge you to read. For kids who are being bullied, it really can help to know they're not alone, that others have suffered and survived. For kids who are bullying others, it may lead to that aha! moment when they realize their behaviour constitutes bullying, and that they are hurting someone else. Dawn at Moms Inspire Learning has great suggestions for books to share with your tweens and teens, too. 

There are also internet resources that might be useful to you. has lesson plans and tips for parents, the anti-bullying alliance has many resources, including ideas for school assemblies and plays, and Bullying.No Way! (Australian website) has excellent information about being a bystander during bullying.

  • Bullying is a difficult problem that only gets worse when it is ignored. Research has demonstrated that bystanders play a significant role in bullying.
  • Bystanders are present most of the time (85%), where adults are rarely present
  • Most young people feel uncomfortable but very few know what to do to stop it happening
  • Bullying behaviour is reinforced where people watch but do nothing
  • When bystanders do intervene, the bullying is more likely to stop quickly most of the time.(Bullying.No Way!)

If you'd like an activity for kids to participate in after your discussion, how about creating a poster, making a puppet show, creating a digital story, or even writing a script and making a little video at Xtranormal? A follow-up activity like this helps kids consolidate what they've learned, gives them an opportunity for creative self-expression and can give you an insight into how much they've understood. If you'd like your kids to see some student-made anti-bullying movies, check out Bullying. No Way! Or to take a look at a Book Chook example made at Xtranormal, click below.

Bullying seems a huge problem, just like lack of literacy, or governments neglecting libraries. Rather than allowing ourselves to feel overwhelmed and powerless about it, I believe we should start with one step in the right direction, then another, then another. If we all work together, I truly believe we can make a change in society. If we can stop one child going to bed each night in tears, if we can prevent one suicide or total breakdown, why wouldn't we try? Are you with me? I'd love you to tweet this post or email it to friends who might be interested, so together we can say NO to bullying!
Image credit : poster by Book Chook based on pic from Chesi - Fotos CC on Flickr


  1. planningqueen17 November, 2010

    We have had a few bullying incidents at our school this year and it really saddens me. Some parents seem to refuse to see that their child can be a bully. I spoke at length with my kids about how standing by and not doing anything to help is dangerous to the victim, the bully and other kids watching who may then think this behaviour is acceptable. It is a conversation that I need to have frequently with them and discuss strategies on how they can do something to stop bullying.

  2. Tania McCartney17 November, 2010

    I'm WITH you, Book Chook! I also say NO to bullying and can I just say that this is a parenting issue, overall. Without a doubt, a child bully is the offspring of an adult bully. My sister in law specialises in bullying and educates children and adults on it - and she's always told me this. It's the ADULTS who need to be educated, more than the children!

  3. Thanks for bringing this up, Susan. I've thought and written about this topic a lot, and I strongly agree that reading related books can really make a difference. The more children read, the more they'll be able to see from multiple points of view and be able to put themselves in someone else's shoes.

    I also agree that we all have to do our part in acknowledging and reducing bully behavior. That includes how we treat other people in front of our children. As we see across the media, people of all ages can be bullies, even (especially) adults. Children pick up on that behavior, especially when it comes from those who are supposed to be role models. We all have seen parents, coaches, celebrities, and even teachers act like bullies. If we really want to end this type of behavior, we need to find the teachable moments and bring them to the dinner table.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  4. Melissa Taylor17 November, 2010

    Great list of resources. I agree that bullying is a huge problem and quite frankly, schools aren't keeping kids safe. I really like the work that Rosland Weisman is doing. (Author of Mean Girls.)

  5. Nicole, that sounds spot on! I confess I didn't think too much about the problems with being a bystander until recently, and now I realize how important it is to take action.

    Thanks for contributing to the conversation, and for sharing with other parents!

  6. Tania, I think education is so often the answer. Even by sharing the message this way, we may be nudging some towards finding out more, toward educating themselves and their kids in how to combat bullying. Thanks for helping!

  7. I think you're right Dawn. It's not always an easy topic to handle, but it needs to be one we return to, time and again, to make sure we are listening to our kids and demonstrating our own stance against bullying.

  8. Thanks for sharing that resource, Melissa - I'll look out for it!

    I ask myself nowadays if huge campuses are possible to keep safe. Logistically, it must be a nightmare. Maybe we need a fundamental change in our attitude to education, and indeed in many of our attitudes in society. I'm convinced that much could be improved if we all take responsibility for more, and if we teach our kids how to collaborate rather than compete. (That's another hobby horse, and I promised a rant about bullying - but I guess it does link to bullying, which seems to often be about the abuse of power.)

  9. Yay! Your comments are working again!

    I couldn't let such an important date go by without commenting. Thanks for all of your work in this area. Bullying is so destructive.

    I've posted about bullying on my blog today in response:

  10. Jeanne, your post brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for your words, and thanks for persevering with my comment system!

  11. Our school is working to prevent bullying and is participating in Rachel's Challenge. I will send this on through our school and district. The message is important.

  12. great post, Susan. So important to remember that the bullies have real issues that they need to work through, too--certainly NOT defending them but trying to understand the why's a little more.

    I just wrote about kids standing up for themselves; we are on opposite ends of the earth but still thinking along the same lines this week. So cool!

    Many thanks for sharing--

  13. I don't know Rachel's Challenge, Ruth, but will look forward to discovering more. Thanks for helping spread the word!

  14. Amy, thanks for mentioning your post, and thanks for helping pass the message on!

  15. Important post, Book Chook. It saddens me knowing that in our "enlightened" age, this is still such a big issue. It can ruin a child's life and their perspective of the world into adulthood. I thought Jeanne's comment, "Don't assume that your nice children would never bully another child" particularly relevant. I wonder how many parents never address the bullying issue because their "nice" children are not being bullied, nor would they bully! An important topic all parents need to address.

  16. Thank you susan for putting this together. I really love this quote: Don't assume that your nice children would never bully another child. Please.

    The mentality of thinking your children are perfect and would NEVER do such a thing is -- well, a little narrow minded. In our famiy we've had many opportunities to talk about this sort of behaviour because my kids can tease and border-line bully each other at home.

    I like to explain it like this: When you put someone down emotionally or physcially, your get this feeling of power. But the feeling only lasts for such a short time and then you feel yucky ... and then you have to do it again. You know, kindness gives you a very special feeling that lasts. There's no power in bullying... only self-destruction. If you feel like being mean, do something kind.

    A personal story: Adelaide came home one day. She was feeling bad. She was gossiping about a girl in the class about "wetting herself" and being rather unkind about it. She came home that afternoon and felt so bad about it. "I made a bad choice today," she said. We had a similar conversation as above and the next day she went and said sorry to the girl.

    Such an important message to get out there... and I love the books you have listed... and everything else... okay, I need to stop now...

  17. Janeen Brian17 November, 2010

    a bully is a tidal wave
    you may be the wall
    the wave may crash against you
    but you can still stand tall.


  18. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the importance of bystanders stepping up. My son's school has a zero tolerance policy around bullying and "playground ambassadors" (grade 4-6 kids who help mediate on the playground) help to ensure that disputes don't get out of hand. Peer-to-peer is often a good way to nip bullying in the bud.

  19. Terry Doherty18 November, 2010

    Bullying, like illiteracy needs to go away. Your point about changing your own ways (no more "I hate") is so important ... kids can hear us say "I hate bullying" and then turn around and repeat what we say. It just bullies a bully! >:o

  20. Janeen, that's such an excellent image to share with kids! It reminds them that they are not powerless, something I think we tend to feel when faced by any adversity.

    Thank you so much for sharing it!

  21. Great point, Joyce! Often there are no adults around when child bullies wreak their havoc, and that's where bystanders can make a huge difference.

  22. Yes, Terry, you're right. It's often an instinct to lash out and try to hurt back, but I don't believe it accomplishes anything in the long term. And kids watch and model themselves on our behaviour.

  23. Linda McIver01 January, 2011

    Excellent post. The point about bystanders is key, I think. We all see bullying often, whether adults or children. We need to show our children that we won't tolerate it happening to anyone, and we need to show them (by example) how to intervene safely. I've written more on the subject of bystanders here:
    and there are some excellent and poignant comments, too.

  24. The Book Chook01 January, 2011

    Linda, thank you for contributing that link to your excellent article. I hope readers will link and read too. I know I aim now to be alert to opportunities for supporting others instead of just standing by.

  25. Nuala O'Hanlon01 January, 2011

    Congratulations on your wonderful website!! I just HAD to comment on this post, as we have just completed an Anti-Bullying Project with a local Primary School. I'm a teacher, and my colleague and I write and publish Curriculum & Values-based songs/Teaching Resources, to help students to learn, and extend Literacy skills - through the powerful and enjoyable medium of music. We believe that children LEARN what they SING, and our latest song, 'BULLY-FREE ZONE!' is helping schools to take a united stand against this negative behaviour. The Chorus says it all: 'Bullying is NOT OK - NO WAY!'. If interested, full details of our Anti-Bullying school Project (including song and Lyric samples, Principal's & parents' quotes, photo's, etc.) are available at:

  26. The Book Chook01 January, 2011

    Nuala, I think that's an outstanding idea. I loved the song too.

    The quote at the top of your site is a powerful one: "I just want the bullying to stop. That is all I ever wanted. I used to love going to school. Now I hate it." Being a target of bullies is so paralyzing for victims, and it takes away their right to feel safe at school, home and in the neighbourhood.

    Good luck with your project - I hope many more schools take it up!

  27. Nuala O'Hanlon01 January, 2011

    Thank you Susan, that's very kind!
    That song has particular resonance with me, and was written from the heart. When I was 10 years old, we arrived in Australia, from England, where my father took up a Head of English post in a small country town High School. There were very few migrants then and we were made to feel very 'different'. I have personal experience of being bullied (the nuns who taught us, as well as fellow-students) so I have a real heart for not only the victim, but now, as an adult, the bully, who is really only acting out of fear of what he/she doesn't understand.
    The world is changing, there is more cultural diversity - STILL, this behaviour persists. It HAS to change, and it starts with education - in the home, and followed through at school.
    This quote says it all:
    "There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want, and that they can grow up in peace." ~ Kofi Annan
    I look forward to following your wisdom and insights. Keep up the great work!

  28. I don't know how I missed this post last year, Susan, and I want to thank you so much for mentioning my blog and linking to one of my related posts! The picture books One and The Hundred Dresses are near and dear to me as well. I witness the power of The Hundred Dresses when I read aloud the book to a class of 4th graders and had them write about their reactions to the characters and the plot in a writing journal. It's a great book to open up a discussion about the many subtle forms of bullying which many children start being exposed to around that age.

    I'm sure your new book is a fantastic one to add to the list, and I can't wait to read it. Best of luck with it.

  29. The Book Chook06 February, 2011

    Thanks, Dawn! I love your idea of using the book to have kids examine their own reactions, especially concentrating on those oh so subtle forms of bullying. It constantly amazes me when we humans are so clever at the wonderful things in life, yet we also use those communication gifts to make other's lives miserable. Sad.

  30. Dearest Book Chook,

    I am a children's performer magician/puppeteer/clown and I am currently writing a show to discuss bullies with 3 to 6 years olds and then another show for 6 to 11 year olds. your site has been a tremendous font of information.

    Magically yours



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