A few weeks ago, a Nebraska elementary school made quite a splash when it sent home a flyer on how to deal with bullying. Great, right? Well, no. Not when the message broadcasts ways to turn “bullies into buddies” and includes advice that reads like a primer on how to be a better target, with tidbits such as:
- Do not tell.
- Treat the person who is being mean as if they are trying to help you.
- Don’t be a sore loser.
Parents were outraged, and rightly so. Later, the school district apologized on Facebook for what it termed inaccurate information; later still, that apology disappeared. That these educators missed the boat with such wild inaccuracy is baffling, to say the least. Are schools (and we, as a society) that far behind in understanding how to handle such a pervasive social cancer, or was this just one of those teachable moments we can all learn from?
I reached out to children’s advocate and author, Trudy Ludwig, to get her take on the notice and offer some sane advice for parents of children who experience the highest prevalence of bullying: students with disabilities.
GJ: What was your reaction to the Nebraska school’s tips for turning bullies into buddies?
TL: I was shocked, angry, and deeply disturbed by these tips. Unfortunately, some highly misguided, uninformed adults actually thought these tips would be helpful in addressing and preventing bullying when, in fact, their so-called “Rules” have just succeeded in further victimizing the bullied child!
GJ: Considering that the prevalence of bullying against children with intellectual/developmental disabilities is 2-3 times higher than other students, what steps can parents take if they suspect or know their child is being bullied?
TL: Be informed, aware, and active:
- Learn more about the laws that apply to disability harassment and check out the IEP resources at your disposal to help you work with school staff in bullying intervention and prevention.
- Pay attention to sudden and marked changes in your child’s mood, behavior, and/or appearance (torn clothing, bruises, or cuts).
- Take advantage of resources (listed below) to educate yourself and your child as to what bullying is and isn’t.
- Calmly listen to your child’s concerns without judgment, so that he/she is more likely to share with you his/her experiences and feelings.
- Gather as much information as you can about the bullying incidents for documentation purposes: What were the specific hurtful behaviors done to your child? Where did the bullying take place? When did it take place? How often? Who, if any, were the witnesses (bystanders) of the bullying incidents?
- Ask your child which adults at school he/she feels safe having you talk to about these incidents to protect your child and help the bullying child end his/her hurtful behavior.
GJ: Can you share a little bit about how your books help parents open up a discussion with their children about such a complex and pervasive problem?
TL: For years, children’s literature has been used by counseling practitioners, teachers, librarians, and parents to foster empathy and perspective in youth. Stories help kids emotionally connect with and gain insight into others’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a safe social setting. In her book, Treating Child and Adolescent Aggression Through Bibliotherapy (Springer, 2009), Dr. Zipora Shectman states, “Through the imaginative process that reading involves, children have the opportunity to do what they often cannot do in real life—become thoroughly involved in the inner lives of others, better understand them, and eventually become more aware of themselves.”
As an author, I want children to connect with my stories, with the characters in my stories, and with each other. My goal is to help young readers understand the difference between “helpful” and “hurtful” behaviors, and to seek help from the caring allies (parents / educators / peers) in their world to help them get through the hurt–with their dignity and safety intact.
GJ: What are some good sources of information on bullying for parents?
TL: I have an extensive list of recommended organizations, websites, and recommended readings on my website. But if I had to narrow it down, here are some of my favorite resources:
- Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know about Ending the Cycle of Fear by Carrie Goldman (HarperOne, 2012)
- 8 Keys to End Bullying: Strategies for Parents & Schools by Signe Whitson (W.W. Norton & Company, 2014)
I also recommend parents to gift schools or their favorite educators the following books to help them in their ongoing efforts to create a safer social-emotional learning environment:
- Youth Voice Project: Student Insights into Bullying & Peer Mistreatment by Stan Davis & Charisse Nixon (Research Press, 2014)
- Schools Where Everyone Belongs: Practical Strategies for Reducing Bullying by Stan Davis (Research Press, 2007)
- School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time by Sameer Hinduja & Justin Patchin (Corwin Press, 2012)
- Empowering Bystanders In Bullying Prevention by Stan Davis (Research Press, 2007)
- Positive Relations @ School & Elsewhere by Nancy Willard (Embrace Civility in the Digital Age, 2014)
- Embrace Civility.org
- Cyberbullying Research Center
- Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center, including resources for students with disabilities AND their kid-friendly website Pacer’s Kids Against Bullying
Trudy Ludwig is a children’s advocate and bestselling author of numerous books to help kids cope with and thrive in their social world. For more information about Trudy and her books, visit her website www.trudyludwig.com