Guest Blog: How Books Can Help Girls Deal With Bullying
I confess I’m a bibliophile when it comes to children’s books. I not only love to read them, I love to write them—partly, I admit, because I have the attention span of an eight-year-old; mostly because well-written children’s literature has the power to foster empathy and perspective in young readers. And, frankly, our world could use a heck of a lot more empathy and perspective when it comes to tolerance, diversity, and acceptance of others.
For years, counseling professionals, educators, and parents have used stories as supplemental tools to help guide a child’s thinking, instill moral values, strengthen personal character, and shape behavior. More recently, children’s literature has taken on another vital role: empowering young minds with critical thinking skills to deal with emotional and social conflicts. The technical term for this is bibliotherapy.
Literature is a bridge. It connects readers to the characters in the story,
themselves, and to other readers.
Children’s books offer wonderful teachable moments that allow kids, with the guidance of an adult, to emotionally connect with and discuss tough issues like peer cruelty in a safe social environment. Young readers are able to identify with the story’s protagonist; acquire insight into the characters’ thoughts, feelings, and actions in relation to the bullying problem; release pent-up emotions upon the realization that they aren’t the only ones who have this problem; and share personal experiences as a natural progression of discussion.
As the author of books that address social /emotional issues kids face in their everyday world, I have to point out that while some children’s books do an effective job addressing relational aggression/bullying, there are others that clearly do not. For example, I personally abhor those stories with the underlying message, “If you’re just nicer to the bullying kid, you two can be friends,” and then show the two children holding hands as they walk off into the sunset. Puh-leeze! The reality is that most targets of bullying don’t end up being friends with their tormentors.
So what do you look for in anti-bullying literature? Here are some helpful tips:
Look for children’s books that…
… are well written
… are developmentally age-appropriate in terms of content & reading level
… honestly portray the human condition
– language use is familiar to kids
– storyline is relevant to reader
– explains/illustrates different forms of bullying
…feature multi-dimensional characters that “hook” the reader
– characters are ethnically and culturally diverse
– focus is away from bullying myths/stereotypes
(e.g., they’re mostly boys, they have low self-esteem, they’re unpopular, etc.)
– relatable experiences
– realistic portrayal of emotions
… explore problem-solving techniques
-non-violent strategies (revenge or “getting even” is NOT the answer)
– realistic responses (Bullying is power imbalance. Just saying “sorry” isn’t a solution.)
– safe interventions
… focus on the need for adults and bystanders to take a primary, positive role in stopping bullying
… encourage young people to report bullying to adults they trust
Trudy Ludwig is a children’s advocate and best-selling author of My Secret Bully, Just Kidding, Sorry!, Trouble Talk®, Too Perfect, and Confessions of a Former Bully—available in August 2010. For more information about Trudy and her work, visit her website. Lilly is on vacation this week and returns next Monday.