Guest Blog: How Books Can Help Girls Deal With Bullying

By | March 21st, 2010 | 9 comments

by Trudy Ludwig

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

Sources: ADL and the Stop Bullying Now! Campaign.

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.

9 Responses to “Guest Blog: How Books Can Help Girls Deal With Bullying”

  • Sara says:

    I love the things to look for… but during a counseling group session it would be nice to have some follow up questions or discussion points to keep in mind.:-)

  • Dude.. I¡¯m not much into reading, but somehow I got to read many articles in your webpage. Its fantastic how interesting it is for me to visit you very often.

  • Michelle says:

    As a counselor, I find the bibliotherapy is very helpful in working with children. It allows the child language for feelings/situations they may not have been able to previously describe. Specifically with relational aggression and possibly even traditional bullying children do not understand how damaging and wrong the behaviors are. I find that with books like Trudy’s as well as others (there are a TON of good ones out there), kids have a lightbulb moment and a social/emotional breakthrough can take place. These moments can make a difference for the rest of a child’s life in how they allow others to treat them. Three cheers for authors such as Trudy Ludwig and Rachel Simmons for making a strong stand against unhealthy relationships! I value both of your works! Thank you!

    • trudy Ludwig says:

      Thank you, Michelle, for your comments. I value counselors like you who are out there on the front lines, working with kids at school on a daily basis to help them thrive in their social world. -Trudy

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  • Pam says:

    I enjoyed this article, but I also wished she had given a list of them rather then just points to look for.

  • Marie says:

    the best book I ever read about bullying is without a doubt Matt Groening’s SCHOOL IS HELL. before you laugh, that and CHILDHOOD IS HELL are honest about childhood and its accompanying difficulties, in a way that isn’t preachy or feel-good- just real. and they’ll make you laugh.

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