by Jim Boyle
Children’s book author Trudy Ludwig helped cap off I Love to Read month at three District 728 schools with some practical advice on how to stop bullying.
“You have the power to be heroes,” Ludwig told an audience of fourth-grade students at Lincoln Elementary School on Tuesday, March 1.
Ludwig, who read her book “Trouble Talk,” one of six she has published on issues of relationships for kids, offered small, safe ways for people to help people who are bullied.
After all, 80 percent of bullying has an audience, but only 11 percent of the witnesses do something about it.
“Most bullying can be stopped in less than 10 seconds,” Ludwig said.
She offered fourth graders three suggestions on how to handle it when they play witness to bullying. She focused on the emotional bullying that takes place on playgrounds, in school hallways and other times.
“When asked, most kids think emotional bullying is worse than physical bullying,” Ludwig said.
Her first advice was to report it to a trusted adult.
Her next suggestion was comfort the person who is bullied.
And her final suggestion was to include the person who is bullied in group activities.
When people do nothing, she said, there’s a great injustice. She quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Ludwig also condemned the cruel laughter that often accompanies a bully’s remarks.
Ludwig also had advice for those who might find themselves on the receiving end of a bully’s tongue-lashing.
Ludwig offered a starter set of tools to the children, and demonstrated how to put them into practice.
She called children up to the front of the media center and asked them to insult her. Her only boundaries were not to comment on her race, family, religion or any part of her body that she was sensitive about. She had teachers who know the kids help her by picking the kids with the confidence to take part in the belittling but the sense not to take it too far.
The kids giggled about the assignment at first but came through with a stream of insults about Ludwig’s hair, her wrinkles, her clothes, her height, her teeth, her intellect and other assorted pot shots.
In each case, however, she was able to defuse the person wearing what she called the “bully hat.”
She agreed with the first person’s insults.
The next set of insults she took as a compliment.
The third child to insult her caused her to break out in laughter and song. She defused the bullying by acting silly and goofy.
Her most dramatic tool, offered only to the older children, was to tell the bully to “stop.” Not in a meek and mild kind of way, but a forceful way that demonstrated she meant business and wasn’t going to tolerate bullying.
“It’s OK to be mad,” she instructed. “It’s not OK to be mean.”
Her least confrontational tool was to simply walk away and, if need be, run.
Another approach offered some comic relief. She suggested to the children they can simply ask why. Not just once, but at each slam.
Her next suggestion was to change the subject on the bully. By distracting the bully, it makes it hard for them to make their point stick (or hurt).
Her last tool was to take the approach that “Sticks and stones will break bones, but names (and insults) will not hurt me.” When the last student tried to insult her, she simply said “so.” When insulted again, she said “whatever.” And at the last attempt at insulting her, she countered with “who cares.”
To help etch the tools in the students’ heads, she had the students recite back to her the list of tools.
The eighth and final student had to recite all eight tools. She did it beautifully.
Ludwig began to write books about bullying and other relational topics after her daughter, a second-grade student at the time, was bullied by six of her friends.
She plunged into the topic of bullying to find out how common it was and decided she wanted to write books and raise awareness.
One thing she tells students is that children who are bullies by the age of 8 are six times more likely to be convicted of a crime by the time they are 24.
They are also more likely to deal with problems like drug and alcohol abuse, dropping out of school, have trust issues and develop eating disorders.
She also reports that a growing number of students miss school each day in America for fear of being bullied.
In addition to writing six books, she has a Web site at www. trudyludwig.com that is filled with resources on the subject.
“We all have to learn to get along,” she said. “Life is all about choices.”
She reminded folks that no one is born mean or a racist.
It’s what they’re taught at home, in the neighborhood and at school.
She recalled a girlfriend’s father who bullied her as a youth. Her friend learned to treat people the same way, she said.
Ludwig admitted responding to it by giving her girlfriend the silent treatment. A few months later she lost what was left of her relationship with her friend.
She also lost other friends in the process.
“They felt like they had to choose,” she said.
Below are some examples of how to role play with your child to practice putting Ludwig’s empower tools into action.
The first four tools are better for younger kids to use. Upper elementary school age kids can handle all eight tools. Have children role-play, using these tools with people they trust, like their mom or dad, sister or brother, teacher, school counselor, or good friend. Have them pretend they’re wearing the bully hat, so they can figure out what to say or do—without bullying back–in order to get away as quickly and safely as possible, with their dignity intact. IMPORTANT: If a tool doesn’t work, don’t keep using it. If you don’t feel safe/comfortable using a particular tool (e.g., Stop, Turn an Insult into a Compliment, or Agree tool), don’t use it. Try another tool instead. These tools won’t end bullying problems and they won’t stop kids from bullying other kids. That’s why it’s very important to encourage children to report bullying to grown-ups they trust. Bullying requires adult intervention.
Look the kid in the eye and tell him to stop talking to you that way.
“Why? Why? Why?”
Ask a “why” question after someone says something mean to you. It distracts the kid who is trying to push your buttons.
Kid A: You’re fat.
Kid B: Why do you think I’m fat?
Kid A: Because you eat too much.
Kid B: Why do you think I eat too much?
Kid A: Oh, forget it!
If someone is being mean to you, you don’t have to stand there and take it. Walk or run to a safe place and hang out with grown-ups and kids you trust.
“So,” “Whatever,” “Huh,” “Who cares?”
Say one or two words in a neutral tone. Make sure your words aren’t cruel or hurtful.
Kid A: You’re fat.
Kid B: So?
Kid A: Well, you are.
Kid B: Whatever.
Change the Subject
Distract the kid by talking calmly about other things.
Kid A: You’re fat.
Kid B: Hey, did your soccer team win yesterday’s game? What was the score?
Act Silly or Goofy: Use humor in a harmless way.
Don’t put someone down to build yourself up.
Turn an Insult into a Compliment *
Turn the negative into something positive—ONLY if you feel okay doing this.
Kid A: You’re fat.
Kid B: Gee, thanks. I always wanted to be big, ’cause big is beautiful!
Go along with what the kid says—ONLY if you feel okay agreeing with her