While conflict is inevitable, it is also an opportunity for growth. When we become competent at handling the power struggles and abuses of power that occur in all walks of life, not only do we become stronger ourselves, but we can help others — especially our children. In her new book, The 8 Keys to End Bullying Activity Book Companion Guide for Parents and Educators, Signe Whitson offers the very insights, guidance, and strategies that often separate simply talking about ending bullying to taking action against it.
Organized in a workbook format, Whitson’s book is separated into eight distinct steps, each offering hands-on learning experiences to practice identifying bullying, stopping it, establishing the connections that help create a bullying–free environment, dealing with cyberbullying, and creating the social and emotional competence needed to maintain safety.
Designed to be used alongside her previous work, The 8 Keys to End Bullying Activity Book for Kids and Tweens, Whitson’s companion guide answers questions like: How do I help my child really understand the difference between rude, mean, and bullying behavior in a time of indifference to bullying? Why are kids often so hesitant to talk about bullying and how can I encourage them to come to me when they are being bullied? How can I help my kids feel good about being kind? How do I talk to my child about cyberbullying when he is more proficient online than I am? What do I say when my child has just been bullied?
While parents and professionals often struggle with the question, “should I intervene or not?”, Whitson writes, “The bottom line is this: Young people need skills for handling bullying and they need an adult’s support and guidance to handle it well.” Two of the most important things parents and educators can do is know what bullying is and recognize it when it happens. To do this Whitson provides a “Bullying Screening Tool” that asks questions like: Was the behavior carried out on purpose? Was the behavior intended to cause harm? Have there been repetitive or patterned acts of this behavior?
Like abuse in adults, bullying can also be categorized as physical, verbal, relational, and cyberbullying. Further, bullying occurs in many forms. It can be the child who repeatedly trips another in the lunch line. It can be the child who consistently mocks another in an online group chat. And it can be the child who targets another in a gossip campaign.
What parents can do is learn to listen to their children. Whitson suggests remaining calm, keeping an open mind, using open-ended questions, showing empathy, and establishing safe reporting techniques so kids don’t feel threatened. Displaying calm assertiveness also helps kids learn to speak up for themselves and use what Whitson calls a “mean-it” voice to stop bullying when they see it.
Parents also need to be aware of what their children are doing online. Whitson writes, “As parents and professionals we are all too aware of the dangers posed by too much technology in the lives of our young people — from lack of physical exercise, underdeveloped social skills, and actual changes in the brain development to distractions from academic work, vulnerability to online predators, sexual exploitation, and relentless cyberbullying (to name a few). Yet, we also know that if we approach kids with a soapbox-style lecture about all of these potential pitfalls, we will instantly seem out of touch with their world and make ourselves irrelevant as just another adult who ‘doesn’t get it’.”
To better connect with their children and not seem out of touch, Whitson suggests starting from a place of common ground — that technology can be fun, but also has the potential to be hurtful. One helpful exercise she offers to accomplish this: listing five ways technology can be fun and five ways it can be hurtful.
Whitson offers several other insightful and fun exercises designed to connect parents and children while also providing powerful social-emotional learning tools. For example, Whitson asks children to hold a dry sponge and dunk it in water and describe how heavy it feels. Then, she asks children to hold a rubber duck and do the same thing. Through experiencing how water, like hurtful words and actions, can either be absorbed or roll off your back, children learn a key point about bullying — that kids who bully want to get a reaction from you.
The message Whitson seems to drive home is that developing children’s “social power” is just as important as developing their academic skills. Through practicing the very skills children will need when they encounter bullying, parents and educators can also help them be better prepared in a world that can be cruel. “For kids,” Whitson writes, “the basic message is clear: If you know that bullying is happening, you have the power and you own the responsibility to do something to stop it.” The 8 Keys to End Bullying Activity Book Companion Guide for Parents and Educators teaches adults how to instill this power and responsibility in our children through powerful, effective interactive exercises.
The 8 Keys to End Bullying Activity Book Companion Guide for Parents and Educators
W.W. Norton & Company, October 2016
Paperback, 258 pages