It drives us; drives us to succeed, drives us to fail, drives us to run, and drives us to stay. Fear can be our best friend, prompting us to flee when we sense danger, or our greatest enemy, paralyzing us into a state of helplessness. Fear can inspire us to work harder than we ever thought we could, and it can cause us to act against our own self interest and even the interests of others.
It is this dichotomy that has inspired society’s fascination with the topic. Strangely, the same biological response which causes us to shake in our boots also provides a sort of high, and countless TV shows, films, and books have been created to draw out and exploit that shivery feeling. There is, perhaps, no better example of this than the month of October and its 30 day fear fest leading up to Halloween. During this season, we not only enjoy being afraid—we actually pay for it!
You see, fear is a master of disguise. It hides behind bravado, prejudice, and violence, fueling these harmful actions so quietly that it is often ignored and thus allowed to fester.
From bully to victim and everyone in between, bullying is riddled with fear. The children who are bullied are afraid of harm, their parents are afraid of doing the wrong thing and seeing their child hurt, bystanders are afraid of becoming outcasts or being bullied in return, and children who bully act largely out of underlying fear. While it may express itself in many ways, it is indeed fear which often drives bullying scenarios.
But why does any of this matter?
Until we recognize the root cause of bullying, we will continue to simply treat symptoms, never truly eradicating the problem.
Giving children bullying-solving skills may work for a while, but when fear crops up, if they don’t have the tools to properly recognize and address that fear, they will very likely succumb to it. Fear is designed to keep us safe so, unless we understand where it is coming from, we will have a difficult time turning it off.
While rationalizing through fear is difficult for anyone, it is especially difficult for children. One portion of the brain which plays a significant role in our bodies’ response to fear is the prefrontal cortex. It is this part which interprets the event we are experiencing and compares it to past experiences, helping you decide the level of threat and appropriate response. However, many studies have shown that the pre-frontal cortex, the rationalizing part of our brain, doesn’t fully form until age 25.
This means that an elementary aged child is going to have greater difficulty rationalizing the reasoning behind and consequences of his bullying behavior. One way you can help create context for your students is through reading. Studies show reading fiction helps develop empathy, which is recognized as a core life skill and the foundation for sound relationships and classroom climate. Additionally, books provide entertaining and safe ways for children to explore emotions and consequences, storing these lessons away for a later time.
Picture books, such as The Weird Series, by Erin Frankel and This is A. Blob, by L.A. Kefalos, are excellent examples of books that help students identify and work through the fear behind bullying and standing up to bullying. By reading why these characters might be bullying or why other students are standing by, students are given a framework of reasoning on which they can later build using their own experiences.
Another way to help your students recognize the fear driving their bullying is to provide a visual aid that helps them walk through the steps we take mentally when dealing with fear. On a sheet of paper, have your students draw a picture of a bullying scenario. Ask the students to create a general caption written in the first person, such as "I pushed Jane".
Next to the picture’s caption, write “I did this because…”. With the students, look at the drawings and talk about what that “because” might be. Maybe the answer is “I didn’t like her”. Draw this out, as well. Next to the new caption write”…because…” again, prompting the child to explain why he or she doesn’t like the other child. Perhaps it is because she is new. From there, write “I didn’t like that she was new because…” And onward until the true reason, “I was afraid she would take away all my friends. I was afraid I would be all alone”, comes out. Now that the root fear has been identified, you can begin to discuss solutions to the fear.
Coping With Fear
In addition to helping children recognize their fear, it’s important to provide coping skills to deal with those fears in a healthy way as well as work to create an environment of safety.
Let your students know that they can talk to you about anything without fear of punishment. If you are able, set aside time to check in with each child for a minute or two each week to talk through any issues they might be having or to offer some words of encouragement. Even taking the time to write a small positive word for each child on his or her desk daily can have an enormous impact on the classroom climate. When students feel accepted and important, they will be less likely to feel the fears that lead to bullying.
Finally, one of the best ways to cope with fear is to talk about it. Talk with your students about why they find the situation frightening. What is being done to prevent it from happening? What steps can be taken to bring about a solution if the frightening situation does occur? This helps students take control of their fear and provides positive tools for confronting it.
Bullying is a complex issue. Not only do factors outside of fear contribute to bullying, overcoming fear is a process that will not happen overnight. These are simply suggestions to help you begin searching beyond the surface of bullying and bystander behavior to heal the root of the problem rather than the visible weed of actions it produces.
Fear isn’t all bad. In fact, it can be very good and even entertaining. That’s what Halloween is all about, right? So, this October, this month in which we recognize fear, both good and bad, let’s try to build environments in which everyone feels safe and cared for and may the scariest thing in your classroom be the ghost on the door!
Books are excellent tools for helping children build empathy and become upstanders! This is A. Blob is a masterfully illustrated picture book suitable for children ages 4-8. Written by Lori Kefalos, author of several award-nominated animated shorts, This is A. Blob is the first of a series following this bully. This first installment follows the antics of A. Blob, a slimy, purple, blob-like creature who wreaks havoc on the elementary school playground with its bullying ways. As the story progresses, however, readers learn that there might be more to A. Blob than meets the eye. Along with its powerful illustrations and rhymed verse for early readers, this story invites children to put themselves in the shoes of another. The book demonstrates that a bully can come in any shape, size, or color and encourages readers to consider why bullies behave the way they do – and start to consider what can be done to help.
When most people think of October, Halloween and scary masks are some of the first things that come to mind. However, October is also a month to recognize a far more frightening reality: Bullying. October 1st marks the beginning of National Bully Prevention Month, a campaign started in 2006 by the PACER’s National Bully Prevention Center to bring awareness to the issue of bullying and bully prevention. Throughout the month of October, communities all over the country unite to educate those around them about what bullying looks like, the long term effects of bullying, and what can be done to prevent this epidemic from spreading.
National Bully Prevention Month is only a piece of PACER’s National Bully Prevention Center, which is a branch of the PACER Center, an advocacy and resource center for parents of children with disabilities. In 2000, the PACER Center began receiving more and more calls from parents whose children were being bullied as a result of their disabilities. These parents felt at a loss and were desperate for resources to guide them through this difficult situation. In response, the PACER center began creating curriculum and guides to help parents and children with disabilities respond to bullying situations. By 2005, the center could see the positive impact their work was having and decided that these resources needed to be available to all children, not just those with disabilities. In 2006, PACER’s National Bully Prevention Center was born. Today, the center is a hub of resources and a leader in bully prevention, partnering with individuals and organizations such as Bethany Mota, Disney, Green Giant, and Frito-Lay to bring an end to bullying.
One question you may be asking: “is it really necessary to have an entire center dedicated to bully prevention? Is bullying really that big of a problem?” Sadly, yes. Recent studies report that 1 in 4 children experience bullying in the U.S. and 30% of young people admit to having acted as a bully. Perhaps more frightening is the fact that this behavior has been reported among children as young as 3. From poor grades, depression, dysfunctional future relationships, anxiety, heart issues, weight difficulties, and even a higher tendency toward criminal activity, the effects of bullying, on both victims and bullies, can be far reaching and can last a lifetime.
The numbers aren’t all bad, though. It has also been shown that in 57% of cases, bullying stops when a peer intervenes and school based prevention programs have decreased bullying incidents by 25%.
Change is happening.
The best part of all: you can be a part of that change! PACER’s National Bully Prevention Center provides a wide variety of ways you can get involved in National Bully Prevention Month and join with thousands of other throughout the country to end bullying and bring help to those who have been bullies or who are bullies themselves. Here are a few ways you can get involved:
These are just a few of nearly limitless options for raising awareness about bullying. Find a way to use your gifts and talents like these kids did! The important thing is to spread the word. What ideas do you have for ways to celebrate National Bully Prevention Month this year? Let us know in the comments!
In celebration of National Bully Prevention Month, we will be highlighting a different bully prevention organization, author, or individual working towards bringing bullying to an end each week this month on Laughing Leopard Blog! Our first feature will be an interview with L.A. Kefalos, author of This is A. Blob, a picture book featuring a sticky, purple bully named A. Blob, who may have more to him than first meets the eye. Check back here next week for exclusive insights into what inspired L.A. to write This is A. Blob and what message she would like to convey to her readers!
About Laughing Leopard Press
Hello! We are Laughing Leopard Press, an independent book publisher from Akron, Ohio. At Laughing Leopard Press, we’re interested in publishing works that contribute to our understanding of this wonderful world. Through this blog, we hope to add to that understanding with commentary on life, literature, and a few things in between. We hope you enjoy the blog and take some time to talk with us in the comments or on our social media sites. Happy reading!
This is A. Blob by L. A Kefalos. $14.95
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