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.
Making A. Blob Slime!
Last week, I shared about my visit to an elementary school and the incredible conversations that were sparked by reading the picture book, This is A. Blob, by L.A. Kefalos. This week, I will be sharing about the slime craft we did and the lessons we were able to learn as we created.
I have posted about the A. Blob Slime Craft in previous blogs. It’s such a fun craft with a perfect connection to the slimy A. Blob of the book that I knew I just had to do the craft with the students.
First, I brought out all the slime-making materials, set them in front of the students, and asked if we had slime yet. After looking at me like I was a crazy person, they gave a puzzled “no”. Of course we didn’t have slime yet. The ingredients need to be mixed together and then they will become slime.
Similarly, a mean word here or an exclusion there doesn’t,at first, seem like that big of a deal. However, those words, like the slime ingredients, add up and react with one another. They stick with people and burden them down, staying in hearts and minds long after they’ve been said.
I asked the students if they remembered something kind someone had said to them. A simple “yes” or a “no” was all I expected, but the students' faces lit up immediately as they raised their hands, dying to tell the class the compliment or act of kindness they had received. The answers ranged far and wide, from physical compliments, to befriending someone on their first day at a new school, to a simple “I love you” from a parent. Even children who had been moody or had come in with a bad attitude softened as they remembered a kind word and shared that bit of confidence with the class.
The first time I did this lesson with students, I asked them to recall something mean someone had said or done to illustrate how those unkind actions can stick with us. However, I found that asking them to remember words of kindness had a far greater impact. Not only did it open the students up, it provided a good example of why an how we should act with kindness. Children are told over and over to not be mean, but how often are they reminded to be kind? Sometimes, showing kids what to do is just as important as telling them what not to do.
Next, we mixed the ingredients. The students LOVED watching the purple water/glue mixture magically become a blob as the borax was added. Once the blob was mixed up, the librarian and I divided it into equal parts and allowed the students to take it back to their tables to play. It was such fun watching them get creative with their slime! In this day and age, children spend so much of their time behind computers, taking tests, or filling out worksheets. Giving them the opportunity to use their imaginations, get a little messy, and have fun was a true joy.
In more than one class, one student would try to snag another student’s slime or would say something unkind to another as they played. Just as I or the librarian would be about to step in, another student would say “We JUST talked about being kind and not bullying! Be kind!” Through a picture book and a simple craft, these children were learning the importance of kindness.
Before the students left, I sent them home with a simple reminder “Like A. Blob, your words will stick—kind or mean. Chose them wisely!” I also challenged each of them to do one extra thing that day to show kindness.
I leave you now with the same challenge.
Do you have a fun way of teaching kids about kindness? Let us know about it in the comments below!
For full directions on how to make your own A. Blob Slime, check out our previous post, This is A. Blob SLIME Craft! Kids learn how bullying can become a big, slimy blob!
This is A. Blob is a masterfully illustrated picture book suitable for children ages 4-8. Written by Lori Kefalos, author of several animated shorts, including “Who’s that Knocking,” “Chug,” and “Croc, Pots and Wildebeests,” which was nominated for Best Independent Short Short, Ages 5-8, at the 2009 Kid’s First Film Festival and for best short at The Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival, 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 A. Blob may have more 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 encourages readers to consider why bullies behave the way they do – and start to consider what can be done to help.
It’s Picture Book Month!!
For the entire month of November we get to officially celebrate the often underrated art of combining words with illustrations to create a magical dynamic that impacts readers in a way no other medium can. The picture book, unlike any other form of literature, invites readers to analyze, not just the words in the story, but also the images on the page. With their shorter prose and beautiful images, picture books are often the first taste of the world of books that young people get. They gently introduce difficult topics, speak complex truths simply, and bring to life worlds and characters we could never imagine.
Yes, picture books are fantastic for kids and -- let’s admit it -- we all have at least one favorite picture book sitting on our shelves that we like to page through every now and then. I know I do, and I’m not alone.
Picture book author/illustrator Molly Idle writes,
“Picture books are a mirror. A magic mirror. For picture books can show us, not only reflections of ourselves, but reflections of other people and places too. They can show us reflections of the past, the present and the future. Reflections of the possible and the impossible. The real, and the imagined…And in all of those reflections, we see ourselves.”
(Check out the Picture Book Month Website to read even more quotes from your favorite authors on why they believe picture books are important!)
Sadly, picture books are often brushed aside as “beginner books”. Many people believe that a child still reading picture books after the age of 8 must be stunted in some way. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Picture books are fantastic tools for introducing difficult or complex topics, encouraging reluctant readers, building analytical skills in readers of all ages, and growing observational skills, in addition to just being fun! Thankfully, thanks to recent studies, more and more people are beginning to realize the incredible value packed into the pages of the picture book. Author Debbie Ridpath Ohi wrote an excellent blog post that discusses this value and the many benefits of picture books in greater depth over on her site, inkygirl.com.
Another frequently overlooked detail about picture books is the incredible amount of collaboration that goes into their creation. Occasionally a brilliant author/illustrator/marketer appears on the scene, but this is rare. Typically, there is an author, illustrator, and publisher working together to make a story come to life. Pictures and text must work seamlessly to capture the most important essence of the page, revealing the depth of character and the tone of the story. Every line and every color is carefully chosen to ensure the message is communicated properly. Once completed, a marketer must identify the proper audience and find ways to connect that audience with the books that they enjoy.
It is teamwork, from beginning to end.
The idea of a lone author madly typing away in solitude cannot exist in this situation.
This collaborative quality, combined with the inherent power for teaching inside each picture book, makes this genre a fantastic instrument for integrating bullying prevention into the classroom (For more great ideas on integrating bullying prevention into other areas of the classroom, check out last month’s blog).
Not only do they offer an easy gateway into the discussion of a difficult topic and leave room for expansion, their collaborative nature provides an opportunity to discuss the value of teamwork and the bringing together of different talents to meet a common goal. Here is a simple project integrating bullying prevention education that you can do with your students of all ages using picture books:
An added bonus is that this project will open the door for students to talk to students about bullying. While they may not want to listen to what an adult has to say, they may be more open to the messages of their peers. Books are fun and nonthreatening and often bring together groups and individuals that would not typically meet. As Reddit user “Coolstoryreddit” stated:
“Seeing someone read a book you love is seeing a book recommend a person”
Picture books are more than just books. They are more than starter literature. They are examples of the magic that can happen when people work together using their unique gifts to achieve a common goal. This Picture Book Month, grab a picture book off the shelf and capture some of that magic for yourself!
What picture book do you still have on your shelf? What lesson did you learn from a picture book that you still remember today? Share in the comments!
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
$1.00 is donated to charity for each book sold on this site--half to St. Jude's and the other half to PetFix Northeast Ohio.