I don’t know about you, but when I think of summer, I think of blockbuster films. I’m instantly transported back to warm summer nights at the drive-in, sitting under the stars and watching epic stories unfold. As a child, it felt like I could be and do just about anything as I watched those fantastic characters dance across the screen.
As we discussed in an earlier blog, while filled with many wonderful things, summertime can also be filled with bullying and unkindness. Even during the summer months, it is important to continue working on building kindness and empathy. This doesn’t mean fun has to take a backseat, though! There are plenty of ways to build social/emotional skills while enjoying all your favorite summertime activities—including going to the movies!
One fun new movie that recently hit theaters is an animated film called The Secret Life of Pets. In this movie, we humans are given a rare glimpse into what our pets think and do when we aren’t around. Children get to see how their animals might feel when they get left at home and how they might react when placed in a difficult scenario, providing the perfect opportunity to begin a conversation about empathy and the importance of considering the thoughts and opinions of others.
Inspired by the movie, I decided to create another movie-based empathy-building activity called:
The Secret Life Of…
In The Secret Life of Pets, we get to look at life through the eyes of our pets. This activity takes it one step further and allows children to step into the shoes of any character they like best!
Step 1: Choose a character
Have your child pick a character from a book or movie. This can be any character, however, it works best if children choose someone they have seen or read about recently.
Step 3: Tell the story
Keeping in mind the details outlined in the previous step, write out the character’s backstory using the first person perspective. The story should include details from the movie or book, but also fill in gaps that were not included in these tales. When writing the story, children should be sure to include how their character feels about the things that happen to him or her and why he or she chose to do certain things. For younger children, you may pick specific scenes or events for them to focus in on while older children may be given more free reign to explore character’s story and choices.
Again, you may get as creative as you like with this step. Stories may be illustrated, acted out, told completely in Tweets, or recorded in a diary!
Step 4: Continue the story
Create several different scenarios, with everything from bullying scenarios to everyday classroom situations, or even extending a scene from the character’s movie or book. How would your child’s character respond and why? What thoughts would run through their head? How would they feel?
As your children imagine their character’s responses, they are practicing, not only how to respond to different situations, but also putting themselves into the shoes of others.
Have conversations about why your children’s characters would respond the way they do. Ask if this is different than how they themselves would respond. Open up about how you would respond, as well. By the end of the activity, your children will have experienced at least three different thought processes, reactions, and responses to the exact same scenario.
So there you have it! A fun, simple little lesson in empathy that your children will think is just playtime! And really, aren’t learning and playing the same things?!
Would you try this activity at home? Which character would you choose? Let us know in the comments!
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.
School is finally out!! No more tests! No more studying! No more homework!...but what about bullies? As much as we would like to believe bullies get locked away with the stacks of history books, it simply isn’t true. Bullying can occur at any location and at any time of the year, even during these blissful summer months.
In fact, outside of school, away from the supervision and protocol of the classroom, bullying can actually increase. This is especially true when children go away to summer camps where they are often forced to deal with difficult situations alone.
This isn’t fun to think about, but taking some time now to prepare can ensure a smooth summer and an even a better school year in the fall. Here are some points to consider as you head into your summer vacation:
Where is bullying likely to occur?
Keep up with your child as they participate in their summer activities, asking them questions and monitoring their attitude. If they suddenly seem disinterested in an activity they previously enjoyed, have less and less to say about their day, or talk often of quitting, do a little digging. These could all be signs that something isn’t quite right.
Establish Trusted Adults
This tip was suggested in an article on the website stopitcyberbully.com. Discuss with your child who will be in charge where they are going and who amongst that group they can trust if they need help. This is an especially important step for young children who may have more difficulty identifying the person in charge or having the confidence to approach someone they don’t know.
Again, the goal is to prepare your child, not frighten them. So, instead of saying “If someone teases you or steals your things at camp, tell your camp counselor” you could say “If you ever need help, remember, your camp counselor, Cindy, in there to help you with whatever you need. Her job is to make sure you stay safe and happy, just like your teacher at school!”
On your end, take a little time to establish a relationship with these adults, as well. If you’re able, volunteer to help out. This is the best way to get a front row view of the true dynamics of the group. However, many aren’t able to volunteer, and that’s ok! Again, this doesn’t have to be anything too intense. Simply introduce yourself, exchange contact information, and check in every now and then to see how everything is going.
It seems that gossip is one of the more frequent forms of bullying over summer vacation. Perhaps this is because people who gossip do so to make themselves feel better and summer often involves new, scary situations where kids need to make fast friends, or perhaps it’s because the mystique of not seeing each other every day leaves things ripe for false stories. Whatever the reason, summer camps and sports teams always seem to teem with gossip. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know how to handle the situation since gossip is difficult to confirm, but can do an enormous amount of damage in a short span of time.
Find out where it is coming from and why
Figuring out who started the rumor may shed some light on why it is happening. Was the rumor meant to hurt your child or is it just a case of misinformation? Is the person gossiping or spreading rumors intent on ostracizing your child and getting others to turn against her? This information is important to know before your child reacts to the rumor. For instance, it is easier to clear up a case of misinformation than it is to respond to relational aggression.
Turn to a trusted adult for support
Talk to someone you can confide in, like a parent, teacher, school counselor, or coach. Let that person know what you're going through. Keep him or her up to date on what's going on, even as things start to get better. A trusted adult confidante can help you feel more supported and less alone. Plus, adults can take steps to put a stop to the rumors and gossip
Before you try talking to the person, though, talk with an adult about what to say and how to approach her. Every situation is different, and you want to make sure things don't turn into more meanness, yelling, or fighting. It can also help to have a friend stand with you when you talk to the girl.
Resist the urge to react or get revenge
When people are mean, it is hard not to feel overwhelmed and react in negative ways. But just like with other types of bullying, it makes it worse when kids reward a bully’s efforts by getting visibly upset. It is also tempting for kids to respond in kind with rumors or gossip of their own. Encourage your child not to seek revenge but to take the high road instead.
Don’t pass on gossip if you hear it. Make sure it stops with you
Stress with your child the importance of being mindful of the information they themselves spread about others, as well as themselves. Friends are not always as tight-lipped as they may have promised to be and facts can easily become distorted. Though simple, sometimes the age old “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” policy is the best to follow.
Responding to other types of bullying
Be sure to talk through what your child would do if they were in any position of a bullying scenario (bully, victim, bystander). Depending on your child, different preparations will fit better than others. For example, perhaps your child is very outgoing, social, and popular. He may not be a target of bullying at all, however, he should still be prepared for what to do if he sees someone being mistreated. How would he respond? Is there a way his popularity could help him help someone else? It should never be one child’s full responsibility to control a situation; however, some children have more influence over others and are able to utilize that influence for the better.
Remind your child that respect is always a necessity, even when school isn’t in session. People can still get hurt and angry and sad outside the classroom.
Fun preparation games
Learning doesn’t have to be boring! In fact, summer offers a multitude of opportunities for building valuable social skills such as empathy and teamwork. Here are a few of our favorites:
Sometimes the best way to understand another person is to actually step into their shoes. This blog offers some simple role play activities that can help children get a small taste of what it feels like to live with a disability, have an injury, or go hungry. This idea can be expanded to explore any perspective of your choice.
This activity is great for helping kids of all ages put themselves—literally—in the shoes of another. The activity can be tailored to fit the needs of your particular group.
Summer should be a time of fun, joy, and making memories, and, with a little preparation, it will be! We hope these tips have been helpful and that the only thing you that bugs your kids this summer, are the bugs!
Has bullying ever clouded up your sunny summer fun? Let us know how you handled it in the comments below.
Looking for your next summer read? Check out This is A. Blob by L.A. Kefalos! This beautifully illustrated picture book introduces children to issues such as bullying, differences, and empathy using easy to read rhyming text. Join the sticky, purple "A. Blob" on a journey of learning that there is usually more to someone than first meets the eye...
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.