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The Introduction to "Don't Pick On Me," promised to teach the reader how to recognize a bully and how to handle them once identified. It is a workbook with 37 lessons and worksheets designed to help an adult work with a child to a) deal with teasing, b) cope with feelings, and c) get help when warranted. It doesn't specify what ages it is aimed at but the child should have basic reading and comprehension skills found at the end of grade three or beginning of grade four. Once a child reaches junior high, the book would be perceived as pretty lame so the window is fourth, fifth, and sixth graders before middle school.
Because I am familiar with bullying from domestic abuse cases, I wondered if the basic principles might be adapted to adults in abusive situations. It is known that kids that bully often grow up into adults that bully. If this workbook picked up on the basic principles to bully-proof one's self, it should be very effective with kids and adapt in some form to working with abused adults.
Each activity begins with a lesson and follows with written worksheets that help the reader internalize the message. Activity One was simple, "What 's a Bully?" We learn that there are all kinds of bullies, some who call you names, some who punch and hit, some who pick on kids they don't like and some who pick on their friends. The reader is asked to answer if they have seen kids bullied in a list of choices: Have you seen someone,
Give a kid a bad nickname?
Embarrass someone to make us laugh?
Play a mean trick on them?
Get kids to stop talking to another?
And so forth. This creates awareness of the bullying problem and unintentionally gives a kid a few ideas on things they might want to feel bad about, if they didn't know the situation was considered bullying in the first place. The follow up exercise asked them to identify places where they might be bullied--just so they wouldn't be taken unawares.
Activity Two: How a Bully Makes You Feel: Sad, Scared, And More
When you get bullied you feel bad--but just how bad? We learn there are many words to describe feelings and the exercise helps the reader identify them: angry, hurt, foolish, ashamed and so on. This book not only helps kids deal with the bully but will expand the definition of who a bully is and how many ways he or she can make the reader feel bad. If a child felt that James picked on him a few times at recess and he hated it, now he could identify many more places, types of bullying and many more feelings that James "made" him feel. Bullying would then raise from a part-time struggle in the pecking order of kids on the playground and easily blossom into a daily hell for kids learning to expand their definition of the bad feelings bullies create.
Whew--only at Activity Two and life with other kids is getting really rough. Suddenly pulling Jane's pigtails, teasing another about anything, or changing friends is a major event that must somehow be addressed.
Activity Three continues to deal with feelings, but now it is physical feelings and not emotional. If a child didn't know before that someone teasing him or calling him a name could make him ill--he knows it now. "How a Bully Makes You Feel: Aches and Pains.
Did you know that when you get picked on, it can cause a stomach ache? Headache? You could get cold and shiver? Feel like you want to throw up? Get dizzy? My gosh, you can get achy all over and find it hard to breathe, this workbook lets you know!
Kids are not stupid.
This handy little workbook allows, if not encourages kids to blame others for any not-so-good thoughts and feelings inside. The worksheets seem to implant subliminal messages about all kinds of feelings one can claim to have when they want attention. What a great way to get out of class or stay home from school--"Mom, Tommy called me Porky. I don't feel so good. I feel dizzy and my head hurts." Mom, not wanting to further traumatize her son or daughter makes arrangements to keep them home until their psyche can handle the bully again.
Unfortunately, the rest of the workbook won't help with the handling part. It may help the child identify and learn about feelings--but probably not help much with bullies. Why?
Because most of the advice about bullies actually is counterproductive and will probably make things worse, not better.
Activity Seven cautions kids not to do to the bully what they do to them. Ok, I like that message but it carries it too far. It actually tells the kid not to fight back. Like if they are hit! Not bullying back is one thing--but not sticking up for yourself and letting other kids hit you might be politically correct but not practical. Just wimp around and let kids hit you, call you harsh names and mistreat you just doesn't work in the real world. The exercise suggests you find a "healthy" way to cool down, but doesn't define what that is.
Activity Ten offers some examples of ways to talk to a bully like, "Please don't call me that. That's not very nice." Good grief. Can you just see the bully now? They will mock their target, ridicule them, mimic their begging little voice. This is probably the worst advice in any of these exercises. We know that you can't reason with those who abuse--you can't defend. They are signs of weakness and increase, not decrease bad behavior. A better way is to teach the target not to believe the abuse of the bully. Not believing their words or evaluations of you is the best way to take away their power. But the book doesn't explore this option.
Activity Eight is very Tai Kwon Do--the best way to win a fight is not to be there in the first place. OK. This makes sense. If the bully always picks on you behind the bathrooms at the park--don't go behind the bathrooms at the park any more. Activity Eleven tells the reader to hang out with others and that numbers work in your favor. In reality, bullies often travel in numbers too and whether or not this will really bully proof yourself clearly depends on the circumstances. But it may help.
Activity Four and Nine were shinning exceptions to some of the counterproductive exercises found in this workbook. Activity Four: "Act As If." If you act confident, the lesson explains, they may not zero in on you. Activity Nine: "Assertive, Aggressive, or Passive. It says to stand up for yourself by being firm but friendly. "Stand tall," the exercise advises. Bullies do pick on the meek and weak. Recent research suggests that even good posture influences the way others treat you. This is a solid message for kids in school not only about bullies but life in general. A sound psychological principle says that "acting as if" helps create better realties for us.
A third Activity, Five, also offers some seriously good advice--the better you look, the better others treat you. The lesson points out that bad breath, dirty teeth, greasy hair, and shabby clothes can induce kids to pick on you. Once again we know this to be true. Research shows, that the better looking kids get better grades for the same work. So it stands to reason that cohorts will also treat the better looking kids with less rancor.
The best advice the book gave was to ignore a person who is bad mouthing you (Activity Six: Stay Cool) if you can. That takes the power away from a bully. It also tells you NOT to involve an adult if you can avoid it. That's also good advice and helps keep a situation from escalating. Activity 17 asks kids to distinguish between telling and tattling--when the situation turns dangerous, is when you tell.
When the book turns to cyber bullying in Activity 30, the advice gets strong. It's the kind of advice and education that can save lives. It discusses email protection, id, passwords and the dangers of strangers.
The strong points of the book are that it helps kids recognize and deal with feelings. But this sort of education should not be limited to bullying. The sections on the Internet and Cyber bullying contained excellent messages and tools for protection. Not that kids really listen--they are going to push the envelope--but the lessons try to protect and at least don't weaken the child.
The weakest lessons direct kids to find bad feelings lurking in every remark of another child. Part of growing up is the playground and the teasing and the not so nice kids that prepare us for life. Often we are the not so nice kids that prepare others for life. Many of the "bullying" scenarios actually prepare us for the real world. It is as true for the animal kingdom as it is for us. We must stop the dangerous bullying, but to completely stop the playground rites of passage--the teasing, name-calling, shoving, finding your own peer group and defining yourself by opposing other peer groups is how we grow up. Bullies make us better in most circumstances and to deny this rite of passage and make it all an excuse to "feel bad" may end up crippling our youth, not empowering them.
Don't Pick on Me could not be adapted to help adults bully proof themselves because most of the exercises will not bully proof a kid. It may help kids learn what feelings are and how to get in touch with them and it will help kids think about safety and how not to use the Internet, but teaching them to deal with bully's is not its strong point.
I found the book a great place to start talking about feelings–to open up dialogue when learning about bullying--and talk about life in general, what is fair and what is not. Take out all the direction to "blame" other kids for their own negativity and redirect it solely to an exploration of "feelings," make a separate work book for "How to Use the Internet Safely" and you have two pretty decent workbooks--but I would not suggest using this for bullies. Although politically correct, many of these lessons would be counterproductive in real life.
© 2011 Shelly Marshall
Shelly Marshall, BS, CSAC. Ms Marshall specializes with adolescents in recovery from addiction (day-by-day.org) and has recently released a book she co-authored with her brother Dr. Michael Marshall, Respect-Me Rules (ResepctMeRules.com).