Using Literature to Combat Bullying

This blog was submitted by guest contributor Hilary Smith.

blog 1Everyday, kids everywhere suffer the pain and humiliation of an encounter with a classroom bully. The problem is a common one – recent reports show that more than one in five children have reported being bullied while at school. And these numbers may even be higher than anticipated; studies indicate that up to 64 percent of kids who are bullied never report it. These experiences leave a lasting impression on both parties; kids who are bullied tend to be more depressed in later years, and former bullies have been correlated with greater drug and alcohol use in adulthood. With every new study, the true dangers of bullying are uncovered. Bullying is no longer viewed as “just a part of growing up.”

Despite our growing knowledge of the short- long-term consequences bullying can have, it remains rather difficult to stop the behavior head on. After all, how can we stop something that happens behind our backs? One way to subvert bullying is through education and thoughtful discussion. If you’re looking for ways to facilitate that discussion, you simply need to head to your nearest bookshelf.

Stories Help Kids Develop Empathy

When we read a book, we engage in a world and an environment that can be very different from our own. This experience can give us insight into how the “other half” lives, be it a different culture, a different era, or simply a different way of thinking. Once we’ve gained this insight, it can – as a 2013 study from the New School says – “[expand] our knowledge of others’ lives, helping us to recognize our similarity to them.” In this way, reading makes us more empathetic and understanding of the people around us.

In this way, reading can help stop bullying before it starts. If a child reads from an early age, he or she will have an easier time empathizing with other children at school or on the playground. Instead of bullying the “different” kids, he or she will be able to try and understand them, possibly making a new friend along the way. Of course, not every kid will get along (not every adult gets along with everyone, either). But children with a strong and developed sense of empathy just might handle personality clashes with grace and without any cruelty.

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Books Can Build Self Esteem

ou may be thinking Sure, I can read to my kid and help him be more empathetic, but what about the other kids? What happens if my child becomes the victim? This concern is completely valid. No one wants to see his or her child struggling with meanness at a young age. However, this is also a concern with an easy solution – building the child’s self esteem. A confident child can stand up to the bully picking on him or her (or sometimes, picking on another kid), which will lead to a more pleasant and stimulating school environment.

There are many books available today that are designed to help a child build self-esteem. Reading with them regularly will help reinforce those important lessons – and the quality time you spend with them doesn’t hurt either! In fact, self-esteem-building books give a child the freedom to be exactly what he or she wants to be, ultimately creating a happy, well-adjusted adult.

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How Adults Can Help

 As adults, we know it is our responsibility to help the children in our lives navigate through the adventure of growing up. And, as we already mentioned here, books and literature can be a great way to teach kids about other’s experiences and their own self worth. But here’s the big questions (the same big question every parent asks every day): how do we do it right?

Well, the first thing to do is to carefully select the literature you read to your child. When they are very young, consider books that are emotionally sensitive and uplifting. Choose books that feature a variety of characters, so your child learns to see the similarities between people from all backgrounds and walks of life. Finally, it’s best to avoid books that glorify violence, hatred, or illegal behaviors. Yes, these things can make for interesting stories (there’s a reason that many crime novels became bestsellers), but these messages aren’t suited to a young, impressionable audience.

After you read a story with you child, talk with him or her about the lesson they learned while reading. Together, you and your child can help bring an end to bullying in your community.

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