If you teach or support primary students, you may have noticed a distinct pattern when you mention the word bully. It almost seems to ripple effect its way into their vocabulary, automatically becomes synonymous with being bugged, annoyed, or even slightly inconvenienced. "He/she bullied meeeee." (added e's to emphasize the drone), becomes a common theme, and it can even turn into a Boy Who Cried Bully narrative.
When we start the year in Kindergarten, first grade, second grade and even third grade, we almost always begin with 'what a good friend looks and sounds like'. We invest time in praising positive behaviors, introducing the power of bucket fillers and ensure that random acts of kindness is the backbone of our social skills programming. While we organically compare kind vs. unkind acts, when it comes to explicitly talking about bullying, our lessons (like mine did) may fall short. We might read a book where an angry little hedgehog is clenching his fists and furrowing his brow and the students might yell, "Bully!" and we brush it off and keep reading.
The fact is, we tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to bullying. We might worry that we could plant the seed of hysteria, expose our innocent children to truths they don't yet seem mature enough to digest. Will we say too much? Not enough and do the topic a disservice? Should we just wait for Pink Shirt Day, Unity Day or Anti-Bullying Week so we can have a script and design the same craft we decorate each year and hope that the message sticks? But the fact is, some of the most important lessons bring discomfort and challenge to the lesson plan.
Bottom line: We need to lay a foundation that helps our students to a) distinguish between unkind acts and bullying, and, b) empower them to advocate for themselves and for others by giving them the tools they need to do so before they need them. Here are some ways we can do that:
Through Read Alouds
These books provide valuable lessons and opportunities for discussion about bullying, empathy, and the importance of treating others with kindness and respect. They are appropriate for various age groups between K-3 and can be powerful tools in addressing the issue of bullying with your babes:
The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill, is a story about a playground bully named Mean Jean who learns the power of kindness and friendship. It's a great book for discussing how to handle bullies and promote inclusion.
One by Kathryn Otoshi, is a beautifully illustrated book that uses colors and simple shapes to explore the concepts of bullying, standing up for others, and the power of one person to make a difference.
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, portrays a young girl who is confident in herself despite facing teasing and bullying. This book encourages children to embrace their uniqueness and stay true to themselves.
Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun: Having the Courage to Be Who You Are by Maria Dismondy, tells the story of Lucy, who faces teasing and bullying but learns to be proud of who she is. It emphasizes the importance of courage and being true to oneself.
The Juice Box Bully: Empowering Kids to Stand Up for Others by Bob Sornson and Maria Dismond, focuses on bystander intervention and teaches children how to stand up for others who are being bullied. It promotes the idea that everyone can make a difference
Enemy Pie by Derek Munson, showcases a young boy who learns a valuable lesson about friendship and resolving conflicts. It's a great choice for discussing how to turn enemies into friends.
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, addresses the feeling of being invisible and excluded. It teaches empathy and the importance of reaching out to others who may be experiencing loneliness or bullying.
Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds, inspires children to use their voices and take action to make the world better, which can relate to standing up against bullying by speaking out against it.
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade, by Justin Roberts, is about a girl named Sally who speaks up against bullying and encourages kindness in her school, teaching children the importance of taking action against bullying.
Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry is a children's book about the friendship between Stick and Stone, highlighting the importance of standing up against bullying and supporting friends in times of need.
Crafts for bullying prevention help make such potentially difficult and triggering conversations more accessible and concrete to our youngest learners. In these anti-bullying craftivities, students are challenged to think about how to self-regulate if they do feel victimized and to always consider the impact that kind words and actions have on others. In the off-chance they might one day feel like a victim, they will learn to advocate for themselves using thoughts and words that are assertive, but not harmful, as well as develop vocabulary such as: upstander, bystander and victim so that they are able to recognize roles at play.
Through Coloring Pages
You know the importance of coloring, so you are well aware of the impact it can have to create a pocket of peace and mindfulness within our days. Try this: invite students to self-reflect with simple, non-intimidating writing prompts that take the coloring one step further.
Through Collaborative Projects
I adore collaborative mural art projects because the process is just as powerful as the product. While your elementary students or counseling groups are working together, they are problem-solving, sharing, visualizing and celebrating. Simultaneously, they're creating a beautiful visual for your class or counseling bulletin board, to remind everyone to stand up to bullies by harnessing kindness, advocacy and empathy.