Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How to Protect Your Children from 21st Century Bullying

            With the beginning of a new school year, it is important to prepare your children to face and deal with any potential type of bullying. It is important to recognize, however, that bullying doesn’t just take place at school or on the playground. Social media has opened up all sorts of opportunities for negative interactions among children and for children and teens to bully one another. According to the Pew Research Internet Project, more than half of teens have reported witnessing instances of cyber-bullying.

Experts from Bullying suggest that the best way parents can help protect their children from any type of bullying is to be aware of the potential sources of bullying. Parents need to understand and strive to prevent negative influences at school, on the playground,  and on social media.  Parents need to be aware of the types of bullying that are a potential threat for their children.

Parents should start by looking for signs that their children may be a target of bullying, not only at school and on the playground, but also online.  Such signs include a child who seems withdrawn, doesn’t display a normal desire to interact with others, or exhibits sudden and extreme changes in behavior.

It is important to note that increased technology has not only provided additional outlets for bullies, it also has decreased traditional communication between children, such as talking, socializing, and problem-solving face to face. The consequence of this is a tragic loss of communication. Parents can begin to address such issues by teaching their children how to problem-solve and brainstorm together with other children in an attempt to restore some of the normal communication skills that have been negatively impacted through online social media.

To deter negative online interactions, parents should advise their children to resist the temptation to respond to an online bully. Teach children that it is better not to retaliate. Instead, save any evidence of online bullying and use online privacy tools and settings to block the bully.

Additional tips for children, parents, and teachers for dealing with the bullying dilemma are outlined in my book, The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale. The book can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million.

Useful resources for helping children, parents, and teachers deal with bullying can also be found at my book website, Melissa Harker Ridenour Books.

Picture credit: Nevit Dilmen

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

An Imaginative, Fun, and Educational Resource for Children, Parents and Teachers to Deal with Bullying


My book, The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale, is a fiction story for children about bullying. However, the book also offers two chapters of researched strategies to help children, parents, and teachers deal with bullying. I have provided an excerpt from only a very small portion of chapter 10 which is called “How to Deal with Bullying: Information and Strategies for Children, Parents, and Teachers.”

            Apple Valley Elementary School is a fictional setting in a made-up story, but Apple Valley is representative of a very real bullying problem that exists in schools and communities across America. Walter Weakly (Booger Baby) is not a real little boy, but he represents real boys and girls that truly are the victims of bullies, some of whom face even more abusive bullying situations than Walter does in the story.
Timmy Tuttle (Timmy Tuff) is also not a real boy, but he is representative of real boys and girls who do harass and bully other children, some in much more drastic ways than even Timmy Tuff does in the story.
Of course, Robby the Robot is a made-up character.  Wouldn’t it be nice, however, if all schools could have a Robby the Robot? Robby and the teachers represent one of the major problems with the bully dilemma – a subconscious denial that bullying is a problem, the tendency to turn a blind eye to it, and, ultimately, the urgent need to become aware and address the situation.
Bullying and cyber-bullying (bullying via the Internet) are increasingly serious problems for youth in the United States and across the world. Our young people can’t learn in school or succeed in life if they are afraid to go to school or play in the community because of fear of being bullied, threatened, or harmed. Undoubtedly, children who are targeted by bullies in school or on the Internet feel fearful, helpless, hopeless, and possibly even embarrassed. There must be hope for such children. Our schools and communities, including principals, teachers, parents, and students, must first recognize bullying for the serious problem that it is. Recognition is the first step.
            Children probably have no problem recognizing a bully when they see one or experience being the target of one. Parents, school staff, and community leaders need to recognize bullying characteristics, as well.
             Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, philosopher and poet, expressed it most eloquently in saying,  “When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.” There is some truth to Emerson’s words. Bullies do make a show of false bravado or toughness. Bullies tease and harass, but some bullies are all bark and no bite, as the old saying goes. If children who are the targets of bullies were to “pull off their beard” and call their bluff, they may discover beneath a real cream puff.
Unfortunately, most bullies, however, have some kind of advantage, size, strength, or power over their victims. Most children who are bullies intend to inflict emotional, verbal or physical harm on the children they are targeting. These are the types of bullies who represent a   threat and ever-increasing problem for children and teenagers.

            The above excerpt from part of chapter 10 suggests to you an idea of the types of bullies who present an increasing problem and are a threat to the happiness, safety, and well-being of children. The remainder of  chapter 10, as well as chapter 11, offer researched, proven, and sound strategies for parents, teachers, and children to deal with the problem.

            The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, as well as Books-A-Million. It is available in paperback, Kindle and Nook formats. Visit my Amazon page to find links for purchase of this book. Also visit my book website, Melissa Harker Ridenour Books, to find useful information, resources, links, and educational games and videos that serve to help parents, teachers, and children address all aspects of the bullying dilemma, as well as child safety.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bullying: A Lethal Epidemic

The statistics are truly staggering! Research shows that suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens, and targets of bullying are two times more likely to consider suicide as a solution than those children who are not bullied. Research also shows that half of teen suicides are directly attributable to bullying.
Not only should schools have programs in place to address bullying, but parents need to pursue every avenue open to them to address bullying and better ensure their children are not bullies, are not being bullied, and, worst yet, become a suicide statistic.
Here are some steps you as parents can take:
• Communicate with your children. They need to be able to talk to you about their concerns, fears and about possible bullying incidents whether they or someone else is the victim.

• Despite your child’s plea not to report bullying, you must do exactly that. You can often do it in such a way that the bully doesn’t know who reported him. Most likely the bully has multiple victims.
• Monitor your children for any signs of depression. Because teens have a tendency to want to spend large amounts of time in their rooms, insist on family time and meals together so that you can get a better assessment of your child’s mental outlook. Monitor grades and social involvement since both of these tend to drop when a child is depressed for some reason.
• Communicate with your child’s school and take the necessary steps to stop bullying. If you cannot get help through the school, report the incident to police. They have ways to track cyber-bullying as well as face-to-face bullying.
• Speak out and advocate for safe schools. Get involved with PTA and other organizations where you can increase awareness, make a difference, and get the help of other parents to address this deadly bullying epidemic.
• Look inside your own family. Recent research shows that bullying which comes from siblings is as damaging as peer bullying.
Picture credit:  Krzysztof (Kriss) Szkurlatowski

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Understanding the Psychological Nature of Bullies and Victims of Bullies

This  post is an excerpt from my book, The Bully and The Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale. I haveposted an excerpt from a chapter specifically for parents, teachers and other child caregivers. The chapter presents some key research finding on the psychological nature of bullies and victims of bullies. A portion of that chapter is excerpted here:

Research from the American Psychological Association has also determined that poor social problem solving skills are key factors that affect much of the bullying that occurs. Children who don’t have good social problem solving skills face a greater risk for being bullies and victims of bullies. Lack of good social problem solving skills, negative attitudes about school, and lack of self esteem, in both bullies and victims, sometimes stem from conflict and lack of good parenting. This finding, however, should not be construed as an indictment on the parenting skills of all parents whose children may be displaying bullying behavior or who may be victims of bullying. There are far too many variables involved to make such an indictment. A child’s aggressive behavior and a child’s likeliness to be a victim of aggressive behavior may also reflect abuse from another family member or a family friend or acquaintance, and not always the parents.

The research findings would seem to suggest, however, that an effective anti-bullying campaign should be focused on more than punishment alone. It is important to address all risk factors, including school and home environment,  that may lead to bullying and victimization behavior in the first place.

Being armed with the knowledge of the psychological factors that may contribute to bullying and to being victims of bullying may help considerably in solving the bullying dilemma. Such insights to bullying should help shape interventions and improve anti-bullying endeavors.

Recommended Anti Bullying Programs, Workshops, and Presentations

“Bullies to Buddies.” 2013. <>.

“Bullying: The Silent Threat.” Teach Anti Bullying, Inc. 2013. <>.





Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What to Do if Your Child is a Bully


“Your child has been possibility even before receiving it. You may have felt uneasy about the way your child has been interacting with another child.  You know that some teasing is normal for kids, but something about this seems like more than just teasing. The phone rings then suddenly it’s clear that something is going bullying other children.” This is the telephone call that no parent wants to get from school or from another parent. If you, as a parent, have ever received such a call, you may have suspected the on.
Whatever raises the red flag, your first response sets the tone for the outcomse to follow. Your reactions can turn such adversity into an extraordinary learning opportunity for your child and all involved. If you don’t have an appropriate first response, the outcome could be disastrous for what is already a volatile situation. There are three things you as the parent of a bully can do to resolve the situation. Manage your reactions. Find out exactly what is going on. Then work with your child and others involved to resolve the situation. The following strategies may help to bring about an effective resolution.
·       Manage your reactions to the call. Take a deep breath and try to collect your thoughts and focus on staying calm. Write down what you are hearing so you don’t miss any details or inadvertently edit any of them. The natural first reaction may be fear, shame denial, this can’t be, panic, and defensiveness. Such reactions are understandable. It’s so hard to hear a label like that affixed to your child, and it can make you feel instantly like you’re a bad parent. You may feel shock at that moment of recognition of something you’ve been in denial about or something you’ve been dreading addressing. It’s important to remember that it’s not a label  on your child, but a description of behavior that your child is exhibiting today and is not necessarily who he or she is in entirety or in the future, if you get help. It doesn’t mean that you are irresponsible or that you are a horrible parent. Shut down those negative thought processes.
·       Be gracious and thank the person who has contacted you. It’s a good that you are finding out now. Demonstrating to the caller that you understand and are eager to intervene and help change the situation makes a big difference. Reassure the caller that you take this very seriously, and that you will do everything you can to get any bullying or troubling behavior to stop.
·       Talk with your child. This is a fact-finding conversation and it’s important that you be calm and non-judgmental in the discussion with him or her. Calmly inform your child of the call regarding the bullying accusation and tell your child that you need to know what happened. Ask your child such questions as: Do you know what they are talking about? What happened? Is any of this true? Allow your child several iterations to tell you. Ask if he remembers any other details. Then read the description of what you’ve been told by the caller that happened and ask your child to write down, in as much detail as he can remember,  his version of the event. Tell him that you need to know everything he remembers about what was done and said. Calmly inform your child that you realize that he may also have new information to add. This will allow your child to test the waters and see how you are going to respond. If your child sees that you remain calm and approachable, his fear may diminish and you may hear a lot more of the facts and details. Make it safe for him to continue to tell you more as he feels more trusting that you are able to hear what he did. Reassure your child that, whatever happened, you are going to help him get through this.
·       Be the adult. If your child can only tell you what the other child did, reassure him that you want to hear that, but first you want to hear what he did. It’s important to help him reflect on his own behavior. Try to assess if your child can empathize with the other child’s experience. Ask him such questions as: Can you help me see why the other child sees it his way? How would you feel if he did that to you? As a parent, you must attempt  to understand what led up to this bullying behavior.  Is there underlying insecurity, anger, or previous teasing? Is something going on at home? Look for any underlying issues that could motivate such reactivity or unease. Look for any group dynamics underlying the behavior.
·       Teach your child responsibility. Your child may have a different version of events. Regardless, your job is to help your child recognize and identify exactly what he did and be accountable and responsive in apologizing, and then finding strategies for moving forward. Even if your child is positive the other child started it, he is nonetheless responsible for giving you a full accounting of what happened and for assuming ownership of his or her contribution. Let your child know the seriousness of the situation and that you are going to help make sure it doesn’t continue. Help your child make amends. This is sometimes best accomplished with the school counselor present. Then develop a contract about your behavioral expectations going forward. Both parties need to feel safe and supported.
·       Give your child appropriate social-emotional tools. Teach him more positive and acceptable ways to react and to deal with conflict and tension. Concentrate on strengthening his social-emotional skills. Calmly make it clear to him that violence and aggression, physical or verbal, is not an appropriate or effective coping tool. Teach your child more appropriate social ways to deal with conflict  to avoid escalating drama, such as walking away or telling a teacher. Teach him face-saving ways to fend off provocation if he is indeed being provoked himself.  Model and encourage kindness and appropriate conflict resolution. Learn about your child’s social life at school and any class or group dynamic.  Find appropriate alternative activities and friends to solidify social connections. Encourage and model good behavior and the use of kind or neutral words with family and others.
·       Get help. Take the situation seriously and avoid the tendency to minimize it by excusing it as just a one-time occurrence. It won’t go away if left unchecked. If the situation is not immediately addressed, it can continue to hurt your child’s social and academic life. Maintain a positive attitude that the behavior can be stopped. Find out if there is a school policy on bullying and support it. It may also be helpful to get a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation of your child to determine if there are underlying, unknown issues, such as anxiety, depression, inability to read social cues, or impulsivity. Such an evaluation can help you better understand how your child thinks, feels, and reacts. Armed with such knowledge, you will be better able to determine what kind of help he needs going forward.
·       Support growth, change, and optimism. Instill in your child the notion that life is full of opportunities for growth and to reinvent himself, if need be. The message should be that, in order to grow emotionally and socially, he must be willing to do the hard work and take ownership of his mistakes and of understanding the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that contributed to them. He must understand that the most important thing, at home and in school, is to be honest, appropriately responsive, and accountable.
Picture credit: Gabriella Fabbri

Monday, January 6, 2014

Coping with a Bully

Bullying is a serious problem among American youth. Bullying statistics document a problem that must be effectively addressed by our schools. There's hope.

School systems, including principals, teachers, parents and students, must recognize bullying for the serious problem that it is. Any child targeted by a bully undoubtedly feels fear, completely alone, helpless, and maybe even embarrassed. Feeling fearful of such aggression is natural. Being the victim of a bully is nothing to feel shame about, however. Shame belongs on the bully, not on the victim. Targets of bullies should know they’re not alone.

Characteristics of Bullies

As Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, philosopher and poet, said, “When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.” It's true that some bullies make a show of false bravado. They tease and harass, but some bullies are all bark and no bite, as the old saying goes. If you were to “pull off their beard” and call their bluff, you may discover beneath a real cream puff. Most bullies, however, have some kind of advantage, size, strength or power over their victims. Most mean to inflict verbal, emotional or physical harm on their targets. It is this type of bullying that is a threatening and ever-increasing problem for children and teenagers. Such bullying can take the form of direct attacks, such as hitting, taunting, name-calling, malicious sexual remarks, and stealing or damaging belongings. It can also take the form of more subtle attacks, such as spreading rumors or enlisting cohorts to reject and exclude the victim. How can victims deal with this deliberately aggressive and potentially harmful bully?

Ways to Stop a Bully
·       Ignoring the bully and simply walking away from his harassment may work with some bullies.
·       Another simple strategy would to tell the bully as firmly as possible to stop. Many bullies stop bullying within 10 seconds when someone tells the bully to stop.
·        Using humor might get the bully to stop as well. The victim making a joke or laughing at himself can be an effective defense. Bullies often give up when they don't get the expected response from their intended victim.
·       Victims of bullies should always stick with a friend at recess, lunch, in the hallways, on the bus or walking home. The risk of being targeted is much greater if the victim is alone.
·       Targets of bullies should make friends and socialize with those friends outside of school so that they can maintain a strong social support system.

In addition to these suggested strategies, children are encouraged to involve parents and the school to take active measures to monitor against bullying and stop bullying behavior.

Getting  Help When Dealing With a Bully
Bullying victims should talk to parents or another trusted adult, such as a teacher, counselor, or principal. Telling an adult about bullying doesn’t constitute tattling and, contrary to popular victim belief, informing an adult doesn’t make the situation worse. Victims shouldn't be ashamed of being unable to handle the bully alone. Trusted adults can help develop a plan to end the bullying and provide much needed support.

Victims shouldn't retaliate against a bully or let him see how upsetting the harassment is. When a bully suspects he’s made his target afraid or upset, he’s likely to torment even more. Victims should remain calm and respond firmly or say nothing at all. Then, as suggested before, walk away, if possible.

The strategies suggested by the National Youth Violence Resource Center and the experts from, if practiced consistently, should help stop bullying and victim fear.

Picture credit: Shaun Crum, illustrator for The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale