“He’s bullying me!” As educators, this is something that we hear all.of.the.time, but how often is the behavior actually bullying? This word is thrown around so casually, and so frequently, that one-time, mean choices are often labeled as “bullying.” My fear here is that real bullying behaviors may go unnoticed or undetected, while educators and parents overwhelm themselves with small, no-big-deal issues that children can solve themselves. This can have very serious, even life-threatening, consequences for our youth.
Bullying is defined as “unwanted aggressive behavior, observed or perceived power imbalance, and repetition or high likelihood of repetition of bullying behaviors” (www.stopbullying.gov). Below you’ll find a more kid-friendly definition of bullying that I use in my lessons with students:
The most current research finds that 20% of school-aged children are victimized by bullying. We also know that bullying behaviors most often take place in areas without adequate adult supervision, such as the classroom, hallways, bathrooms, school bus, playground, and online. In elementary schools, the most common bullying behaviors are name-calling, threatening to harm, exclusion, spreading rumors, and physical violence. Bullying takes a physical, social, academic, and emotional toll on those who are victimized by bullying, those who engage in bullying behaviors, and those who witness bullying. Bullying is linked to many serious mental health outcomes such as depression, anxiety, changes in sleeping and eating, decreased academic performance, loss of interest in hobbies, substance abuse, risky behaviors, and even suicide.
In these pandemic times, with the increased use of technology in both schools and homes, cyber-bullying is quickly becoming the most common type of bullying. Cyber-bullying is particularly damaging because it is “persistent, permanent, and hard to notice” (www.stopbullying.gov). Constant access to devices can cause victims of cyber-bullying to feel there is no escape, or relief, from the shame, embarrassment, and harassment they’re experiencing. And, unfortunately, cyber-bullying is very easy to hide, even when educators and parents make an effort to monitor and supervise children’s use of devices.
Story Books for Bullying Prevention
With these staggering statistics in mind, I knew it was my responsibility to teach my students how to identify true bullying behaviors, and stand up for both themselves and their peers. If you know me, you know that I love to use story books to grab students’ attention, spark meaningful conversation, and address tough topics in a relatable, age-appropriate way. In this post, I’ll recommend my three favorite, tried-and-true story books for bullying prevention lessons, and engaging resources to go along with them. You’ll notice a common theme in all three books: it only takes one, brave Upstander to make a difference and stop bullying.
“One” by Kathryn Otoshi
The story “One” by Kathryn Otoshi (Amazon affiliate link) is one of the most powerful and memorable books I have found for bullying prevention lessons. “One” tells the story of Blue. Blue likes who he is, except when he is around Red. Red picks on Blue, calls him names, and makes him feel like he just isn’t good enough. The other colors don’t like what they see, and comfort Blue – as long as Red isn’t around. But, their silence in front of Red gives Red even more power. Thankfully, everything changes when a hero named One arrives. He teaches all of the colors how to “count” and be “the one” to stop bullying. One even chooses to include and be kind to Red because he believes that each and every one of us have value.
This story hooks students’ attention and teaches them a powerful lesson: it only takes one voice to ignite change and stand up to bullying. I love to use my companion lesson to this story to teach students about the four types of bullying (physical, verbal, social, cyber), the places where bullying behaviors are most likely to happen, how to be an upstander, and how to report bullying to a safe and trusted grown-up. The lesson offers everything you need, including a thorough presentation, posters, a printable craft, an upstanders pledge, coloring pages, and worksheets!
“The Recess Queen” by Alexis O’Neill
Another of my absolute favorite stories for teaching bullying prevention to elementary learners is “The Recess Queen” by Alexis O’Neill (Amazon affiliate link). Since the playground can be a hotbed for bullying behaviors, I really appreciate how this story focuses specifically on how to be a friend out at recess. It tells the story of a little girl named Jean, who rightfully earned the title of the “Recess Queen.” She is the bossy ruler of the playground who always gets to be first and gives anyone a piece of her mind who tries to get in her way. Until one day, when a new friend named Katie Sue comes to school. She was a small, quiet child – until it was time for recess. Katie Sue was the first friend to stand up to Jean, and not let her be the Recess Queen any longer She was also the first friend to ever ask Jean to play, and included her in her game of jump rope. Katie Sue changed Jean’s heart that day by asking her to play, and from then on, the playground became a much happier place to be.
I love how, just like “One,” our unlikely hero little Katie Sue was able to singlehandedly inspire change in her peers. She realized that, just like everyone else, Jean just wanted to be included, and her small act of kindness changed the whole dynamic of their playground. In my companion lesson to this story, students learn how to identify “Recess Queen” behaviors and, instead, practice how to be a “Recess Friend.” Through an interactive presentation, digital and printable sorting game, crafts, worksheets, and more, students learn how to make the playground a happier and safer place for all.
“The Invisible Boy” by Trudy Ludwig
And, last but definitely not least, “The Invisible Boy” by Trudy Ludwig (Amazon affiliate link) is an incredible story for teaching bullying prevention to children. This is one of those books that sticks with you, and students (and adults!) remember for years to come. It tells the story of a little boy named Brian, who feels like he is invisible and unnoticed by the other kids. In the classroom, the teacher is busy with other, more boisterous students. At recess, the kids play without him. And in the cafeteria, he hears about special birthday parties that he wasn’t invited to. Until one day, when a new student named Justin joins their class. Justin quickly becomes the target of mean words and giggles, and Brian decides to cheer him up by writing a kind note to his new friend. Brian’s act of kindness means a lot to Justin, who then starts to include Brian in his group work in the classroom and at the table at lunch. For once in his life, Brian finally feels seen, valued, and loved. Just like in “One” and “The Recess Queen,” it only took one special and brave soul to completely change another child’s world for the better.
In my companion lesson to “The Invisible Boy,” students learn all about the power of kindness and inclusion. They learn that small things like asking someone to play, inviting someone to sit with them at lunch, or asking someone to join their group can have a huge, lasting impact. Through an interactive presentation, discussion cards, worksheets, coloring pages, and more, students learn how to make others feel like they belong.
I hope that this post inspired you to open the door to meaningful learning and discussion on bullying prevention with your students. By sparking conversation with powerful story books and teaching students how to identify and cope with bullying, we can work together to create a healthier, happier, and safer generation of students.
Have you used any of these story books to teach bullying prevention, or do you have others in your toolbox that you love to use? Please comment below, I’d love to hear from you!