Using Literature to Support Open Dialogue about Sensitive Issues

Using Literature to Support Open Dialogue about Sensitive Issues

Many adults are uncomfortable with introducing controversial or sensitive subjects with children. However, our children are living in a more “global” setting where they are experiencing different cultures and diverse society more readily than previous generations.

Literature provides the opportunity to discuss sensitive issues and cultures other than our own. This is also a way to connect with our children. Discussing sensitive issues that are raised in a literary piece is a gentle way to have conversations that might otherwise be difficult.

When choosing literature to open a dialogue we should consider:

1. The child’s age and development:

a. Is it developmentally appropriate?

b. Is it an engaging and dynamic piece?

2. Preparation before the discussion:

a. Have I read the piece?

b. Are there supporting materials to help me engage and prepare for discussion?

3. Are there flaws or stereotypes in the literature?

a. Am I prepared to discuss the flaws and use this as a “teachable moment?”

b. Are the stereotypes associated with a historical issue and have I done my research to help understand this reference?

For more information please go to:

Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention:

Center for Safe Schools:

Federal Bullying Prevention Site:

Teaching Tolerance:

Tips for talking about bullying with your child

Tips for talking about bullying with your child:

· Listen to your child

· Try to keep your emotions in check

· Remind your child that no one deserves to be mistreated

· Discuss non-aggressive solutions

· Identify an adult at school your child trusts to go to if they feel unsafe or need to talk

· Document all incidents to include where, when and who

· Help your child develop new friendships

· Be a role-model for positive, healthy relationships

· Work with teachers, counselors and principals to provide your child with a safe learning environment

· Seek help if your child talks about suicide or seems unusually upset

For more information on bullying go to:

Center for Safe Schools:

Federal Stopbullying:

The Importance of Teaching Our Children about Healthy Relationships

Current research suggests that children who bully and children who are bullied have difficulty establishing positive connections and relationships into adulthood. Given this premise it is vital that we talk to our children about healthy relationships.

As parents, caretakers and caring adults we need to have ongoing conversations with children about their friends, peers and adults with whom they have contact. It is also important to talk about the relationships that are portrayed in popular media and online.

In order to open the door for discussions with your child, you may consider using open-ended questions like “What is a healthy relationship?” This may lead to discussion about current real relationships or future hypothetical relationships. Discussions such as these should be in a place or during a time of day that your child is relaxed and feels safe to talk, for example the dinner table, during a car ride, etc.

Things to consider when talking with our children about relationships:

· Is there enough time to have an in-depth discussion?

· Have we prepared for the discussion to provide appropriate feedback?

· Are we in a comfortable setting to have this discussion? Is it a place and time a child feels safe to talk?

· Are we prepared to listen and not lecture?

Relationships and dating might be touchy or uncomfortable subjects for parents, caregivers or caring adults to have with children, but they are vital to keeping our children safe, intervening when necessary and preventing future violence.

For more aids in discussing healthy relationships with our children please go to:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

Break the Cycle:

Dating Abuse:

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Positively Intersects with Bullying Prevention Efforts

SEL is associated with positive social, emotional, behavioral, and academic outcomes. SEL is developing skills to be able to:

· Acquire Knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to recognize and manage emotions

· Demonstrate care and concern for others

· Establish positive relationships

· Make responsible decisions

· Handle challenging situations constructively

Evidenced based SEL programs are an important compliment to bulling prevention. The following SEL skills can be taught explicitly and enhanced to prevent peer abuse:

· Self-Awareness and Self-Management: Teach students to recognize and manage their emotions in order to be prepared to respond effectively to peer aggression.

· Social Awareness: Tolerance and appreciation of differences and the ability to interact empathically with peers

· Relationship Skills: Ability to initiate friendships and other relationships as well as the ability to demonstrate social support

· Responsible Decision Making: Ability to think through and solve social problems effectively and ethically

For more information on bullying and social emotional learning go to:

Center for Safe Schools:

Federal Stopbullying:

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning:

Cyber Harassment of a Child

On July 10, 2015, Governor Wolf signed Act 26 of 2015 into law, resulting in the creation of a new crime: Cyber Harassment of a Child (18 PA.C.S. §2709 (a.1)).

Cyber harassment of a child is committed when another person repeatedly contacts a child through electronic means (such as through text messages, instant messages or through social media services) with the intent to harass, annoy or alarm the child and makes seriously harmful comments about the child or threatens to harm the child.

It is important for students and parents to realize that cyberbullying behaviors can now be criminally charged as a misdemeanor offense under this new law.

Parents should discuss household rules about online activity with their children, and remind them not to engage in mean, harmful messages about or to others.

For more information on bullying go to:

Center for Safe Schools:

Federal Stopbullying:

Cyberbullying Research Center:

Protected Class Bullying

While all bullying is mean and intentional, some bullying activities implicate state and federal civil rights laws.

If a child/student is bullied because of his/her: race, color, gender, national origin, disability or religion, schools are obligated by law to stop the bullying and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) take protected class bullying very seriously. Both PHRC and OCR provide schools with assistance to address protected class bullying and also provide students who have been bullied and their parents with resources to help them stop the bullying.

For more information on bullying go to:

Center for Safe Schools:

Federal Stopbullying:

Cyberbullying Research Center:



Positive connections between children and adults/peers are important

Positive connections between children and adults/peers are important because they:

· Increase a child’s sense of belonging to a community;

· Provide an opportunity to make connections with others who do not support bullying behavior;

· Create a network a child/youth can go to when they do not feel safe;

· Increase the likelihood a child/youth will seek help;

· Increase a child’s ability to bounce back after experiencing bullying; and

· Decrease the likelihood of self-blame when experiencing bullying.

For more information on bullying go to:

Center for Safe Schools:

Federal Stopbullying:

Helpful Adult and Youth Responses to a Child Being Bullied

Bullying prevention specialists, Dr. Charisse Nixon and Stan Davis, conducted a study which included approximately 13,000 children ages 8-13 called the Youth Voice Project. Their findings on adult responses that children found to be the most helpful when responding to bullying behavior were:

· Listening, giving advice/talking, checking in with the targeted youth

· Increased supervision with involved youth

· Meeting separately with students involved in a bullying incident

Proactive bystanders are powerful forces in bullying prevention. Youth participants in the Youth Voice project reported that the most helpful bystander responses were:

· Spent time, sat with, or hung out with the target of the abuse

· Talked with/encouraged target at school

· Helped the targeted person get out of the abusive situation

· Helped target tell an adult about the abuse

· Called the target at home to give them words of encouragement

· Gave advice to target

· Listened to target

· Distracted the abusive person from treating the target badly

· Told an adult about the abuse on behalf of the target

· Told the abusive person to stop in a nice way

· Told the abusive person to stop in a mean or angry way

For more information on bullying prevention go to:

Center for Safe Schools:

Federal Stopbullying:

The Youth Voice Project:

Common Myths About Bullying

Common Myths About Bullying:

  • Bullying is the same as conflict.
  • Most bullying is physical.
  • Bullying isn’t serious and it is just kids being kids.
  • Bullying doesn’t happen at my child’s school.
  • Bullying is mostly a problem in urban schools.
  • Bullying is more likely to happen on a bus than at school.
  • Children and youth who are bullied almost always tell an adult.
  • Children and youth who bully are mostly loners with few social skills.
  • Bullied kids need to learn how to deal with bullying on their own.
  • Most children and youth who observe bullying don’t want to get involved.

For more information on why these are myths about bullying go to:

Center for Safe Schools:

Federal Stopbullying:

What is the difference between conflict, teasing, rough play and bullying

What is the difference between conflict, teasing, rough play and bullying?

Bullying is intentional humiliation and/or harm inflicted on a child who is seen as less powerful. Bullying is a form of peer abuse and should never be ignored.

Conflict occurs between children with equal power. Conflict is a normal part of life and not meant to intentionally harm others. Bullying is not conflict and should not be resolved using conflict resolution or peer mediation strategies.

Teasing is typically a behavior that is between friends or family members to positively change someone’s behavior. For example: “C’mon slowpoke,” “Okay, Michael Jordan. Let’s see you block this shot.”

Rough Play is usually between friends, and there is no intent to harm. The children interact in a positive, friendly manner.

Understanding the difference between these forms of behavior is important so that adults can response and follow up appropriately. When inappropriate behaviors are witnessed, adults and/or peers should intervene.

For more information on bullying go to:

Center for Safe Schools:

Federal Stopbullying:

Turning Bystanders into Upstanders


Bystanders often play a significant role in bullying situations. If your child sees bullying happen, what options do they have? Here are some suggestions that you can discuss with your child:
· Don’t laugh or join in because this makes you part of the problem
· If you feel safe, tell the child doing the bullying:
         To stop,
         It isn’t funny,
         You don’t like it,
         It isn’t kind or respectful.
· Don’t bully back

· Support the child being bullied by checking in with them and telling them that you are sorry that this happened to them

· If you are friends with the child who bullies, try to talk to them about it and encourage them to stop

· Encourage your friends not to participate

· Most importantly, tell an adult at school and home


Children can use their influence positively to build a safer learning environment and support each other.

What is School Climate and Why is it Important?

School Climate is:

· The values, goals and standards in a school;

· The way that students, parents, teachers and staff experience school;

· The relationship between the school and the community.

What does a POSITIVE school climate look like?

· Students, teachers, staff, parents and community members feel welcome at the school.

· Teachers want to work there, students want to be there.

· Students feel supported and cared for.

· Student and teacher success is important.

· Positive relationships between the school, parents and community.

Research says that a positive school climate has benefits:

· Students are more likely to be successful at school.

· There is less absenteeism.

· Student dropout is less frequent.

· Less violence at school.

· Teachers stay.

· More positive relationships between teachers and students.

· Community members and the school are partners.

· Parents feel welcome to be part of their child’s education.

Positive school climate is important for the success of our students, teachers, schools, parents and communities.

For more information on bullying go to:

Center for Safe Schools:

Federal Stopbullying:

In Your Shoes: Cultivating Empathy for Positive Youth Relationships

In Your Shoes: Cultivating Empathy for Positive Youth Relationships

Why does empathy matter? Empathy is a basic human need. It is important for people to make connections with each other, sense other people’s emotions and to be understood by each other.


Empathy allows us to:

• Be able to imagine the world as others see it

• Not judge others

• Understand how others may feel

• Better communicate with others about our feelings and other people’s feelings


Teaching our children to value different views of the world, listen to each other and having a safe place for kids to positively work together is important in developing healthy adults.


                                    For additional information on social emotional learning programs, visit:


Center for Schools and Communities:

Why Does Youth Voice Matter?

As adults, we tend to think that we know what works best for our children.

Research tells us that when students are participants in decision making and solutions, especially at the middle and high school levels, programs and/or goals are more successful.


Students have a different point of view and want to be part of things. They can tell us what would work and what wouldn’t. Adults need to listen.

Youth voice refers to the ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions of young people.


Benefits of including youth voice in decision-making:

· Students are more engaged in school,

· Students are more connected to school,

· Students feel ownership,

· Students are developing leadership skills, and

· Students are developing relationships with teachers, adults and other students.


What can schools and parents do?

· Discuss current problems and issues with our children,

· Encourage their ideas and solutions, even those that do not seem promising,

· Participate in meetings and activities at the school,

· Encourage participation in peer lead or peer supported meetings and activities.


For more information:

Center for Safe Schools:

Youth Voice Project:

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