Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

If each one of us untangled one string at a time...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Leader Nelson Mandela Was a Child Once

(AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela  
Two small stories from two different locations caught my attention this week but they had one thing in common. They were about resilient two 7-year olds who didn't give in to meanness.  As we mourn the loss of Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest leaders of all time,   the stories of Christian and Gabbie gave me hope that resilience, kindness, loyalty and bravery didn't die, too.

Second grader Christian Bucks from York, Pennsylvania, noticed that some kids feel lonely at recess.  Although, just the mere mention of recess for most children brings on euphoria, for many others, it's not so fun.  When children don't have anyone to hang out with, or worse, if they are a target for mean behavior, it feels long and uncomfortable.

Christian's simple solution?  A buddy bench.  His 7-year old instincts told him that everyone needs a safe place.

The second story is about Gabbie, a young girl from Greenwood, Indiana, with a big heart and big challenges.  Gabbie suffers from a genetic disorder, neurofibromatosis, which causes tumors to grow on the nervous system and can lead to learning disabilities.  The disease can mimic autism and result in a degree of social awkwardness.  As she became older, Gabbie started to become aware that she wasn't included in social activities, including getting invited to parties. 

Heartbroken, Gabbie's mom made an online appeal through Monkee See-Monkee Do for people to send Gabbie cards.  What happened next gave me hope that there are many little leaders out there.  Gabbie received hundreds of cards from adults and kids cheering Gabbie on and making her feel loved.

It was a gift for both the receiver and the giver.  Encouraging children to step up for others is a tremendous lesson.  To all the parents who told their children this story and pulled out the paper, pens, glue and glitter to help them write a card to Gabbie, way to go.

We have the chance to nurture great leaders.

"Sometime It Just Takes One."

Friday, November 22, 2013

How a "Food Fight" Inspires Leadership: YouGiveGoods

Ever get discouraged at the holidays?  Does it seem like the real meaning gets lost?  You'd like to give back but you barely have any energy left after the madness of Black Friday, the tension of Cyber Monday, the decorating, and the multiple trips to the grocery store.  There's no time to do good.  You know you should be teaching kids the concept of giving but you have no idea of how you could even squeeze in one more thing.

But then you read this statistic and it's hard to ignore: More than 1 in 5 children are at risk for hunger.

Start a Food Fight.  Now you can rally the troops, feed the hungry, and inspire others by going to  YouGiveGoods and starting an online food drive to benefit the charity of your choice.  You setup a drive page online (in minutes), use email and social media to invite people to your drive and they buy food right there online.  YouGiveGoods even has a fresh produce campaign. When the drive is over YouGiveGoods will deliver all the food to the pantry. You can even be there when the food is delivered to have a service day.  Seriously brilliant!

Everyone from small and large corporations to families to fraternities/sororities to high schools to a second grade lacrosse team can create their own personalized drive.  Pet lovers will be happy to hear that even our four legged friends benefit.  Literally, anyone can start a drive and challenging departments, chapters, grades, family members and teams to raise the most just adds to the fun.  It's the definition of healthy competition.  Just ask Xavier High School or six year old Aidan who believes no child should go hungry or the Apple Montessori School who wants to feed women and children in need in Paterson, New Jersey.

Start one anytime...but #GivingTuesday (December 3rd) is a good goal.

Why is this about leadership?  Leaders figure out a way to give, even if it means starting a Food Fight.

Let the holidays begin...Enjoy!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Principals Have the Power to Encourage Leadership: The Anti-Bully

Leadership is not a rank or a position. Leadership is a service to be given. -- Simon Sinek
Leadership comes in all sizes, shapes, colors, and ages.  That's the message being given at P.S. 23, a wonderful elementary school on Staten Island that I recently had the privilege to visit.P.S. 23 takes leadership seriously.  As part of The Leader In Me program, each student from Kindergarten through 5th grade is taught the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen R. Covey.Often when I walk into a school and see motivational messages on the walls, I think, "that's really nice"...but do they actually promote this to the students in a more meaningful way?  Well, I got my answer during the assembly that I led about One Can Count. (Thanks to Senator Lanza for making One Can Count available in Staten Island elementary schools.) When I asked questions about respect and stepping up for one another, I got answers like "Seek first to understand and then be understood."  Or "it's about trust."  These are sophisticated concepts for such young students, but kids are smart and when you treat them like they are, they rise to the occasion.Before the principal, Mr. Paul Proscia,  introduced me, he spoke with the children first.  He set it up by reminding them that they are all leaders.  (By the way, he was not talking to them like children.  He was talking to them like intelligent adults in the making.   It was a sea of little faces but their brains were active and engaged.)  He is helping them change the perception of leadership by explaining that leaders are everywhere --  as construction workers, business people, police officers, teachers, nurses, cafeteria workers.  "The president is a leader but you don't have to be president to be considered a leader."

Sound simplistic?  It's not.  These are messages every 5 year-old and up needs to hear in school.  Each child needs to be seen, heard and given the feeling that their unique personalities and talents make them leadership material.

At P.S. 23, they are given the opportunity to be leaders, including being a "Leader of the Month."  The rubric that decides if you get this honor is not based on grades.  It's based on showing respect, helping others, academic effort and using their talents in productive ways.

Mr. Proscia made One the Book of the Month for the entire school.  Before I even made my visit, they understood what the book was about.  It's about stepping up.  It's about being yourself.  It's about inclusion.  It's about leadership.

Why should a school make leadership and social emotional learning a priority?  The children do better in school.  That's it.  Bottom line.  They become their "best self."
Sometimes it just takes One.  
P.S. 23 is a One.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cyberbullying: Why We Need to Start Raising Little Leaders Online

If I have one piece of advice for every single elementary school and every single parent, it is to make teaching leadership a priority offline...and ONLINE.  Start early.

Common sense says that if we wouldn't let a child cross a street without holding their hand and teaching them the rules of the road, why would we let them loose online where there are a few dark alleys.

The discussion about technology and younger children involves what's healthy (physically) but also how very young children learn to interact with others (socially/emotionally).  If you have young children, this Huffington Post blog by Dr. Larry Rosen gives some insight to why parents should be strategic about their child's technology use.

Imagine if we could make digital citizenship a priority.  We'd all worry a little less.

This infographic by The Wired Child,  made me sit up and take notice about technology use in really young kids.

Source: Early Childhood Education Degrees

via Early Childhood Education Degrees.com

Thursday, October 31, 2013

What a Treat: A Lesson on Trust

Since the book, One, was the Book of the Month at a local elementary school, I was asked to come talk to Kindergarten through 5th grade about how One Can Count.

In the course of the assembly, I asked "Why was it important for the other colors to step up with One?"

Many hands went up in the audience but I called on a 4th grade girl.  She looked me in the eye and said, "It's about trust."

That is not the answer I was expecting and I haven't stopped thinking about it ever since.

Trust is a fairly sophisticated concept but obviously, something that kids understand.  A school or home where trust is a priority is a safe place.  

Trick or Treat?  A lesson on trust from an 8 year-old "expert" is really a treat.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

One and Zero: Early Bullying Prevention

Dear Principals, Teachers, Superintendents, Parents and Anyone Interested in Children,

My bullying prevention tip is very fitting for today's date:  10/10, which coincidentally falls within National Bullying Prevention Month.

If you have young children or you teach young children, you'll love the award-winning book, One, and it's companion book Zero, by Kathryn Otoshi.

These books beautifully express the power of stepping up and the importance of feeling whole in your center.

They were so powerful to me that I reached out to Ms. Otoshi and we created One Can Count, which consists of materials and simple activity suggestions that support the messages of respect and leadership.   As a matter of fact, New York State Senator Andrew J. Lanza recently sponsored One Can Count in all 30 of the public elementary schools in his district.  St. John's University hosted the workshop for principals, teachers, counselors,  parent coordinators and graduate students.  As a community we came together to discuss solutions and to focus our attention on encouraging leadership skills at an early age as the anti-bully.

If you want your community to benefit from One Can Count and have questions about how to cost effectively introduce the books and materials into your school districts, contact me at thetangledball@gmail.com.

The equation is as simple as this:

Books + Free Materials + T-Shirts =  Opportunities to Encourage Leadership 

"Sometimes it just takes One."  

Thank you for being a One.


Susan S. Raisch
Founder of Tangled Ball

Monday, October 7, 2013

Make Every Day A Better One!

Leadership is the act of doing good when no one is looking.

But everyone likes to be recognized, including kids.

It's also leadership to recognize the good deeds of others.

Here's my hot tip for October, which happens to National Bullying Prevention Month.

MEDABO cards.  These little cards bring big smiles and inspire in countless ways.

At a recent One Can Count workshop, elementary school teachers and administrators were encouraged to use the cards to catch fellow staff members in the act of showing kindness.  Kids can also be inspired to pass it forward.  Try asking the students to hold on to one card and to pay the other card forward.  The recipient can be asked to pay it forward again... and again...and again.  Watch the magic happen.  (If you order card stock, kids can write their initials on one and see where it lands at the end of a week.)

It's simple. It's fun. It makes an impact.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mike Ollis: A Young Leader Who Gave His Life For Us

Time heals...but anniversaries trip us up and bring us back to that horrible day 12 years ago.

This anniversary brings a new wound for one Staten Island family that may never heal.  Today is the day their son's body returned from Afghanistan.  He was 24.

Mike Ollis was a great kid.  I mean really great. He looks tough in his military photo but I'll always remember him as the 14-year old riding down to the beach community where we lived to see his best buddy, Robert.  

There are no words except to say that Mike was always a leader, even as that teenager with a quick smile and warm style. 

Now he's made the ultimate sacrifice.  

Please keep Staff Sgt. Mike Ollis and his family and friends in your thoughts and prayers on this very difficult day. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Kindergarten: Good Time to Create Good School Relationship

There are four strings in the tangled ball of bullying that I think are really important:

•  Early Prevention

•  Parenting

•  Parent-School Relationship

•  Role of the Bystander (Upstander!)

I thought of all four of these as I watched the first day of Kindergarten unfold at a school in my neighborhood.

Kindergarten is such a beautiful milestone.  The kids are adorable and excited and the parents are interested in getting them on the right path.

In other words, everyone is anxious to be at their best so it becomes a huge teachable opportunity for the kids and the adults!  Kindergarten teachers have a big job.  They teach kids everything from tying their shoes to reading...but they're also teaching the parents how to be "school ready" and how to get involved in their children's education.

Part of that education is how the kids treat each other (early prevention and becoming upstanders) but also how parents (parenting) should interact with the school and how the school should communicate with the parent (parent-school relationship).

Does your school encourage a healthy parent/school relationship?

Please share the good and/or the bad.  It's one of the key ingredients to a successful school career and we can all learn from each other.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

For the Bullied and Beautiful: Shane Koyczan

I was just in Huntsville, Alabama.  School started there on Monday.  It always surprises me because living on the east coast, Labor Day weekend is cherished as the last weekend of freedom.  August seems too unnatural to put on shoes and wrap your head around homework.

For some kids, it's really exciting to see friends and get back in the groove.  For others, it's time to put up invisible shields and figure out how you'll get through every day without a breakdown.

Shane's illustrated poem has been seen by hundreds of thousands but to watch him deliver it himself on a TED Talks stage is so powerful.  He speaks for so many kids today who don't have the ability to put it into words.

We are surrounded by many Shanes but, unlike Shane,  they can't express how they feel.   Can we listen anyway?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Worst Kind of Bullying

Child abuse is the worst form of bullying.

Each one of us has the power to be the Go-To Adult.  To me, the biggest concern is kids suffering in silence.  How do we get them to talk to a "trusted adult."  We become worthy of their trust.

If kids know we care and they won't be criticized, they will be more likely to talk with us.  There are many reasons kids don't tell an adult about a problem.  One of them is shame.  Another is fear that they won't be understood.

People, including children, are vulnerable and don't want to risk feeling worse than they already feel.  Our culture is becoming a judgmental one.  Just look at our television programs.   We've gotten to the point that everything is a competition (cupcakes aren't even safe) and we're always ready to put someone down.  It's becoming common to pick people apart.

The bottom line is that kids need to feel safe and we're responsible for creating a culture that nurtures their safety.

To change a culture, we need to start young and it begins with teaching leadership.  In order to do that, we have to start valuing leadership ourselves.

If we don't, kids will not have a safe place and no child deserves to suffer or feel alone.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Expecting More of Each Other

Life is funny.  Sometimes you meet the most interesting people in the most random ways. A few months ago, I was helping my friend Gary Russo (a.k.a. Second Avenue Sinatra) with organizing a singing appearance at a fundraiser in  Texas.  The Westlake Academy UNICEF President, Qaleb Pillai, reached out to Gary to ask him to help with the annual event.  Without ever meeting Qaleb, Gary, an ironworker and entertainer, said yes to donating his travel, time and talents.  As Qaleb and I were emailing back and forth, I noticed the quote that was always attached to his signature. 

"It seems to me that more and more, we've come to expect less and lessof each other, and I think that should change." - Aaron Sorkin

I asked him why he felt that quote was so important:
Aaron Sorkin is one of my favorite screenwriters and he is the man that said this quote. I choose to share this in every email I send because I think it’s an important problem that in society that needs to be addressed. I feel that society has allowed people to become more selfish and lazy. 
I believe that many people will only help others if there is something in it for them. In other words, a person will only help another for personal gain. I don’t feel that this is right because I do not want to live in a world where it’s uncommon to help others out of kindness. I am aware that there will most likely always be personal gain and that nothing can be truly altruistic, but a person should not do something like giving to charity just to get attention. He or she should do it because it is the right thing to do and the attention is just a bonus. 
The mindset of doing things solely for personal gain leads to nothing being accomplished. As president of my school’s UNICEF club, this is unacceptable.  Knowing that others are stepping back is motivation to keep stepping in.  We can't all step back or there will never be any progress.  I know and feel it’s important to help those who are less fortunate. By doing so, a person shows he/she is trying to be altruistic and is aware of the fortunate life he/she was born into. 
Due to the selfishness and laziness, we have come to expect “less and less” of each other because how much can you possibly expect from a selfish or lazy person? Not much at all. The bare minimum is nothing to aspire to.  
Why are kids being raised to celebrate mediocrity? They should reach for the stars because maybe then, they’ll do something to truly be proud of. Maybe that will pave the way to expecting more and more of each other rather than less and less." 
Interesting question from a 16 year-old leader.  Are kids being raised to be mediocre?

Let's raise leaders.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bullying, Forgiveness and a Little Summer Reflection

When someone hurts us or even worse, hurts our children, the anger can run deep.  Legitimately deep.

One of the knotted strings in the tangled ball of bullying is how our anger can eat us up.  It takes up our brain space and holds us back from anything positive.  The reality is, it's like being the target twice.  When you can't let it go, the resentment can have a negative life all its own.

Superstorm Sandy didn't bring many positives but it did bring me a new friend.  Maryann and her husband Ray are still trying to cope with rebuilding not only their home but their daughter's and Ray's brother's homes, as well.  In the midst of it all, they keep the local church (also damaged) going so that the community doesn't lose it's foundation, its rock.

Ironically, after many good discussions about tough transitions, Maryann saw that I needed as much help in coping with change as she did...and I still had my house.

She lent me T.D. Jakes book, Let It Go, and I stumbled upon some truly great advice.  I hope it helps you as much as it did me...

Similarly, when you allow someone else's reaction to determine your mood, you have built a room where you are helpless to control the climate.  When you forgive them and move on you bring the thermostat back into your room and you leave them in the hands of the conscience and their God!
 Of course you want to respond with grace to the repentant but the question begs an answer:  What do you do when the persons who caused you the most pain have not and will not admit, acknowledge, or repent for their part in your pain?  Simple answer, take the power back over your life and write it off.  Demanding that they make things right or have the quality of character to apologize also leaves them controlling the thermostat to a room you have to live in.

Mean people don't often apologize.  Ever.  That's why I think this is great advice for ourselves and a good lesson for our kids.  Sometimes people -- even if they've had a mean moment -- will say I'm sorry.  That's wonderful but others won't.  To expect that they will do the right thing will just fuel our rage even more and make the pain continue.

Something to ponder this hot summer:  Who's in charge of your thermostat?

It made me realize that some damage is more obvious than others and every house needs a "thermostat check" every now and then.

Maryann and Ray:  We're sending you good thoughts as you rebuild.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Siblings, The Summer, and Bullying

This week's anti-bullying buzz is about siblings.  A new study published by the journal Pediatrics, reveals that sibling bullying can be just as harmful as peer bullying to children's mental health.

When kids are out of school and spending more time as a family, it's an important thing to be aware of.  How brothers and sisters treat each other can either have a lifelong positive effect or do a lot of damage.  Parents set the tone.

Bully, the movie, will make you want to do something. You may wonder what that "something' could be? It may be as close as your own home.

In one of the scenes from the movie, it's painful to watch Alex get bullied by his younger sister. She basically calls him a loser and you can tell that it's not the first time.

We always focus on bullying in the schoolyard or online, but we rarely talk about sibling bullying.

In her book, Bullies and Victims, SuEllen Fried describes it this way,

Some conflict between siblings is normal and unavoidable. Sibling conflict is viewed as abusive when the interaction becomes violent, when one sibling feels powerless to stop the interaction, when the conflict persists over extended periods of time, and when the conflict is lopsided so that one sibling is singled out consistently.

Do we tune this out as parents? Do we get so sick of the kids "fighting," that we don't pay attention anymore?

A few years ago, I was at the International Bullying Prevention Assoc. conference and one of the most impressive workshops was led by this very serene looking woman. She started out by talking about sibling abuse and bullying. By the end of it, I noticed that all the attendees (mostly principals, teachers, coaches, security officers, counselors), including the men in the room, were emotional.  It seemed that each person could relate to the subject of sibling to sibling meanness. 

Last fall I was visiting a classroom. We weren't even talking about bullying but there was a little boy who raised his hand and then popped out of his desk to tell me that his bigger cousin was beating him up. When I asked him if his parents knew, he said that they told him to get over it...his cousin was just "horsing around." This child was clearly afraid of his cousin.

Sibling (or family) bullying often gets swept under the rug and often the pain of that bullying never goes away -- as was seen on the faces of those men in that workshop. (Not all siblings will like each other growing up, but they shouldn't be allowed to hurt each other.)

Letting our own children cross the line with (or against) each other is not good. That line is the line between "getting on each other's nerves" to constantly belittling, demeaning or physically hurting each other.

SuEllen suggests,

In general children should resolve differences on their own. When children are unable to do so, adults should intervene...
Good tips from Dr. Barbara Greenberg on how to handle sibling bullying.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Leadership: Josh's Example

Leadership.  It's so powerful but it can be so simple.  Josh's story is proof that it can also be catching.  In his case, it was also the answer to overcoming the long tail of pain that bullying causes.

If you have children, I encourage you to show them Josh's story.  My favorite part is hearing his fellow students' reactions.  Although kids hear and see so much "mean," they gravitate to "kind."  Kind can be very cool.

Kids are also the best teachers.  I'll be interested in hearing what you think of Josh's way of stepping up after he was stepped on.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Bullying: Are Schools Entirely to Blame?

The last post was from the perspective of a parent.

It's also fair to look at things from the perspective of the school.

What I hear from many elementary school principals is that "bullying" has become such a talked about subject, parents and kids are confused by what it means.  I was told by one principal that after the school hosts an assembly about bullying, she gets barraged the next day by kids complaining that if another child bumps into them in the hall or looks at them the wrong way, they've been "bullied."

It's hard for schools to keep up and parents don't always make it easy.  Often parents don't admit to the role they play in making the problem worse.  Parents flying off the handle can do a lot of damage.  This is not to say that parents can't feel frustrated and protective but berating a teacher or school secretary isn't teaching the child anything.  Correction.  It is teaching them something.  Either 1.) they'll start to over react themselves and learn that screaming is communication or 2.) they'll never tell you again about a problem...and that's a serious issue.  Kids should not try to handle everything alone.  

Believe it or not, handling conflict is a teachable moment and children learn by example.  It's called leadership.

Schools are also fighting an uphill battle and our pop culture is the biggest challenge.  Kids are being exposed to so much meanness and violence in what they watch and hear outside of school that it's almost impossible for them not to bring some of those behaviors into school.

Are we in denial?  Even young kids are playing inappropriate video games, watching reality shows,  are allowed on Facebook and have smart phones before they've developed good judgement.  For some reason, companies are getting away with marketing irresponsibly to our children and as parents, we are afraid to say "no."

We can't depend on schools to raise our kids.  

Any thoughts on how we build better parent-school relationships? 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Little Upstanders Make a Big Difference

Bullying prevention is complicated.  Sometimes it seems that it's bigger than all of us but it's not insurmountable.  We have an untapped army out there.  If we start training bystanders to start stepping up from an early age, we've got a shot at creating safe and caring school climates.

Read on.  We can learn from the pint-sized upstanders in this story.

I was talking to a mom of a six-year old yesterday.  Believe it or not, her first grader has been on the receiving end of true bullying behavior since Pre-K.  Everything from emotional manipulation to punching and kicking.

She admitted that in Pre-K her daughter was "a biter."  She didn't feel she could address this situation appropriately in Pre-K because she had to work on her own daughter first.  (Don't you love honest and realistic parents?) She was also a teacher before having children so she knew that what you do at home directly affects how a child acts in school.

Seems as if her own child matured beyond the biting stage but another little girl in her class didn't.  Now that they are in first grade, her little girl had already been this other girl's target for two years.  Once a light-hearted child ready and willing to go to school, my friend's daughter was having stomach aches.

The mom went to the teacher many times and although the teacher promised to keep an eye on it, the problem continued.  Like many bullying incidents, most of them were being done behind the teacher's back.

This seemed like a hopeless situation.  My friend was projecting a long and miserable school experience for her daughter.

The teacher was beginning to treat my friend like one of those moms.  She and the counselor started to blame the problem on her daughter being too sensitive.  (As my friend pointed out, anyone becomes sensitive after being mistreated for two years.)

What turned this bad situation around?  The little upstanders in the classroom.  Without "tattling," the other classmates set the teacher straight.  They told the teacher the truth.   Everything that my friend's child was trying to communicate to the teacher and counselor was true.

Then the principal stepped in.  She took the 6 year-olds at their word and the little girl was suspended for a few days. They're working on a strategy for the rest of the school year and next year.

Encouraging Our Little Bystanders To Be Upstanders  

Number One:  Make sure they know the difference between tattling and reporting.  The first is something you do to get someone in trouble; the second is telling the truth to make sure someone doesn't get hurt (emotionally or physically.)

Number Two:  Children know how to manipulate their parents.  Make sure they know that "telling" on a sibling or friend isn't cool if it's solely to get their brother, sister or friend in trouble.  Telling you about something that will be helpful to correct a situation is very different and should be encouraged.  (If you have siblings, I don't need to explain any further.  Most of us let a little jealousy get the best of us when we were kids.  That "green-eyed monster" is part of growing up but it needs to be called out.)

Number Three:  Catch them in the act of doing something good.  The children in that first grade class should be complimented for stepping up.  Of course, not at the cost of hurting their classmate's feelings (kids shouldn't be labeled as "bullies") but because they told the truth and it helped the situation.

Principals, teachers and counselors should be trained in nurturing little "upstanders."  It's called leadership.

Leadership is the anti-bully.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Parents and Children: Lessons on Leadership from Boston

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Fred Rogers
Boston.  Poor Boston. Poor parents trying to explain this to their children, especially after Newtown.

I am truly empathetic because, as a family living in New York, one of the hardest things about 9/11 was trying to steady myself so I could help my four children.

As a child, I was terrified about communism.  Truly terrified.  I didn't share how scared I was with my parents because everyone else seemed ok.  My seven siblings played and my parents went to their usual parties.  I, meanwhile, was convinced that communists, dressed in black, of course, would come in by boat (we lived on Lake Michigan) and would crawl up our yard from the beach and storm the house.  The Cuban Missile Crisis was probably what inspired my terror.  It's difficult to know how kids are affected by the news.

I understand how hard it is to be traumatized by the awful events this week in Boston and then help your kids with their fears.  It's the kids who don't say how scared they are that you might be worrying about most.

Here's a simple lesson I learned: Be active in the recovery.  When awful things like this happen, it can paralyze you and make it even harder to parent.

Kids also need to witness your empathy and strength and then be given a chance to practice leadership.   It can be as simple as drawing pictures or writing letters to the victims or their families or making a meal for someone who was somehow affected.   It can also be helping your child's school with some type of outreach campaign.  Let them help you.   Kids need to know that we can make things better even in small ways.  It gives them hope.

In hindsight, there probably wasn't a need for the thousands of pairs of socks or face masks that I helped my children's elementary school collect after 9/11 but it gave families a reason to snap out of their shock and do something.  More importantly, their kids were now shopping with them, away from the television and engaged in something positive and getting their power back.

I'm not a child psychologist but I'll tell you why I know this is important.  I was in an awkward position the Monday after the World Trade Center bombing.  I had some checks for the Red Cross that I had collected and I just wanted to deliver it to the principal and then "try to get back to normal (ha!)."  Since I lived across the street, I risked just throwing on sweats and running over to the school. No shower. No makeup. I don't think I even really had combed my hair.  (All things that I should have known better but I think a lot of moms can relate to that split second decision..."I won't run into anyone.  I'll just run in and out.")

The school secretary said the principal was in the gym.  What she didn't tell me was that she was holding an assembly for the 500+ students.  The principal was struggling.  It was eery because the kids weren't acting like kids.  They looked like little zombies.  Stunned and silent.  None of the usual squirming or smiles or bright eyes.

Mrs. Macula asked me to say something.  I'm thinking, "Are you kidding me?"  At that time, I was also afraid to do any public speaking and on top of that, I'm aware that I'm not looking much like an authority figure...and two of my kids are in the audience.

I literally prayed.  Please let me say something that will help.

I swear I had no control over the words coming out of my mouth.  I simply said,

You've already made things better.  There's evil in the world but you're good.  There are more good people than bad. 

I could literally feel the mood change in the gym.  As I was leaving the building, a young girl stepped up to me and said, "Mrs. Raisch, that was a good speech."

If it was comforting, I can't take any credit.  I'm being honest when I say that I was panicked but to this day, I'm grateful for those words.  All the kids had heard about for nearly a week was that people can be evil.

Kids can be reminded during these horrible times that they are leaders and they have power.  The smallest thing or person has the power to make things better.

Fred Rogers' mother knew the same thing.

God Bless You, Boston.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Everyone Needs a "Blocker": Leadership Lessons from Nebraska

Friendship.  It's a life saver.

I've been lucky.  I've had many friends but I've also gone through times in my life when people who I thought were my friends were somehow absent when I really needed one.

I've also had the situation when people who I didn't think I knew well, stepped up and really showed genuine friendship.  These are the unexpected "blockers" in our life.

The Nebraska football team is a great example of what we can all be -- people who offer an assist with enthusiasm.

Imagine if everyone, including and especially kids,  had this magical thing called support.

Be the magic today for someone who secretly needs a "blocker" but doesn't know how to ask.

Leadership is the anti-bully.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Untangling the Mess of Bullying

When Emily Bazelon's new book, Sticks and Stones, recently came out, it reignited the bullying prevention conversation.  It comes in ebbs and flows.  I can't comment on the book yet.  I'm hoping to get my copy soon but a recent interview in the Huffington Post made me want to pick up the phone and call her.

Why?  Because her answers were very balanced and reinforced the feeling I have about the entire subject.  She actually said "untangle" and of course, that made me want to read on.

We're doing our children a disservice if we look at this as a problem that we can just use a check list to fix.

Please read the piece.  It's short and to the point.  One of the questions asked is about the role of parents and I couldn't agree more.  We are giving the majority of the blame to schools and not talking about parents or the home...or I dare say, EARLY prevention.

So many books have come out lately about bullying.  I think that's great.  Awareness is the key but the next really important step is to start using ALL the tools at our disposal and start YOUNG.

There are so many reasons to start instilling leadership skills when children first start coming to school.  We can talk about bullying until we're blue in the face but if we don't start giving children skills to help them step up for themselves and for others when they're young, it's difficult to turn that ship around when they're in middle school.  Not impossible...but very difficult.

It's also a perfect age to engage parents in the leadership and learning process.  Parents tend to pay attention when their "little cupcake" is just starting out.  If we can help them make it a priority and part of school readiness, we'll be ahead of the game.  Parents grow right along with their kids.

As Ms. Bazelon points out, kids know the difference between "drama" and "bullying."  But do they know the difference between indifference and stepping up?  That's where we need to place our energies.

Leadership is the anti-bully.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Leader In Me

By now, most people have heard through the news that Pennsylvania 12-year-old Bailey O'Neill died of injuries believed to be the result of physical bullying.  He tried to walk away but found himself being attacked and his head slammed to the ground.  He passed away days later. A day after his 12th birthday, his parents removed his life support.

As I sat in a recent The Leader In Me conference, I couldn't help wishing that all schools were required to go to a conference like this.  Leadership is one of the key strings in the tangled ball of bullying.  Bullying often becomes a one-note conversation and those that need to be listening the most, tune it out. I thought about the boys who attacked Bailey and wondered if they were ever encouraged to be leaders.

Based on Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, The Leader In Me is not a program necessarily, but the foundation of positive school climate.  

Amazingly, even pre-schoolers are effectively trained to:

•  Be Proactive

•  Begin With the End in Mind
•  Put First Things First
•  Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
•  Synergize
•  Sharpen the Saw (Take Care of Yourself -- i.e., Exercise, Eat Well)

Part of the conference included school visits, as well as young students presenting at the conference itself.  I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it for myself.  Kids can be taught to be compassionate, work as a team, plan, prioritize, step up, and take responsibility for themselves.

It just makes sense.  There is a leader in every single child.  

(Awesome students from P.S. 20 in Brooklyn entertained us with the 7 Habits theme.)

There were many fantastic, inspiring speakers and presenters but perhaps the standout was a young girl in her early teens who was obviously very shy and reluctant to speak.  Out of the eight or nine kids in the group, she said the least...until the final question of the session was asked.  "Has The Leader in Me program affected you personally, and if so, how?"

You could almost see that her brain and her heart were struggling to decide whether she had the courage to ignore her fear and stand up in front of the nearly 200 people in the audience and answer.  She suddenly stood and said something like, "Before this, I was doing bad in school in every way.  I wasn't studying and I was getting into trouble.  Since the chance to learn how to be a leader came along, I decided that if I could learn how to do better, I could (then she began to cry) make my mother proud of me."  (Believe me, everyone cried with her as we all encouraged her with applause.)

When I heard about Bailey's death, I thought "Poor baby."  When I think of the boys who are responsible, I think "Poor babies."  They're all children who need to be taught skills and how to take responsibility for their lives.  Shame on us, if  we ignore the basics because it doesn't fall under a category that can be measured by testing.

There are schools answering that call.

What if each child was encouraged to tap into their strengths?  What are the chances that pervasive bullying would survive in that environment?  

What's there to lose, excepted wasted time disciplining?  What's there to gain?  Ask Bailey's parents.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bullying: Overreacting vs. Under Reacting

I've been trying not to share all the brutal bullying stories or at least, not to make it the focus of this blog because I don't think it goes anywhere.  Solutions, including encouraging leadership skills, is my main interest.  That being said, I had to share this story of the 13-year-old who was getting beaten up every day while another bully would take a video and post it online.  This child -- barely a teenager -- is in the hospital after trying to kill himself.

Yesterday, I read the story of a 22-year-old who jumped off a the George Washington Bridge in New York after writing a suicide note asking that her "frenemies" not be allowed to come to her funeral.  It seems that they were embroiled in an online fight and Ashley Riggitano ended up taking her own life.

What is happening here, people?  Are we becoming so desensitized that we no longer think this is a big deal?  For every extreme story that ends up in the news, there are thousands of kids and adults trying to survive this pain.  Are we at the point that we're shrugging our shoulders and saying this is bigger than us or are we willing to drill down and get involved?  Every single person can do something about this.  You don't have to be the parent of a child that is affected by cruel behavior to be outraged.

One of the problems is that there has been so much "bully" talk that schools and parents are getting mixed messages.   In his recent article, John Rosemond, syndicated columnist and parenting expert brings up a good point and one that I hear from schools, as well.  Some parents are overreacting and because they are in constant fear that their child will be bullied, they claim that every interaction is bullying.  (That's why I don't even like the term "bullying."  It's all just repeated mean or cruel behavior.) This is true but I fear that this minority will give schools a chance to under react.

A group of parents overreacting does not mean that there aren't real problems going on with other kids. Some parents are too vocal about perceived problems while others don't say anything because they don't know or they're afraid of being labeled themselves.  (How many times have you heard a child that is on the receiving end of mean behavior called "too sensitive" or a parent who is advocating for their child "overbearing?")

What's a parent to do?   No doubt there are "helicopter" parents but if you truly have an issue, where do you turn?

Parents going overboard is annoying.  Not paying attention to real situations whether they're on the walk home from school or online is a serious problem.   Every school staff member, including lunch monitors, and every parent should have some training.  Seriously.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Love Letter to Myself

What does prevention mean in the bullying world?  Is it that we try to stop people from being mean to each other or is it that we help shield children and adults from the pain it causes.

It's a trick question.  I think it's both.

I was in a situation recently that made me think about the importance of blunting that long tail of pain.  How do we help people who've been belittled feel better?  How do we stop that horrible spiral that leaves you emotionally spent and feeling worthless?  (That's what skilled bullies do.  They're really good at it.  They know just the button and they go for it.)

No one is completely immune.

When it happened to me recently, it caused a horrible domino effect of bad.  No matter how I tried to push it out of my brain, it still caused heartache and doubt.  I wondered, 'How can kids put up with this?  How do they survive it?'  (Some kids don't.)

It sucked the joy out of my life -- temporarily.

It had a hold on me until I remembered something.  I'm awesome!

If we can get kids and even some grown up kids to remember those things about themselves that leave no doubt of their worth, if we can get them to write it down before some cruel person robs them of their joy, that's prevention.

This is what I said to the person who made me feel small:
Hold on a minute.  Do you realize that in my entire life, I've never set out to make anyone feel bad about anything?  I've raised four kids who make it a point to be nice to people.  Along the way, I've worked hard, done some good things and have left a good trail.  I deserve to be treated nicely.  
Phew.  I'm glad I remembered that before I got sucked into the mean vortex.

Now the trick is to get kids to write down why they're so great so when they're in a bullying emergency, they can get to that list and read it over and over.  Let's raise strong kids who never forget why they shouldn't be made to feel like the scum on the bottom of a shoe.

It's ok to say you expect to be treated well.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

One Can Count

Watch NYOne!

New Elementary School Leadership Program Launches.  

One Can Count!

Last Friday was a good day, thanks to Senator Andrew Lanza and P.S. 5, a beautiful elementary school in Staten Island, New York.

It was a day that we celebrated leadership with Kindergartners and Fifth Graders.  These partners have been involved in the One Can Count campaign since October.  (We planned the launch for October 29th but Sandy had other plans.)  As partners, they're working on lessons of respect and having fun at the same time.

One Can Count is based on Kathryn Otoshi's award-winning children's book, One.  Like many others -- children and adults alike -- I was inspired by this beautiful book that simply and insightfully boils down the issue of bullying to numbers, letters and a meaningful message about stepping up.

I reached out to Ms. Otoshi and together we came up with ways to use One in individual elementary school classrooms or as a school-wide mentoring campaign.  Kids are the experts which is why we made them the teachers.

We hope these help you inspire your little leaders because leadership is the anti-bully.  Go to Tangled Ball.com and download the materials for free.

(A special thanks to Nancy DeMuro for getting the Tangled Ball rolling!)

Kathryn Otoshi and students share the message of One!:

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Leadership Can Be Giving Your Last Bucket of Sand or Singing A Song to Ease the Hurt

A few days after Sandy, I found this sign stapled to a poll on the beach in New Dorp, Staten Island.  It reads,
Thank you to the little girl who gave me her last bucket of sand from the beach to fill my sandbags on Sunday afternoon.  From Melissa, Millbank Rd.  
 Do some kids just have more empathy than others?  I think so...but can most kids learn empathy?  I also think so.

The more I'm in schools and just observe children, in general, I think we might be missing the boat in bullying prevention, especially with younger children.

I just finished The Leader In Me by Stephen Covey.  This is a well known school program created by the author of the extremely popular 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.

In a nutshell, The Leader In Me makes teaching leadership in school, including kindergarten and elementary school, a priority.  The result?  Less bullying issues but a lot of other benefits, too.  Schools who focus on leadership often have better test scores, experience an enjoyable school climate, happier teachers and more well-rounded students.

This makes sense to me which is why 2013 is Tangled Ball's Year of Leadership.  

Kids want to be strong.  Often, that's why they "bully."  If we teach kids to be strong by giving them real leadership skills, I guarantee there will be less mean behavior.  Who doesn't want happier, empowered kids, better test scores and less trips to the principals' office?

Giving kids chances to be leaders is the trick.  Giving adults a reason to compliment their children goes a long way to inspire kids to want to do well, including being good to their peers.

Sounds old-fahioned.  It is.  Let's bring it back anyway.

I'd love to hear your ideas on how to change our schools, ONE little leader at a time.

Speaking of leaders, here's a beautiful example of adults and kids coming together and creating a way to step up to help others feel better.  I dare you not to cry as you listen to Ingrid Michaelson (coincidentally from Staten Island) and the kids of Newtown sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Storm: Ray and Maryann's Story

Our House, Our Home from Jika González on Vimeo.

I'm so happy Jika Gonzalez, the creator of this piece, came to Staten Island to use her talents to tell the story of the Egers.  Nothing I can say can add to what she's already captured.  I asked her to tell her story and to share her thoughts since she followed the Egers (a four hour round trip every week from Manhattan's Upper west Side) and what it meant to her.

I was on assignment to tell a story about the rebuilding process in the aftermath of Sandy.  The Egers were the first family I met on day six after the hurricane, and I just decided to go with it. I wasn't really sure what the story I was going to tell was about, but there was something about the Egers that I was drawn to. They are incredibly strong and positive and they had an amazing attitude towards their situation.

A lot of the stories that came out after Sandy were about the insurance companies and FEMA, but what I felt was so powerful about the Egers was their history with New Dorp Beach. This story is about the emotional loss, and while there is a huge financial burden on them I wanted the viewer to understand what the family was going through.This story is not about losing the house or material things, but about the process of dealing with losing a home where you build your life in. I am really grateful that the Egers were so open to share the incredibly difficult process.

The Egers are natural leaders in their community, and the way they took on the rebuilding process is exemplary. Something incredible about the Egers and the New Dorp Beach community in general, was how everyone came together and helped each other out.

The media coverage of Sandy has withered as it always does but the victims of Sandy are still dealing with both material and emotional losses, and they will for a very long time. I am currently working on a story about the effects of Sandy on undocumented immigrants, which is a story that I don't think we have hear enough of.

Sometimes telling other people's stories with real grace, dignity and compassion is leadership, too.  Thanks, Jika!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Leadership. One tweet at a time.

Teen uses tweets to compliment his classmates

A simple concept with a powerful result, especially since it's teenage boys who are sticking up for others online.

Courage comes in all ways.  Sometimes it takes guts to be nice.

It's the coward who is involved in shaming. 

Kids need to be taught -- and shown -- the difference.  That's all there is to it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Most Amazing Teacher. The Most Amazing Leadership.

Since this has gotten over a million views, I'm sure many of you have seen the story of this teacher.  His  ability to teach a lesson in physics seems fabulous but his teaching by example is off the charts.

This is what leadership looks like so please share this with everyone you know.

Leadership is the anti-bully.  The more we can show kids what real strength is all about, we have a shot.

No other words needed.

Monday, January 7, 2013

When a Company Takes Leadership Seriously

As we begin 2013 with hope, it's ok to admit that the end of 2012 left the country, especially the Northeast, shaken.  The destruction of Sandy and the horror of Newtown, left a wake of uncertainty, a feeling of powerlessness, and a craving for leadership.

Sometimes, it's individual heroes that emerge and other times it's the leaders in the boardrooms who make the right decisions and offer the right direction to help us where they can.  

In response to these two separate tragedies, Scholastic stepped up.

Sandy Relief

Thanks to Scholastic, one million new books are being donated and delivered to affected schools who were in Sandy's path.  Although books are desperately needed in these communities, it is boilers, sheetrock, and basic equipment that need to be purchased first.  Dazed and strained, schools still need to do their job every day.  Education has to continue... but how do you encourage children to be lifelong readers and achievers if there aren't enough books?  Who is going to replace them when every dollar is already spoken for?  Enter Scholastic.  Books are on their way to these communities.  Sounds simple but as anyone knows who has worked on any type of relief effort, it's hard work to get to the point where trucks can be loaded up.

Unthinkable Connecticut Tragedy

How will we ever get our arms around what happened in Newtown?  Scholastic reacted quickly.  As a trusted source for teachers, Scholastic provided a steady hand and solid advice to teachers who had to walk back into their own schools to try to explain the inexplicable and to provide comfort to children and peers.  

President and CEO Dick Robinson's letter to teachers about Newtown is worth a read.  It's insightful and strikes me as a message of respect for their dedication and courage. 

Our hearts go out to the 20 families who lost their dear first-grade children. We mourn for the six adults — teachers, principal, and school psychologist — who gave their lives to protect their students at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Our shared grief is not enough, however, to honor their sacrifice. We ask our political leaders to take action against the presence of assault weapons so we can take at least one step toward ensuring a society where children and teachers are free to learn without concern of deadly attacks.  We also must work to mitigate the gun violence that affects some urban children on their way to school every single day. We count on teachers and public servants to shoulder the responsibility for our children’s safety, but we do not give them the support they need. Our society needs to increase the availability of school health resources, and to pass laws that will protect schools and children against gun violence.  
If you're a teacher or know one, you may also appreciate Scholastic's fantastic advice and resources, which I think would be helpful for any tragedy affecting the minds and hearts of school-aged children and everyone who works in schools.

The longer I live, the more I appreciate the value of leadership.  It comes in all forms and this time it came from a company who believes it has a responsibility to their customers because they're not just any customer.  They are the men and women who are leading our children in the classroom.