March 27, 2009

Author Challenges Students to Take Off Bully Hat 

Nationally renowned children's author Trudy Ludwig visited six Elkhart elementary schools earlier this month, encouraging students to improve the climate of their school by ridding their classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds of bullying behaviors.


At the student assemblies at Beck, Bristol, Cleveland, Feeser, Pinewood, and Riverview, Ludwig read one of her books about bullying and provided students with tools they can use to take the power away from bullies.

Ludwig, a former marketing and advertising representative, wrote her first book, My Secret Bully, after her young daughter was bullied. Ludwig points out in the book, and during her presentations, that a bully isn't always the stereotypical large, mean boy. It is just as likely a girl, and can often be someone the target considers a friend.


Ludwig opened her presentation to Riverview fourth, fifth, and sixth graders by asking students if she looks like a bully. They answered with a resounding, "No."


But Ludwig countered that she has been a bully. "At one time, you were probably a bully too," she told the students. "Anyone can wear the bully hat. It's one size fits all."


She then described the various forms of bullying. Most students know that physically hitting someone is bullying, Ludwig pointed out, adding emotional bullying is more subtle, but just as hurtful.

Ignoring or excluding someone is also bullying behavior, she listed. Telling secrets, making fun of the way someone looks or dresses, and spreading rumors are other forms of bullying.

Author Trudy Ludwig shares some of her anti-bully tools with students.
Ludwig then walked among the audience, trailing a spool of yarn as she went from student to student. "Bullying impacts more than just the bully and the target," Ludwig emphasized. "It also impacts all those who witness the bullying. Everyone gets caught up in the bully web.


"Bystanders are bullies too," Ludwig continued. "If you see someone being bullied, but you do nothing, you become part of the bullying problem."


Ludwig tells a secret to a Riverview student. Telling secrets about someone
 is a form of emotional bullying. 

The impact of bullying on those who bully, those who are bullied, and those who witness bullying can have serious consequences, Ludwig said, reporting boys who bully are more likely to end up in jail by the time they reach age 24. Girls who bully are more likely to end up with eating and other emotional disorders. The targets and bystanders of bullying are more likely to get poor grades, drop out of school, and suffer from depression.


The way to stop bullying, Ludwig said, is to take away the bully's power. "Over 80 percent of bullying incidents have witnesses," she reported. "You have the power to change the climate of your school."


If you laugh at the bully's mean jokes, participate in spreading rumors, or simply stand by and do nothing, you are reinforcing the bully," Ludwig explained. "Instead, tell the bully to stop," she advised the Riverview students. "Be a friend to the target. Tell a grown up what's going on.

"Some adults will blow you off," Ludwig acknowledged. "They will say, 'Tough it out' or 'Fight back. That's what I had to do when I was your age.'"

But it's not the same as in the old days, Ludwig emphasized. "You might try to fight back, and the bully might bring a weapon to school. Fighting back is not safe."


Ludwig then provided the students with the "tools" to use to combat bullying. "Every child is born with a tool belt," she told the students. "It's my job to equip you with a starter set of tools."

As selected students hit Ludwig with their best insults, she responded to their comments with lines of her own, designed to throw them off track, but not to be hurtful.


1. Change the subject.

2. Turn the insult into a compliment. Say thank you.

3. Ask the bully why he feels that way. Respond with "why"
          to each of his statements.

4. Act silly or goofy. Make her laugh.

5. Say "so" or "whatever." Act like you don't care.

6. Agree with the bully's assessment.  Yes, I am short. It's not
          so bad.

7. Walk away.

The students responded positively to Ludwig's presentation, many of them staying after the assembly to obtain an autograph or share one of their own bullying experiences.

       Riverview students "bully" Ludwig,
       but she has tools to protect herself.
"We're excited to have Trudy share her books and expertise with the schools about this very important issue," said John Hutchings, director of student services for ECS.  "We want to stay on top of the latest research and learn about new resources and tools to help us continue to provide a safer social and learning environment for the students."

In addition to her presentations to school children, Ludwig gave two presentations to ECS elementary teachers on "Addressing Aggression: Creating a Safe Social and Learning Environment at School." Her presentations included the latest research findings on bullying, the nature of boys' and girls' friendships, what works and doesn't work in schools, and tips, tools and resources to help adults empower children in their social world.


Ludwig's children's books, My Secret Bully, Just Kidding, Sorry!, and Trouble Talk, have received high praise from leading experts, educators, and organizations nationwide. Ludwig has been featured on ABC's "Good Morning America" and on PBS's nationally syndicated show "Keeping Kids Healthy."  Her visit to Elkhart was funded through a Safe Haven Grant from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.


For more information about Ludwig and her work, visit

[Go back to this issue's headlines to access other stories.]

printer-friendly version