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Any book that helps children to deal with being bullied has to be worth exploring. Jenny Alexander's self-help guide provides a good balance between theory and practice and is written in a chatty, conversational tone which immediately reassures the reader that they are not alone and that their worries are being taken seriously. The book aims to 'bully-proof' the reader by building his or her defences so that they have the confidence to ask for help and the self-esteem to withstand the damaging effects of bullying in its many forms.
The book is divided into seven chapters, one for each day of the week. Each chapter focuses on one of the seven bully-busting steps. For example, chapter one deals with making the decision to do something about it, chapter two deals with talking about it, and so on. Readers are advised to read one chapter each day and choose one of the 'training sessions' - practical exercises - that are set out at the end of each chapter. These 'training sessions' are varied and include positive affirmations, exploring anti-bullying websites, creative writing and art projects to express your feelings, role play, breathing/relaxation techniques etc. It is recommended that when you have completed all seven days, you start again, re-reading the chapters so that you can really get a good grasp of the theory and choose a different 'training session.' By the end of the second week, you can skip the chapters and just do a training session each day. There are sufficient 'training sessions' for you to do a different one each day for 10 weeks. The point is that although this is called the 7-day bully-buster, it is unrealistic to assume that you will solve all your bullying problems in a week. As the author points out - "One week will make a difference, two weeks will make twice the difference - the longer you keep it up the stronger you will feel."
The book can be read alone or with a parent. It is a good way for parents and children to interact, particularly in situations where a parent senses the child is being bullied but the child won't open up about what is going on. Although being bullied is no fun, the book manages to be upbeat and amusing in tone, with illustrations that will appeal to young readers. Of particular note is the drawing of an elephant standing next to a steaming pile of poo, with the caption, "It happens" followed by another picture of a little girl shovelling the poo onto a giant flower with the caption, "It makes great manure!" This sends out the message in a child-friendly way that although bullying is an unpleasant fact of life, positive changes can grow out of horrible things. The book mentions some famous people (including David Beckham, Kate Winslet and Orlando Bloom) who have claimed that being bullied gave them the determination and self-belief that made them who they are today. Whilst I accept that choosing to see something as a challenge is better than passively accepting it, I did feel that this simplified the experience of bullying somewhat. "It can destroy you if you let it, but it can also teach you how to toughen up," says the author. I take her point, but I wonder if a child who is already feeling weak and useless as a result of being bullied would respond positively to being told to rise to the challenge and 'toughen up.' I've never quite bought into the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" philosophy. I suspect that it might be seen as an additional pressure by some readers.
The book proceeds on the basis that knowledge is power and encourages children to find out what back-up is available to them, a useful section as many children do not realise what options are open to them. The role of teachers, school governors, police, internet service providers and phone companies are all discussed. Just being aware that you don't have to put up with bullying can be quite empowering. I found the chapters on building self-esteem and positive thinking particularly well-written. In one of the 'training sessions' the reader is encouraged to write a letter to him/herself about their bulling experiences, then to read it as if it had come from a close friend. The reader then has to reply to the letter, the idea being that this reply will provide the support that the reader needs to give to him/herself. In another useful exercise, readers are asked to write down a list of the things they don't like about themselves and then add a 'but' at the end of each thing on the list, so that they turn it into a positive statement. For example, "I'm too fat but I have nice, shiny hair." Some of the art-related activities are particularly appealing, such as an invitation to create a collage showing how you feel on the inside and the face you present in public. The author makes the valid point that bullies love to kick a person when they are down, but perhaps ought to have made more of the fact that it isn't just people with low self-esteem who fall victims to bullying.
At times the tone of the book becomes a bit blase. For example, the author points out that there are 24 hours in a day (1440 minutes) yet a taunt or a shove lasts around 30 seconds at the most. Her point is that even if you experienced 10 of such bullying incidents in a day, it would only total 5 minutes out of the 1440. I can understand that the author is trying to make the reader put their bullying experiences into perspective, but that's easier said than done. When children are being given a hard time at the hands of bullies, it's impossible not to be fixated on the horrible moments, no matter how brief they are and no matter what nice things there might be going on in the rest of their lives. Even if you're only bullied for a few seconds out of a day, the fear of it happening again and the hurt the experience brings are much more long-lasting.
The book offers useful advice on facing up to fears, with the practical sessions focusing on how to use humour to distance yourself from powerful emotions and an invitation to rate your biggest fears on a scale of 1 to 10 according to how likely they are to really happen. In the chapter on standing up for your rights, the book offers help on how to train your anger so that you can channel it in positive directions.
All in all, this is a handy little book. Although my daughter has not experienced serious bullying at school, there have been times when her confidence has been knocked by interactions with particular children and the book helped her to tackle the feelings of shame and self-doubt that she experienced. What I like about this book is that it teaches children skills that are useful whether they are being bullied or not and skills that are applicable to many situations in life, not just to school. Everyone needs to have strategies to boost their self-esteem from time to time whether they are being bullied or whether they are just going through a daunting situation in life. It also occurred to me that if you have a child who isn't being bullied but is bullying others, this book would be worth buying for them too, not only because it shows them the impact of their bullying on others, but because a lot of bullies have self-esteem problems. So it's a book that could be useful for victims and perpetrators alike.
The 7 Day Bully-Buster is available new from Amazon for £4.42 with used copies also available from £0.01. I would recommend this to any family. Even if your child is not being bullied, the self-help exercises are fun, creative and applicable to many challenging situations that may be faced over the years.