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Compassion deters school bullies

ENCINITAS — For many children, bullying is an everyday occurrence. Despite the increased awareness about the impact of such harassment, the rate at which it occurs doesn’t seem to be slowing down and as children become more adept at using technology, “cyber-bullying” has become more prevalent. School officials, parents and teachers are all trying to find solutions to the problem.
The Encinitas Union School District has implemented a program called “Stop Bullying Now!” The online resources help parents and their children navigate the murky waters of bullying.
“There is only so much we can do as parents and educators,” said Melissa Bloom, a parent with two children in Encinitas schools. “Once they (children) get to a certain age, it’s a lot harder to teach them compassion and empathy.” While Bloom said her children have neither been the targets of bullies nor harassed others, she is aware of many instances when it has occurred to others. “I hear some kids talk and I’m blown away about how casual some of them are about violence,” she said. “It’s like it’s almost not real to them, like there isn’t a real person on the other end receiving this hatred that is devastated by it.”
Author Anne Bromley, an Encinitas substitute school teacher, has published her first children’s book, “The Lunch Thief,” which explores several facets of bullying.
“The book is targeted to second- through fourth-graders but applies to people of all ages,” Bromley said.
The author said she didn’t set out to write a story about bullying. Rather, it evolved from a writing assignment she took to observe a child over 5. She was drawn to a child in the clothing section of a department store struggling to try on a sweater.
The second part of the exercise was to write a monologue through the child’s voice. “I thought about it and wrote that he was self-conscious about his weight and that someone was stealing his lunch,” Bromley said.
What started as a short speech became a book about empathy and ways to deal with bullies. In the story the main character knows that the bully is stealing lunches among other things. Rather than retaliate, he decided to do something different. “He thought it through; you can fight fire with fire or you can fight it with water,” she said. So the boy offered the bully his lunch after learning he was homeless.
“The younger kids get the compassion,” Bromley said. She’s learned through teachers and librarians all over the country who have read the book that students are receptive to compassionate reactions. The character’s mother models that kind of attitude and shows him what empathy looks like in practice.
“There are many lessons learned in the book,” Bromley said. Foremost, people should not be too quick to pass judgment. “You just don’t know what a person is going through. Something has gone on in their lives to precipitate their behavior,” she said. “It’s really about our response to what’s coming at us.”
The bottom line is that looks can be deceiving. Second-graders describe the bully as “not a bad kid” but just someone having bad behavior according to Bromley.
“I think the book is smarter than I am,” Bromley said with a laugh. The author has been invited to go into schools to read the book to students. “I think once you can bring the issue to the attention of children at a young age, there is a chance that they will respond to situations in a more compassionate way.”

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