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Oct. 23, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- October has been designated as National Bullying Awareness Month. Many schools around the Tri-State have been providing their students and parents with information on how to prevent bullying. At St. Joseph Catholic School, kids and parents were able to participate in interactive workshops to learn how to stop the bullying and social aggression that children may encounter throughout their academic years.

Mike Dreiblatt, an author and nationally recognized speaker was invited to the school by Principal Carol Templeton.

"Truthfully, school is the safest environment for kids due to the degree of supervision," Dreiblatt said as he opened the Parent Workshop on Thursday, Oct. 18. "In fact, research shows that kids are in the most danger between the hours of 3 and 5 (p.m.) because of the frequent lack of adult supervision."

The good news is that most children will never be a bully or the target of the bully, Dreiblatt said. However, it's important to be proactive and empower all children with tools for when they do encounter a negative social situation.

Prior to the parent workshop, Dreiblatt not only spent spent the day with St. Joe students in kindergarten through eighth grade, teaching them about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, bullying and safe ways to use social media.

"Bullying is the abuse of the difference in power," Dreiblatt told each group of students. Then, he broke down the three roles that often accompany a bullying scenario: the bully, the one being picked on, and the bystanders. Dreiblatt added that most kids fall into that bystander category, and this is where the greatest shift in the dynamic of power can occur.

"If bystanders speak up and intervene, then the bullying episode is reduced or stopped," Dreiblatt said.

He also defined bullying for the audience, saying that occasional conflicts between children are normal and expected. But when it becomes a constant pattern between the same aggressor and victim, then it is bullying.

"Two kids fighting over the same swing is not bullying," Dreiblatt said. "But, the same child repeatedly preventing the same kid from getting on the swing has evolved into bullying."

Dreiblatt said there are four types of bullying that kids may encounter: "physical bullies, verbal bullies, cyber bullies and relational bullies who use relationships as a weapon." The key for parents and adults working with kids is to be proactive. He suggests implementing a "bully-proof plan of action."

"You can always tell kids to ignore or walk away. Unfortunately, most bullies see this as passive." Instead, Dreiblatt encourages parents to teach kids to use their voice and even hand motions to assertively "tell the person to stop, and then walk away from the incident." At this point, younger kids, such as grades K-2, call also add that they will tell an adult. "However, this does not work for older kids," Dreiblatt cautioned. Instead, older students are encouraged to use their voice and hand/arm actions, look the bully in the eye and shout, "Stop! Leave me/her/him alone!

When kids are talking to adults, they need to be taught to go straight to the point by using statement such as, "I'm trying to stay out of a fight," as this is "code" to get adults to pay closer attention. Usually, these actions are enough to stop most bullies. If not, this is where parents can step in.

Dreiblatt encourages parents to make sure they get the entire story. This may require a conference with your child's teacher or school officials. Dreiblatt encourages parents to make the following considerations when consulting with the school:

Follow the chain of command when talking with school personnel.

Recognize the staff is limited legally as to what they can reveal about another students.

Don't assume you (the parent) are the only one watching out for your child.

Don't make negative assumptions about the staff or try to threaten or intimidate them.

Recognize there are limits to what schools can control, such as what is said on social media.

"By working with your child's school, rather than against your child's school, you'll be more proactive and productive," Dreiblatt said.

Additionally, parents need to set limits and controls on media access "Kids are impulsive and so is social media. Therefore, you must be the adult and set limits," Dreiblatt said.

These include:

Do not allow your child to have their phone and/or charger in their bedroom. "All phones should be charged in a central location of the house."

Have a central location for computer use in your home.

Consider keeping a basket near your front door Whenever your child's friends come over, all phones go into this basket until time to leave. This way if the child's parent does call, you can get the phone to them without worrying about who is doing what on their cell phone.

Only allow your child to play age-appropriate video games, especially games that have interactive links to other kids playing around the world. Or, better yet, mute the sound to those types of games.

Monitor, at all times, what Internet sites your child is visiting Have a rule that if the screen goes off or laptop goes down when you (the adult) walks by, the child is off the computer.

Facebook limits age for a reason. Although any kid can figure out how to get around that, it is up to you the parent to reinforce the rule, and, once old enough, monitor what your child is doing on this and other similar sites.

Use apps that allow parents to monitor children's cell phones and computers.

Additionally, Dreiblatt encourages parents to really listen to their kids and be empathetic.

"Rather than you directly leading the conversation, let your child lead, while you use the 'five Ws' (who, what, where, when, why) to clarify the conversation."

Dreiblatt cautions, though, that there is often more to the story than your child reveals. "You need to 'be the adult' and decide if your child is really being bullied, or just needs to learn better social skills. Furthermore, it never hurts, according to Dreiblatt, to encourage your kids to participate in activities that allow them to express their feelings, such as art, dance, music or physical activity. He even suggests that most kids benefit from martial arts classes because it teaches kids to have proud body language, which makes them a less interesting target for would-be bullies.

Parent Julie Huron, who attended the evening workshop, said Dreiblatt forced her to rethink her approach with her own son. "He (Dreiblatt) really emphasized the importance of listening to your child. I'm too quick to write off my son's complaints. At least if I listen more carefully, he feels heard. I never thought about how important that is to kids."

St. Joe Assistant Principal Gail McDowell said Dreiblatt took time to meet with the staff after school. "He really provided us with a wealth of information. Even though we don't seem to have a bullying issue at our school, we learned a great deal of helpful information to better educate our children and to prevent bullying from occurring."

Dreiblatt praised St. Joe for taking a proactive stance on bullying. "My compliments to Mrs. Templeton and Mrs. Moore (the guidance counselor) for being ahead of the curve on this topic." Dreiblatt, a former teacher for 16 years, has spent the past 11 speaking to audiences all over the United States. "I care passionately about keeping kids safe," he said, adding that he would much rather talk prevention, than to have to go into a situation that has already gotten out of hand. "There is a reason 49 states have bullying prevention laws."

To learn more about Mike Dreiblatt and his Stand up to Bullying website, visit www.standuptobullying.net or email him @ info@standuptobullying.net.