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Resource for Parents and Teachers Dealing with Bullying

Resource for Parents and Teachers Dealing with Bullying
Author Interview with Patricia Gatto and John De Angelis, Milton's Dilemma
By Lisa M. Hendey

We hear all too frequently about the devastating escalation of 'bullying' in today's society 'young lives destroyed forever, families ripped apart, and a pattern of violence that seems to be ever increasing. Concerned parents and teachers need to be informed about recognizing and dealing with bullying, and a new book from authors Patricia Gatto and John De Angelis provides a great resource.

Milton's Dilemma (Providence Publishing, June 2004, hardcover, 32 pages) tells the story of ten year old Milton and his struggles to fit in at a new school. Written in an engaging fashion and featuring eye catching illustrations, the book shows Milton's varying reactions to the harassment he faces and his struggle to make the correct decision about his tormentors. This book doesn't duck tough issues, providing an excellent springboard for conversations in your home or classroom with elementary school age children. Additionally, through their web site at and their school presentations, the authors are busy working to advocate for children's literacy and safety issues.

Authors Patricia Gatto and John De Angelis share the following perspectives on their book and on confronting the issue of bullying.

Q: Patricia Gatto and John De Angelis, authors of Milton's Dilemma, please tell our readers a bit about your family.

A: Johnny and I are married and live at Lake Wallenpaupack in the Pocono Mountains with our 16-year-old son, Alexander. Family is our top priority. We draw our inspiration from love and laughter, and get our strength and courage from the support we receive from our extended family ties.

Q: I read that John has childhood experiences related to bullying. What prompted you to write Milton's Dilemma and what message would you hope to spread through this book?

A: Originally, Milton's Dilemma started out as an entertaining story about a young boy who had trouble making friends. However, since we write as a team, once we have a basic story idea, John and I begin developing the back-story (history) of the character(s) as part of our process.

When you write with a partner, it is important to come to an agreement early on about the goal of the piece you are writing. Focus and direction are even more important when you are collaborating, or it will impede the process and you will end up spending your writing energy on winning an argument. So, before we get down to the actual writing, we talk and take notes.

In the particular case of Milton's Dilemma, as we explored our main character's difficulties in adjusting to a new school, John shared with me an incident of bullying that occurred when he and his brother were young. It quickly became apparent that this time in their lives played a significant role in their own character development. That led us to research about the affects of bullying. This research, combined with John's experiences flowed over to our character development. From that point, the tone of our story took a turn and our entertaining tale found a message and purpose beyond the original concept.

Experts estimate that almost 75% of today's youth will be involved in some aspect of bullying before they enter high school. Lack of safety is a top concern for young people, and bullying is a real and constant threat. A child's emotional development is just as important, if not more so, than academic development. In fact, a safe, healthy emotional environment is essential to academic growth and success.

The message we hope to convey is that bullying is a form of harassment and violence. The consequences can have lasting repercussions. By developing Milton's character and exaggerating the extreme situations he encounters, we hope to gently evoke sympathy and understanding so that the child reader can see (and feel) those repercussions. We hope that through our story, children will not only be entertained by the fantasy element of Milton's Dilemma, but that they will also recognize their similarities and gain the courage and strength to celebrate their uniqueness and reserve judgment until they truly get to know one another.

Q: Please discuss the plot of the book for readers who have not yet read Mitlon's Dilemma.

A: A ten-year-old boy named Milton Hastings, Jr. moves to Smithville, a common occurrence for his military family. This move is without his father, who died a war-hero. Milton struggles with the changes around him and has difficulty making friends. He quickly becomes a target for the school bullies.

Milton wants to get back at the bullies, but a mischievous gnome named Duffy McDoogle guides Milton on a journey of friendship and self-discovery. This journey allows Milton to choose his own path, to learn the consequences of his actions and to realize just how special he is.

Q: Why is Duffy's role significant to Milton's story?

A: Duffy McDoogle is a magical gnome who speaks in rhyme. He appears to Milton in the form of a dream after Milton vows to get even with the school bullies. This character acts as Milton's conscience, initially pushing and prodding Milton, but ultimately, Duffy's magic helps Milton to see what the consequences of his actions would be. Duffy's character is very dear to me; he represents my Mom and her wisdom.

Q: Are there signs a child may exhibit if he or she is being bullied, but is afraid to speak with a parent about it?

A: Children usually set off little signs by complaining about taunting and teasing from a classmate, but parents tend to dismiss this as commonplace. If these subtle complaints are ignored, it could be the only time a child will speak up. Victims of bullying feel ashamed and tend to view themselves as failures.

If you notice that your child is hesitant to go to school, or if your child complains about stress related illnesses such as headaches and stomachaches, these are warning signs that something isn't right. If your child comes home with unexplained bruises or scratches, or torn clothing, question them immediately. If personal possessions are "lost" or missing, or if your child is hungry after school, it could mean a bully is taking their possessions, lunch or lunch money.

We should always be concerned with a change in our child's demeanor. Agitation, unexplained anger, and withdrawal are also signs. Humiliation, fear, anxiety and depression are the constant companions of a child that is bullied. It can lead to harmful, shocking and unexpected behavior from an otherwise shy or timid child. In extreme cases, the victim of a bully can experience sever depression and entertain thoughts of suicide.

Q: What steps should a parent take if he or she feels that their child is being victimized by bullying?

A: If your child won't open up, but you suspect a problem, speak with the school to find out if anything unusual has happened. Be diligent in your search for answers. Your child has a right to a safe and healthy learning environment.

Because there is a strong likelihood that your child will be exposed to bullying behavior, whether it is as a victim or bystander, parents should prepare their child beforehand.

Teach your child to walk tall and proud and to maintain eye contact. Portraying a positive, self-confident stature will help your child cope in many areas.

Be certain to compliment your child and gently encourage changes that will bolster self-esteem. Use positive words that validate his or her rights as a person.

Use role-playing techniques to illustrate proper responses to negative situations. This will build strength, courage and provide your child with valuable emotional resources to pull from in times of trouble.

Help your child to identify role models, from sports heroes to everyday man. Discuss the obstacles and accomplishments they endured, focusing on the resilient human spirit.

Read stories together that inspire. Discuss how strength of character and perseverance can achieve a positive outcome without resorting to violence or force.

Encourage your child to keep a diary or journal, write poetry or songs. Writing provides a safe outlet for your child and creativity and self-expression are helpful tools used to work through negative issues.

If your child has difficulties making or maintaining friends, intervene 'friendships are a protection against bullying. Identify children that might have things in common with your child and arrange a visit.

Encourage your child to join activities both in and out of school that will result in friendships while building strength and confidence.

Q: How can we proactively decrease instances of bullying with future generations?

A: Become involved and make certain your school has active anti-bullying policies in place. Disciplinary guidelines, procedures for investigating and reporting incidences of bullying, adequate supervision, and an immediate plan of action to address reports of bullying are key elements to a successful program.

Q: How can families promote non-violent means to settling disputes between children?

A: When your child is involved, it is difficult to separate emotions from the equation, but it is essential to maintain some distance. It is natural for children to argue and disagree, vie for position amongst peers, and at times, satisfy their need for acknowledgement at the cost of others. When you witness unacceptable behavior:

Immediately stop the bullying by standing between the children involved and explain family and house rules in a matter-of-fact tone. For example, "That was bullying. In our home, we solve our problems by discussing them, not hurting each other. I will not allow this behavior."
- Don't ask what happened or demand that each child tell their side of the story. This should be done privately. It can be very uncomfortable for the victim to speak up. Since bullies are aggressive, it will make your child feel tormented all over again.
- Don't ask for apologies or for the children involved to make amends in the heat of the moment. Separate them for a time and allow a cooling off period. Chances are, they will want to get back to playing and will make amends on their own.
- Keep a close watch on future playtime. Remain in close proximity and intervene at the first hit of trouble.

Your own actions are the true teachers. Be aware of your responses, especially when your children are present. If you argue and verbally strong-arm the clerk in a grocery store for ringing up an item incorrectly,

Q: Please share some of the work you are doing in schools to promote literacy and to decrease bullying.

A: Johnny and I developed a school program based on our book and research. The program features an animated reading of our story, personal experience, original songs and an anti-bullying slideshow presentation. We also have a lesson plan with worksheets, puzzles and art projects.

Q: Has music and writing been a healing means of dealing with past bullying experiences?

A: John was a shy child and music was his solace. From a very young age, when something was troubling him he would lock himself in his room and write songs to express his emotions. He took his childhood experiences and wrote the songs for our presentation from each point of view. The children relate to him because of the honesty he conveys thorough his music. We strongly encourage the pursuit of creative endeavors such as writing and art to help a child with self-expression and confidence.

Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you'd like to share with our readers?

A: Literacy, bullying, prejudice and crime have direct correlations. Foster and promote literacy in your home. Share the magic and joy of reading with your child at a young age and continue to promote it always by making special trips to the library and giving books as gifts. When you hit a bump in the rocky road of parenting, you turn to others you respect for advice. If you need to get a point across to your child, but struggle with the words, use a book or story to help get your message across.

For more information on Milton's Dilemma visit

Lisa M. Hendey, wife, mother and webmaster of and is an avid reader and writes from Fresno, California. Visit her at for more information.

About the Author
Lisa M. Hendey, wife, mother and webmaster of and is an avid reader and writes from Fresno, California. Visit her at for more information.

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