Are School Bullying Programs Just Temporary Band-Aids?

Bullied: The Fallout of No Child Left Behind?

Dr. Robyn J.A. SIlverman

Dr. Robyn–One of my daughters (I have 9 yo twin girls) is being bullied terribly. I have spoken to the teacher, principle, adjustment counselor. I have even had Tim and Kim speak with her this week because she brings it home to hurt her sister and disrespect me. How do I get the school to adopt a No Bully policy? Next year will be their last year in elementary school but these children will be moving on to middle school with my girls. It started with just a few children and now the whole class is mean to her. She says she has “no friends” and she doesn’t anymore. She has gone from a confident child to a child that thinks she is ugly, fat and deserves to be treated badly.


I’m not a very politically-minded person. I don’t spend hours debating the current campaign or arguing about something George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or John McCain did or said. I do care about children though—and as you know, I’ve got a lot of opinions when it comes to kids and their education. Particularly, my focus is typically on ways to help children reach their potential and become generous, open-minded, respectful, confident, leaders—rather than on who’s getting the most electoral votes.

After reading a brief post in the Washington Post this morning on the importance of teaching the whole child in school, my feelings, as usual, became more acute. We talk about the need for character education and yet in many schools, kids aren’t receiving it.

It’s been difficult to see the emotional fallout regarding the intense focus on academics during the era of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). High expectations in reading and math have left children in an emotional and social funk. I’ve already started receiving requests for bullying and leadership seminars from schools who anticipate a continuation of the bullying trend that’s happened over the last 7 or 8 years. Children don’t know what to do and teachers don’t know what to do– and nothing much is being done in most places.

What’s going on now is similar to what happened decades ago– lack of knowledge, lack of no-how, lack of money, lack of listening, and lack of implementation in schools. These reasons, I believe, were the same reasons that I wound up getting horribly bullied in elementary school years ago. Are we still in the same place?

No promotion of positive values—no prevention of alienation, no expectation of character in action– even if today’s bully is tomorrow’s criminal. Perhaps it isn’t hard to believe that this is part of what fuels (and pushed me in the past) to become a child development expert in my adult life. I figured, “I guess I’ll have to figure out the answer myself.” The teachers at that time (and I don’t think it’s gotten better in most cases since), had absolutely NO CLUE what to do about bullying. There was no real protocol and a real feeling of dart throwing in the dark when it came to solving the obvious issue.

Time to let the cat out of the bag…

It was fifth grade when it first happened to me. Admittedly, I was a sensitive girl—very friendly, quite intuitive, and often, too eager to please. This social profile, along with the fact that I had become too close with a girl who was already considered “the best friend” of another bossy, albeit insecure, 5th grader, named Jenny, put me in a precarious situation. I was ready to begin some of the worst days of my life. As an adult, I can still say that with confidence. I was about to become a consistent victim of bullying during this unfortunate year. Boy, do I have some stories that would make your head spin.

While in Martha’s Vineyard this past weekend, I had a great conversation with some of my friends about the tragic sabbatical that children have taken from social and emotional education. On the one hand, the lack of character education in schools is absurd (and why we’re so grateful to Powerful Words Member Schools for supplying it in the after-school arenas).

On the other hand, the children have been robbed of natural social lessons due to the diminishing budget for gym (time when children need to work together outside of the academic world), art (a time when children can express themselves artistically and put their feelings about nonacademic things to paper), drama (an activity that allows children to act out, try out, and get out their feelings in a healthy way), music…and the list goes on and on. And let’s not get started on the fact that children have full access of the computer/internet and no education about the decorum, respect, and responsibility it takes to use it. We can say “it’s got to stop” but without the opportunities for children to learn positive interactions and the diminished focus on providing such opportunities in schools, we’ve got a major problem.

So now what?

I’m troubled and reassured by the schools that are asking to bring me in to talk to the children about bullying —in person, cyber, or otherwise. They may actually be noticing it may be a problem—or they’re simply trying to “shut up” a parent who’s complaining that their child is being bullied (something that is definitely happening in some of these schools). It’s clear that money is tight– since most of it is designated for more math or reading prep– not social education. This has to be a one-shot deal. But what can I possibly do or say in an hour that’s going to change the social climate of the school?

There have been plenty of parents who’ve reached out and written to tell me about their child who has been bullied, teased, terrorized, ostracized, and gossiped about.

I’ve already gone into school to role play strategies that are meant to help children cope when a bully “attacks.” But I’m not really sure that it’s where I should put my focus. Do you? I mean, why give the education to the “victims” when it’s really the leaders and bullies that need the social education —I guess I’d rather “promote” positive interaction rather than “prevent” (which implies the risk is still very much there), negative interaction.

So I’m at a stalemate. I admit it. Since the schools aren’t really asking for it– I’d like to ask you for your opinion. If you had someone go into your children’s school to talk about bullying—or someone who was actually going to make a difference—what would you want them to do or say? My inclination is to talk to the “leaders” in the school (the teachers would have to pick these out) and put them through leadership training.

What do you think? What would you want for your children? I’d like to help but I’m not really interested in putting a temperamental band-aid on a sore subject nor am I interested in being the walking check-mark next to the school administration’s program requirement list for the year.

As educators, our after-school program instructors that constantly keep their eyes on respect, discipline, confidence, responsibility, generosity, and more– we thank you– you are needed more than you can ever know. I wonder how many children you have saved from being the victim as well as the bully– through the consistent use of character education and Powerful Words. Now we need to know how to transfer some of our expertise and programming into the school systems that need it so badly.

Your comments and ideas are respected and very much wanted. Please comment below.


Self Reliance: Teaching Children How to Tie Shoes


I can do it! How to teach children to tie their shoes

By Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Happy March! Since the Powerful Word of the Month is Self Reliance, it’s a good time for parents and teachers to help children exercise a “can do attitude” and challenge themselves to do some age-appropriate activities by themselves.

While it’s often easier, quicker, and even more skillfully performed when we do things for our children, it’s not always best. After all, we’re not always around to be at our children’s service!

Teaching children how to tie their own shoes is one way to help young children learn self reliance. When they learn self reliance through shoe-tying, they may be apt to try other things on their own and develop into more independent, capable, and competent children, teens and adults.

Since the invention of Velcro, most children’s shoes feature these easy closures. Still, there are benefits of teaching children how to tie their own shoes. On the physical side, it helps children work on their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and dexterity. On the social side, it helps children employ self reliance and can lead to increased confidence in one’s own abilities. Besides, it’s still an important childhood milestone!

Here’s a few tips to help children learn how to tie their shoes all by themselves:

(1) Different colored laces: It can be easier to explain shoe tying if laces are different colors. Instead of saying “the right one” or “the one in that hand” you can say, “put the red one over the blue one.” Different colored laces can make any shoe-tying technique easier.

(2) Bunny ears:

a. Tell your child, “let’s make some bunny ears with your laces!”

b. First, make a knot for the bunny’s head. Take one lace in each hand and make an X. Then pull one lace through the bottom of the X (like a train going through a tunnel) and pull tight.

c. Tell your child, “Now let’s give our bunny some ears.” Loop the laces to make 2 ears.

d. Tell you child, let’s make the ears nice and tight so they don’t fall off the bunny’s head!” Make an X using the 2 ears, slide one ear under the X (like a train going through a tunnel) and pull tight.

(3) Use a giant shoe cut-out: You can buy one or make one yourself. Cut out a big shoe-shape. Let your child color it or decorate it with markers and stickers. Then string an extra long lace through the shoe cut-out (a shore lace that’s 2 different colors on each side can be helpful here—sow a red and green lace together or dip each side of a white lace in dye for the same effect). Allow your child to work on the “giant’s shoe” using any teaching method you like.

(4) The Scaredy cat and the tree: This method uses a fun story to help children tie their shoes. It’s also referred to as the squirrel and the tree. Stories help children remember the steps. This method exercises a lot of dexterity since the children need to switch hands.

a. Tell the child, “make tree roots by making a knot.”

b. Then say, “make a long loop to make a very tall tree. Hold that loop in your right hand. (A sticker on your child’s right hand can help him remember right from left).

c. Tell you child, “with the left hand, hold onto the other lace. This is the scaredy cat! The cat runs around the tree and jumps into the hole under the tree and out the other side.

(5) Try some shoe-tying books or toys: There are wooden shoe-tying models and shoe-tying books that allow your children to practice! Books or games like “Tie Your Shoes Rocket Style” or “The Wooden Lacing Shoe (Melissa and Doug) are some good options.

PowerNote: If your child’s a lefty and you’re not, ask another lefty to help you teach your child how to tie his or her shoes. Or—mirror them! Sit across from your children and tie a shoe along with them. This way, your shoe tying will match what they’re doing.

Again, while Velcro and bungy cord laces are available, learning to tie ones own shoes helps with self reliance and development. Not to mention, your child will eventually grow to be an adult…and when is the last time you used Velcro to fasten your shoes? You might as well teach them now as they will need to learn the skill eventually!

Have a Powerful Month!




Teaching Children about Leap Year 2008


We love Leap Year because it gives us just one more day to go to our favorite activities and one more day to use our POWerful Words! No matter what kind of POWerful Words school your child attends– have your child impress his/her instructors or teachers by saying; “I’m so glad it’s a Leap Year because it gives me another day to learn from you!”

Teaching Children about Leap Year 2008

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Parents have been asking about how to teach their children about leap year– so here are the answers to some of your child’s most frequently asked questions:

What is a leap year?

A leap year is a year that has a longer February than normal. In a leap year, February has 29 days in it instead of 28.

Why do we need a leap year?

Leap year began in order to align the earth’s rotation around the sun with our seasons. It takes approximately 365.2422 days for the earth to travel around the sun in one year. We know that a typical year has 365 days in it—but as you can see from the number 365.2422, a year is not exactly 365 days! So, in order to get “lined up”, almost every four years, we give one extra day to account for the additional time the earth takes to travel around the sun.

Trivia question: How long is 365.2444 days?

Answer: 365 days 5 hours 48 minutes 46 seconds

When is Leap Year?

This year, 2008, is a Leap Year. It occurs every 4 years (with some exceptions every few hundred years). It’s celebrated on February 29th– a day that only occurs in a Leap Year.

How do you calculate a Leap Year?

How do you calculate a leap year? According to the Gregorian calendar, there are 3 rules to calculate if it is leap year or not a leap year.

Rule 1: Leap year is divisible by 4

Rule 2: Exception to Rule 1, any year divisible by 100 such as 1900 or 1800

Rule 3: Exception to Rule 2, any year divisible by 400 is a leap year such as 2000

Fun for the Kids:

How many leap years old am I?

How many leap years old is Grandma/Grandpa/Mom/Dad?

How many leap years old is my school?

Did you know? Leap Year Traditions

In Ireland, every February 29th, women were allowed to ask for a man in marriage. A man was fined if he refused the proposal.

Leap Year has been the traditional time that women can propose marriage. In many of today’s cultures, it is okay for a woman to propose marriage to a man. Society doesn’t look down on such women. However, that hasn’t always been the case. When the rules of courtship were stricter, women were only allowed to pop the question on one day every four years. That day was February 29th.” Read more about it.

Leap Year Activities for Kids

Making a leap year frog out of a paper plate:

Pin the Crown on the Frog Prince :

Musical Lilly Pads:

Frog Hunt and other Frog Games:

Make a Frog Bean Bag

Paper Frog Puppet alternative:

Frog CupCakes

Cullin’s Video on leap year for young children:

Have a POWerful Extra Leap Year Day!



Sneezing Season! How can I keep my child from getting sick?


Sneezin’ Season!
Parenting message boards are asking (and my email box is full!)—
how do I keep my kid from getting sick again this year?
Robyn J.A. Silverman, PhD

As you probably heard, the CDC has suggested that every child over 6 months old get the flu vaccine. I know, you’re probably thinking…”Wait! It’s enough! I don’t want to think about this right now!”

Your children likely just finished school vacation– and that’s supposed to mean…back to school, right? But during this time of year, my email box is full and the parenting message boards are teeming with questions about how to keep the children from getting sick this year since many of their friends are sick in bed!

We’ve all read about “Little Mary” who stared sneezing out of nowhere and “Joe Jr.” who came home from school with his head throbbing and his nose running leading to 3 days of missed school. The parenting message boards have a lot of questions so let’s get some answers!

How to deal…

(1) Diagnose the problem: Are we battling colds or the flu or something else entirely? It is often difficult to distinguish between the common cold and influenza (the flu). Both respiratory infections are caused by viruses and many of the symptoms seem to overlap. However, while the cold is often more mild with symptoms gradually becoming more apparent, the flu seems to come on full force and tends to be more severe. How can you tell the difference between the two conditions? Here is what the doctors say!

a. Flu: Feelings of weakness and exhaustion, fever, headache, achy all over, dry cough, and chest discomfort.

b. Cold: Runny nose, sneezing, or stuffy head, sore throat, mild aches and pains, mild to moderate productive cough

c. Something else: Is it allergies? Indoor and outdoor allergies can look a lot like a cold. Is your child worried about something? Children can give themselves a bellyache when they are scared or upset. Other times, your children might be “playing sick” in order to get out of going to school. Use your character education program to talk to your kids about honesty, integrity, courage, and friendship. Be available to your children and ask them if they are nervous about something that is happening at school. Keep the lines of communication open so that the children feel that they can come to you for support, goal-setting, and problem-solving rather than avoiding the problem all together.

(2) Be kind to yourself and to your kids: While our brains sometimes say, “keep going” when we don’t feel well, The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends you stay home! Children (and even adults!) need to know when to listen to their bodies and respect the need to take care of themselves. (Of course, when we talk about respect in our families, we often forget to talk about respecting ourselves—we are typically talking about respecting others, aren’t we? Add “respecting yourself” to your character education discussions!) Make sure that your family is not around smokers or second-hand smoke. Keep cold or flu sufferers hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and eating clear soups to loosen mucus and prevent dehydration. Gargle with salt water and use saline nose drops to loosen nasal mucus and moisten nasal massages.

(3) Keep ‘em healthy all year ‘round! Make sure that your whole family is taking top notch vitamins and eating right. Children are often picky eaters, teens can eat a lot of junk, and parents can often skip meals due to rushing around—vitamins and healthy snacks might be a good answer to ensure that your family is getting what they need.

(4) Get immunized: The federal panel recommended on Wednesday, February 27, that all children get vaccinated against the flu. Injectible vaccines and nasal spray vaccines are available in many towns and cities– ask your doctor where to find a place near you. Pregnant women and individuals with weak immune systems should not receive flu shots. Consult your doctor to inquire if flu inoculation is appropriate for you and your family.

(5) Don’t get too close: The American Lung Association recommends the following to keep your family from getting sick this year:

a. Avoid close contact with people who have a cold—at least during the first 72 hours when they are most contagious.

b. Encourage hand washing! Keep mutual toys clean and make sure that everyone who has a cold or has been playing with someone who has a cold washes their hands.

c. Keep fingers away from the eyes and nose to avoid the spread of infection

d. Keep an extra towel in the bathroom for those who are healthy so that they are not sharing dirty towels with someone who is sick

e. Keep your house humid to keep sinuses from drying out. A simple way to do this is to use a humidifier.

f. Encourage anyone who is sick to cover their mouth when they sneeze or cough and to wash their hands often!


Good Luck! Let’s keep ’em healthy so that they can stay active in all the powerful activities they love!



Top Students: Does Self Discipline Trump IQ in Children and Teens?


Today I received the following question about children’s self discipline vs smarts from Mary in Charlotte, North Carolina:

“I have a quick question–since the Powerful Word this month is Self Discipline, my husband got into this discussion about our son (age 14) and daughter (age 11) who have very different study habits. We were just wondering, can kids with great self discipline do better in school than kids who are the smartest?”

Hi Mary-

Here’s a quick answer to your quick question!

People often point the finger at unprepared teachers, boring lesson plans, inadequate books, and overpopulated classes when it comes to student underachievement.

Interestingly, research has actually shown that:

  • Self discipline predicts academic performance more robustly than did IQ.
  • Self discipline has also predicted which students would improve their grades over the school year.
  • American children, in particular, have trouble making choices that require them to sacrifice short term gratification for long-term gain, such as academic success.
  • Compared with more impulsive peers, highly self disciplined 8th graders earned higher GPAs and achievement test scores, were more likely to gain admission to selective high schools, had fewer school absences, spent more time on homework, watched less TV, and started their homework earlier in the day.
  • Highly self disciplined adolescents outperformed their more impulsive peers on every academic performance variable in one study, including report-card grades, standardized achievement test schools, admission to a competitive high school, and attendance.

As you can see, the Powerful Word, self discipline, has long lasting and important effects! So encourage your children to attend those character-based Power Chats with open ears and continue your family meetings!

Just a quick note: I’m so glad that your family is benefiting so much from the curriculum. We’re all very impressed that you and your spouse are engaging in discussions about the powerful word of the month. Congratulations on making character development a family affair!

Keep your questions and comments coming! Thanks, Mary!


Reference: Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents (Duckworth & Seligman)

The POWer of Self Discipline: Three Reasons Goals Fail to Reach the Finish Line


“Use Self Discipline to execute your plan or find that the lack of it will execute your dreams.” –Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman–February Self Discipline Quote of the Month

As it’s now February and we are taking inventory on how well we’ve done so far on our New Year’s Resolutions, the February POWerful quote of the month struck a cord with some parents at top Personal Development Centers using Powerful Words.

One parent, whose family is currently doing a “POWerful Challenge” (her personal challenge is to lose 50 pounds) wrote, “I jotted down your quote this month and it’s on the refrigerator. I want to remember it when I am thinking about breaking my diet plan. My son, Nathan, is working on improving his grades in school and getting an A on his next math test. We all want it to work but I’m already seeing the excuses dropping from our lips when it’s time to get to work…What are some of the things we should look out for that can prevent our kids or ourselves from reaching the goals we set out to reach this year? And how can I explain these pitfalls to my child?” (Carole- Austin, TX)

Dr. Robyn’s 3 POWerful Ps of Failure

Self Discipline helps us greatly in goal-setting and goal-getting. It puts us in control. But once we allow self discipline to slip, there are 3 POWerful Ps of Failure ready to take the reins.

Procrastination: Put off for tomorrow what could be done today!

We are all guilty of falling into the trap of procrastination. When explaining procrastination to very young children, I use a concrete term since again, they are concrete thinkers. I say it is a monster called “Mr. Delay” who tells you to wait another day…and another day..and another day before getting to work. Helping children to prioritize and set a plan so that goal-getting takes place at a certain time each day or each week can help to squash procrastination.

Pushback: Resist change—Also known as, “I don’t wanna!”

When we charge towards our goals, things change. It’s human nature to want to stay at our comfort level in our Archie Bunker chair with our feet up. We want to achieve our goal, but we want everything to stay the same. When working with children who are dealing with push-back, you can help them to understand that it’s OK to feel uncomfortable when we are going after something we really want—in the end, it will be worth it—and you can bring them back to why they wanted to achieve the goal in the first place.

Projection: Blame it on the Dog!

As an educator, this is one of my favorites. Projection means placing the onus and the blame on someone else when a goal is not achieved. You may have heard, “Dad forgot to put my homework in my bag,” or “the teacher only explained it once that is why I didn’t get an A.” When explaining this concept to children, you can use concrete terms by asking them to picture a slide projector from school or showing them the film projector at a movie theater. The projector doesn’t put the picture on itself; it puts it on a screen. When we blame someone else when we do not achieve a goal, we are being like the projector. The person or thing we blame is the “screen.” The people who achieve their goals are people who take responsibility to get things done on their own and take the responsibility when they forget to do so as well. When we project blame onto someone else, we give them the power to decide the outcome of our goals and dreams.

Self Discipline is a powerful force in goal-setting and goal-getting. On your quest to achieve your New Year’s Resolution this year or your POWerful Challenge this month, I wish you and your family the self discipline to stay in the driver’s seat.

You have the power! Take the reins!


Using Self Discipline to Get Organized


In my recent post, Being a Role Model: Am I self disciplined?, I must have hit a nerve. Several people wrote in and told me that the self discipline questions prompted them to take a good hard look at their own ability to discipline themselves. Question #2, “How much time do you waste looking for something you lost (or don’t know where to find) each week?” was a particular ringer. Issues of organization, or lack there of, applies to all of us.

Nobody’s perfect. The questions, even as I wrote them, sparked a response in me. I was preparing to write an article for the South Shore Senior News on Body Image (due out in March) and, I confess, I couldn’t find some of my notes. I eventually found them—but at what cost? I wasted 45 minutes of my time and felt frustrated and annoyed at my carelessness.

So, this weekend, my husband Jason and I decided to get organized. It was time. After all, the Powerful Word of the month is self discipline—we don’t want to just write about it; we want to live it! We cleaned our home from top to bottom, including delving into the dreaded closets that housed much of the clutter that we hadn’t dealt with in months. We went through what seemed to look like mountains of paper. We donated towels and sheets that hadn’t left the linen closet since we moved in. We recycled boxes and bottles that had been pushed aside. By the end of the day, we were exhausted but we had to admit, we felt, well, lighter.

Would you like to get started too—but not sure where to begin? Julie Morgenstern,“The Queen of Organizing,” and the author of Time Management from the Inside Out and Organizing from the Inside Out, has a formula to help get rid of clutter.


  • Sort: Identify what’s important to you and group similar items

  • Purge: Decide what you can live without and get rid of it (e.g. donations, sales, storage, garbage).

  • Assign: Decide where the items you keep will go. Remember, make it logical, accessible and safe.

  • Containerize: Make sure they’re sturdy, easy to handle, the right size, and that they look good. The art of containerizing is to do it last, not first.

  • Equalize: Spend 15 minutes a day to maintain what you’ve done

It can be difficult to purge old items. You may wonder to yourself; “will I need it?” It’s this type of question that can stop us in our tracks and halt progress. But really; if you haven’t used it in a year (or 2 or 3), the likelihood is pretty low.

There is one thought that goes through my mind when I am getting rid of clothes, linens, and other household items and I am feeling unsure about parting with them: Do I want it enough to deny access to someone else who actually NEEDS this item and will USE this item? I picture the person in that coat, scarf, or pair of shoes, being able to stay warmer this winter or walk into a new job feeling proud of a “new-to-her” outfit. Those thoughts make me realize that the item no longer belongs in my closet—hanging there without purpose—it belongs to someone else. Our own self discipline (and in this case, generosity, charity, and citizenship) can help others. This is an important point to help children understand.

One last thought. When my Dad passed away in May of 2006, we were all devastated. But what made the loss even harder was the task of having to go through an avalanche of disorganized papers, books, pictures, and office items that had never been sorted, purged, assigned, containerized, or equalized. I’m not bringing this up to be morbid–I just know my Dad would have hated to see us laboring over the mess he left. It has given me just one more reason to discipline myself and get organized. The old adage isn’t always accurate “if I don’t do it, no one else will,” because in many cases, when we leave a mess, someone, eventually, will have to clean it up.

Here’s to making one small change this month that can help you…and may just help others too!

Have a POWerful Month!