Resource for Parents and
Teachers Dealing with Bullying
Author Interview with Patricia Gatto and John De Angelis,
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
www.joyfulproductions.com 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
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
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
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
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
Q: Why is Duffy’s role significant to
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
Q: Please share some of the
work you are doing in schools to promote literacy and to decrease
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
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
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