Interview Questions for Erin Frankel by Naomi Drew

Ms. Drew is recognized around the world as an expert on conflict resolution and peacemaking for schools, workplaces, and families.

This interview was originally posted April 4, 2013 at


 ND: Tell us about the amazing fiction series you've written on bullying for younger kids.

EF: It’s been a wonderful experience working with lifelong friend, Illustrator Paula Heaphy, and Free Spirit Publishing to create the Weird series: Weird! Dare! and Tough!. The books are true-to-life stories of bullying told from three perspectives: the target, the bystander, and the child doing the bullying. Paula and I had our own personal experiences with bullying and we wanted to use our experiences and talents to help make a difference. Weird! tells the story of an amazing little girl named Luisa, who changes everything about herself to avoid being bullied. We wanted to explore the roles that the bystander and the child doing the bullying played in helping Luisa get back to herself. This is how Dare! and Tough! came to life. We let the characters take us where they needed to go, and in doing so, I think the end result is a real sense of learning and healing from all three perspectives.

ND: The Weird series is completely unique in terms of books on bullying for younger children. What can this series help parents and teachers do in a way that no other books can?

EF: Bullying doesn’t involve just one person. The Weird series helps parents and teachers dig deeper into the roles that we all play in putting an end to bullying. The books can be read separately or as a set, and regardless of the order in which they are read, each perspective opens a pathway to the other two books. If children wonder why the bystanders don’t speak up at first, or why the child doing the bullying acts so mean, or how the bullying made Luisa feel, parents and teachers can turn to the other books to help find answers. The stories and illustrations are engaging and true-to-life, which means children will relate to the characters and want to know more about their struggles. Each book includes ‘activity club’ pages and discussion ideas which gives parents and teachers even more ways to explore the topic of bullying with children. 

ND: What are some important things that parents need to know if their child is being bullied?

EF: Here is what I have learned.  Bullying can affect every area of your child’s life. If your child is being bullied, don’t ignore the signs. For example, is your child suddenly more withdrawn or acting out of character? Has your child’s sleep habits changed? Have you noticed any unexplained physical injuries or does your child ask to stay home from school often? Targets of bullying are often ashamed and afraid to speak up about bullying. Help your child open up, and ensure them that things will not get worse as a result of doing so. Don’t assume that things will just get better, you must make sure that they do. Practice confidence building and assertiveness strategies with your child to help them regain some of the confidence that bullying has most likely taken away. But most importantly, see to it that the school’s plan of action to stop the bullying is one that keeps your child’s dignity and safety intact. For example, your child should not be forced to sit down and work things out with his/her tormentor - doing so will only re-traumatize your child.  Also, any physical changes that are made in terms of seating arrangements, class adjustments, etc. should be aimed at the child doing the bullying, not the target. Your child did not choose to be bullied and should not be the one inconvenienced or singled out. Educate yourself on best practices when it comes to bullying and don’t be afraid to share this knowledge with your child’s school. Here are a few websites for starters:

ND: How can teachers and parents help kids resist bullying their peers and classmates?

EF: The greater the empathy, the greater the resistance to cruelty. To build empathy, it’s important to provide children with experiences and opportunities which allow them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Children who bully often experience a disconnect between their behavior and the effect that their behavior has on other people’s feelings. If children can define and understand their own feelings, it will be easier for them to take on another person’s perspective and not only think about someone else’s feelings...but actually feel them. When feelings are put into the equation, bullying becomes less likely.

ND: What can parents do to help their children avoid becoming a target of bullying?

EF: I think it is important to start talking about bullying early on. We need to raise awareness so that bullying doesn’t catch children ‘off guard.’ When asking children how they handled a bullying situation, they often respond, “I didn’t know what to do.” Our reflection and dialogue regarding bullying must be such that children have no question about what to do. And then we need to explore how to do it. We can start by helping children develop a strong sense of who they are and what they stand for. We can also help children develop positive self-talk in order to build confidence or regain confidence in the face of bullying. If we raise awareness early on, and cultivate empathy in doing so, then children won’t have to be ‘on guard.’ They can be who they are within a supportive culture of kindness rather than one of cruelty. They can go back to being kids. 

ND: What else do you want to share with us?

EF: Before writing the Weird series, my understanding of bullying came from personal experiences as a child, mother and teacher. While working on the books, I felt a deep responsibility to further that understanding - given the seriousness of the topic. I turned to the research and experience of individuals who have made a difference in bullying research and prevention. It would be impossible to mention everyone. But if I could share a few with parents and teachers: Barbara Coloroso, Stan Davis, Michele Borba, Rosalind Wiseman, Trevor Romain, and ... Naomi Drew! 

ND: Can these books be used in homes as well as school?

EF: Absolutely. I think the impact of the stories can be felt no matter where they are read. In fact, the series includes activity club pages that are appropriate for either setting. Wherever the books are used, I think the most important part is that children have the opportunity to revisit the characters and their struggles from time to time. So, I would suggest reading the books anywhere, but keeping them easily accessible!

ND: What can teachers do to prevent bullying in the classroom?

EF: They can send a very clear message that bullying will not be tolerated and define expected behavior in the classroom and school. They can put kindness and respect at the top of the list and work together with students to create a shared understanding of what kindness and respect look like. It is important to reflect on the expectations and labels that we may attach to students. If we put students down or treat them unfairly, then students will follow our example.  If we want to prevent bullying in the classroom, we must lead the way by modeling empathy, kindness and respect.  We can provide students with opportunities to do well for and by each other by creating shared projects and initiatives that build friendship and trust.

ND: What can a child do if he/she is being bullied?

EF: First and foremost, they can remind themselves that it is not their fault that they are being bullied.  They can identify caring adults who they feel they can trust and tell them about the bullying. Ideally, that caring adult will be trained to know how to help or how to get the help that is needed to stop the bullying. However, if this is not the case, children need to know that they did the right thing in telling. It is important to reassure children of this and then get them the help they were seeking. It takes a lot of courage for a child to speak up about bullying, so we need to work hard to ensure that a child doesn’t have to look elsewhere for help. We need to be that person - that first person- who not only cares enough to make a difference but knows how.

ND: What are some of the confidence building exercises you recommend in your books?

EF: There are a variety of fun, interactive activities that can be used whether reading the books separately or together as a series. For example, in Weird!, children can join main character, Luisa, in her Confidence Club and participate in activities that work on positive self-talk and confidence building. In Dare!, main character, Jayla, has a Courage Club with activities to help children feel prepared rather than scared when it comes to standing up for someone. And in Tough!, Sam, the child doing the bullying, has a Kindness Club with activities to help children reflect on the impact that their words and actions can have on others. Back matter also includes reflection questions and suggestions for teachers and parents on how to use the series.

ND: If a parent suspects their child might be bullying someone, what should they do?

EF: I would say listen and be true to your instinct. This is important. Just as children who bully may be in denial about their behavior, so may parents. No one wants to think that their child may be bullying someone, but denying that reality denies the child the chance to develop positive behavior and means that the target of the bullying will continue to suffer. Remember, a child may only be experimenting with bullying at early stages and parents have an opportunity to help change gears before more hurt is done for all parties involved. If a child is bullying someone, there is an unsolved problem that needs attention and guidance. Parents will need to build awareness about the hurt that has been caused, help children take responsibility for that hurt, and explore paths to reconciliation.