Battling Bullying One Dress at a Time

Most of us have probably met someone like Wanda or actually have been her -- the girl struggling to fit in, who becomes the target of mean girls, and faces a volley of daily insults and hostile behavior.

That's just one of the reasons why Beth Engelman's latest report for iVoices on iVillage is so compelling. Beth heads to the Chicago Children's Theatre to see the hit musical, The Hundred Dresses (pictured, above). In it, Wanda, the new girl at school and an immigrant from Poland, wears the same faded dress every day, yet swears she has 100 dresses back home. Still, the mean girls pick on her day after day.

As a mom of two little girls, I fear what the world will be like when they are tweens and teens. Will the mean girls only get meaner? Will my girls stand up to bullies or stand on the sidelines? At a time when the headlines are filled with bullying tragedies, we can all be comforted by projects like The Hundred Dresses, which uses innovative ways to spread a powerful message about bullying prevention.

"I learned that encouraging children to use empathy at an early age can help them have a better understanding of how their words and/or actions can affect other kids," Beth, a single mom who has a blog of her own, told us. "Also, I learned that we as parents have to learn what it means to be an 'active bystander.'"

Beth says she also saw how something like The Hundred Dresses can bring the issue to light for children in a "non-threatening" way. Beth's friend joined her at the play, along with her friend's 9-year-old daughter and her 9-year-old friend. "After the play," Beth recalls, "the girls started to open up about a little girl who was a bully in their grade. So the play became a springboard for this topic," says Beth. "It helped them feel okay about talking about something which can be tricky for kids to talk about."

Finding ways to talk about bullying is just one of the takeaways from Beth's report.  Another is helping kids understand there is a difference between tattling on someone and reporting bad bullying behavior that can be dangerous.

In the play, there is a character named Maddie who is conflicted -- she wants to help Wanda but is afraid to step in to protect her. What Maddie learns is probably the biggest message from the play and something we should repeat to all of our kids: that doing nothing is not much different from being the bully in the first place.

How do you teach your kids to stand up to bullies? Chime in below!

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