Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein & Elizabeth Verdick
Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein, LMSW, is an anti-bullying advocate, social worker, writer, and magician. She is the author of How to Stop Bullying in Classrooms and Schools (Routledge, 2012) and coauthor of Bystander Power: Now with Anti-Bullying Action! with Elizabeth Verdick. She lives on Long Island, New York, with her husband Arnie, sons Eric and Steven, and dogs Bandit and Chewy.
Elizabeth Verdick has written over 40 books for Free Spirit. She enjoys getting the chance to look at the funny side of life with books in the Laugh and Learn™ series, which help kids ages 8–13 get a handle on the social-emotional skills they’re developing throughout the elementary and middle school years. Elizabeth lives with her family and five pets near St. Paul, Minnesota.
Q: What prompted you to write Bystander Power?
Phyllis: During my research for How to Stop Bullying in Classrooms and Schools (Routledge, 2012), I discovered there were no nonfiction books devoted to bystander education for 8 to 12 year olds. The lack of available literature on bystander strategies may partly explain why children want to stop bullying, but rarely intervene—they don’t know how to! Bystander Power was written to fill the void.
Elizabeth: People may not yet be familiar with the term “bystander,” but it’s a big one, and we wanted to make sure that adults and kids know what it means. A bystander is any person who sees bullying or knows about it. The person might stand by and let the bullying continue—or may even be one of the bully’s “helpers.” Instead of standing by, we’d like them to STAND UP. They have the power to stop the bullying in its tracks. Bystanders can become “Upstanders.” This empowers kids to make a difference.
Q: What was the most rewarding part of developing your book?
Phyllis: It was rewarding to begin with an idea and a blank piece of paper and watch it develop into a finished book. Even more rewarding is the fact that Bystander Power will save children from pain and cruelty and contribute to the battle against bullying.
Elizabeth: I love using humor to reach kids. Bullying isn’t funny, but we tried to write a book that kids will want to read—one that includes colorful cartoons, helpful information, an understanding tone, and doable ideas for taking a bite out of bullying. When it comes to changing bullying behavior, no one has more power than bystanders. I enjoyed finding ways to spread that message to kids of all ages.
Q: What was your favorite thing about school as a kid?
Phyllis: I was very athletic and loved participating on school clubs and teams. I especially enjoyed team sports because of the camaraderie, teamwork, sharing, and friendships. Volleyball and softball were my favorite sports.
Elizabeth: I loved having friends who were great to spend time with. We played kickball, ran around outside, created clubs, and used our imaginations to invent stories and games. Friendship is a great protection against bullying. When friends stick together and stand up for each other, it’s harder for a bully to do any damage.
Q: What was your least favorite?
Phyllis: Tests! I preferred writing papers, even though researching and writing took more time than studying.
Elizabeth: I didn’t like cliques. Kids form social groups that have power and prestige, and many others feel left out or lesser somehow. As an adult, I’ve worked on many books that help kids gain greater social-emotional strength because I want all kids to feel accepted, empowered, and free to be who they really are.
Q: What is your favorite thing about working with kids?
Phyllis: The most rewarding part about working with kids is having an impact on young lives. A former student thanked me for helping her through difficult times. When I asked her how I had helped, she explained that I respected, cared, validated, listened, encouraged, and spent time with her. My actions not only touched her then, but also shaped how she deals with children today. It is a “pay it forward” scenario—I showed this student that she was a valuable person and she now does the same with youngsters she encounters.
Elizabeth: Kids are funny, inventive, honest, creative, and full of life. They’re learning every day, and they need adults who can help guide and support them every step of the way. Serving kids is a great way to stay a kid at heart.
Q: What makes you a “Free Spirit”?
Phyllis: I am a “free spirit” because I follow my heart, sense of adventure, and desires no matter how unconventional or crazy my actions may seem. For example, I enjoy metal detecting. I can understand why people may think I’m a little “off” when they see me swinging a stick until my arm feels like it is falling off, walking on sand heated to 90 plus degrees, and being smacked by waves, only to find garbage. Serious metal detectorists find gold; I find—and clean the beach of—glass, pop tops, bottle caps, nails, wires, and other debris. I continue because I like the suspense of a “treasure hunt,” get exercise, enjoy the calming water and fresh air, and meet the nicest people.
Elizabeth: I still read novels written for kids and teens—maybe up to four books per week. And I still read picture books and buy them for myself. I love literature for children because it reminds me not only of my own childhood but also the ways in which kids are different today than they were in the past—and how kids are our future. They’re young now, but someday they will be adults, and it’s my goal to keep writing for them in a fun, respectful, free-spirited way.
Q. Do you think bullying in schools can be greatly minimized or ended?
Phyllis: Yes, I believe bullying can be controlled with education, a proactive philosophy, and expectations. Bullying 101 should be a required course for education majors because teachers are expected to stop bullying but aren’t always given the training to do so. If they were, educators could use the knowledge to proactively set up their classrooms to prevent bullying from emerging. In addition, if every teacher in every classroom internalized and enforced the nonnegotiable expectation that bullying is not allowed and will not be tolerated, anti-bullying norms would spill over into hallways, lunchrooms, schoolyards, buses, and the community.
Elizabeth: I believe in thinking positive—so, yes, I definitely think that bullying in schools can be minimized. This means we must educate ourselves as adults while also spreading an anti-bullying message to the children we’re raising. Today’s kids are speaking out about bullying in new ways, using social media to spread the word and garner support. It’s getting harder to “hide” bullying. I love the fact that celebrities are speaking out against bullying because kids see celebrities as heroes and role models. But the everyday role models/heroes in kids’ lives (parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, religious leaders) are the ones that count most. We can help them understand that bullying is wrong and that there are effective, proven ways to help make it stop. Kids can learn what to do to protect themselves and their friends and peers. That’s what Bystander Power is all about.
Learn more about Bystander Power: Now with Anti-Bullying Action!