Using the power of books to battle bullying

By Sarah Slayman
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Sarah Slayman
Paula Neal is a Columbus based author focusing on teaching clinical strategies to prevent early childhood bullying through story.

Paula Neal is a Columbus based author focusing on teaching clinical strategies to prevent early childhood bullying through story.

Her first book, “I’m Gonna Have A Good Day!” was released in June of 2019, with her sequel “Breath, Gabby, Breath!” to be released next month.

Neal graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in early childhood education, and has used her studies for 25 years through roles in preschool administration.

At her workplaces, she noted that bullying began at preschool age. She began to watch how the treatment certain kids were receiving were deeply affecting them and deserved far more attention than a simple slap on the wrist.

She began asking questions about what made the child say what they did and gave room for the other child to speak about how it made them feel. She watched the frequency of bullying begin to decrease as an effect. Her staff then received professional training by Dr. Becky Bailey, who focuses on conscious discipline to aid social and emotional development.

This tactic essentially uses technique to help calm the child and bring them to a level space prior to instilling any sort of discipline.

“You have to have strategies for children and get to the root of what’s bothering them,” said Neal, adding that, though prepping for kindergarten is priority, the social and emotional development of these children is more critical.

Neal responded to this newfound issue by authoring her first book, “I’m Gonna Have A Good Day”. The story follows a young girl named Gabby who relentlessly aims to have a good day, but rather falls into spells of rage and disrespect, and experiences no technique other than time out. Her disappointment in her inability to change and have a good day continues. This book has no real conclusion, but is rather used as a prompt for conversations about her behavior with kids, and leads to her sequel.

Neal’s second book, “Breath Gabby Breath,” tells of Bailey’s training by showing the effectiveness of conscious discipline, particularly breathwork. It shows the gradient of Gabby’s ability to self regulate with help, and her peer’s ability to show their former bully compassion, offer friendship, and support her newfound calming technique. The sequel’s conclusion also communicates that, considering Gabby’s struggle to implement these strategies, though she didn’t necessarily have a good day, it was a much better day, and that was more than enough.

Neal believes that, to eliminate the repercussions that kids experience in middle or high school, we need to respond now at the birth of these destructive habits.

Neal’s background ranges from low-income neighborhoods to elite private schools, showing that it is an issue unrelated to any socioeconomic status and all children can benefit from guidance in social and emotional development.

It’s hard to acknowledge that toddlers are capable of bullying, but it’s even harder to help them recover from all the damage done later in life by allowing that behavior at such a formative age.

Children are initially more aware of these dynamics than one would think, and are capable of developing compassion and strategies to remedy the issue.

A young student demonstrated this at one of Neal’s local readings by responding to “I’m Gonna Have A Good Day” by saying, “I would become her friend and ask her what was going on.”

Kids are absorbent and willing, but just need to be equipped with the tools.

Neal’s books are available through her website, Paulajohnsonneal.com, as well as most all Columbus Metropolitan Libraries. She is available for readings at local schools.

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