LAKEWOOD, Colo. — October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and a Highlands Ranch children’s book author is using the occasion to share his unique approach to combating young bullies.
His tactic? See if they can take a joke.
“If you make a bully laugh you’re doing something that changes everything. Because a bully is a sad person,” Justin Matott told a group of fourth-graders at Devinny Elementary School in Lakewood.
Hard to believe bullying is much of a concern with 9-year-olds, but it can happen. And it’s part of the reason administrators at the Jefferson County Public School invite Matott to speak to students every fall.
Matott wrote the book on bullying, “I Think My Dog Might Be a Nerd.”
“Because if a dog’s a nerd, it’s cool because dogs are cool. You know, most people like dogs. So if you make a dog a nerd and it’s a cool thing to be, you know, join the club,” Matott said.
The idea behind the book — and the 25 or so assemblies he’ll give at local schools this fall — is to show kids they’re not alone, and that he can relate. As a fourth-grader, he was bullied too.
“I wore an eye patch, and I wore a leg brace. The leg brace made me walk (weird), and the eye patch connected with that made me look like a weird little pirate,” Matott told students.
It was a strained optic nerve and a foot deformity that made him an easy target. But eventually he was able to diffuse his young tormentors by telling funny stories on the playground.
“Then when they realized I had a great sense of humor, they realized I’m actually kind of a cool guy. Even if I looked weird,” Matott said.
For him, humor has always worked. This school assembly was no exception.
“The joy that he brings them and also the connections that they make to his life about their own — and you can see that they’re thinking of things — things that have either happened to them, or things that they have done to others,” said Angela Wagner, digital teacher librarian at Devinny.
It’s funny how much power a joke has in changing people’s attitudes.
“I’ve had so many stories about kids who have listened to my assemblies and other assemblies by other anti-bullying people, and they walk out thinking, ‘Wait a second, I like that guy. I don’t want to do that to these people,'” Matott said.
What will students remember from Matott’s presentation?
“I think I’m going to remember how you can remember not to be a bully and don’t be rude to people because it just hurts their feelings,” said Katrin, a fourth-grader.
“If you ever get bullied you can stop the bullying by standing up to them,” Bryson said.
And when you do stand up to them, try telling a joke. Matott says you might be surprised how well it works.
“You know, if I can use my sense of humor and never become your victim — then I’m going to win,” he said.