It's back to school time and the adjustment to schedules, homework, and new class jitters are settling into routine. Everything is going well until your son gets off the bus with that deflated look in his eyes. You ask him what’s wrong and you hear that he is the victim of a horrific bullying incident at school, and to your dismay, it has been happening for weeks.
This common occurrence happens daily and affects most kids in some way. The cycle can continue for a very long time, sometimes years. As a PE Teacher, as well as a Martial Arts Instructor, I have seen the cycle end badly at times. Sometimes, the ultimate sacrifice occurs and counselors are called to deal with grieving kids.
Here are some strategies to think about.
Strategy 1: Make a Game Plan With Your Child
Preparing for the bully before it happens allows your child to know what to do, who to tell, and what to say. Rehearsing before the incident occurs, puts our kids in a somewhat familiar place when it does happen. Role play with your children and act it out. Practice strong statements that can end an incident before it goes further:
"I got no beef, leave me alone."
“I didn't do anything to you, leave me alone."
"I said leave me alone."
Teach avoidance and exit strategies as well. No need to defend if he or she is not around the threat.
Strategy 2: Teach Assertiveness
We as parents nurture positive qualities such as: sharing, being kind, being a good friend, and giving compliments. We do a great job with teaching our kids how to properly treat others, but we occasionally fall short when teaching them how to preserve their own safety and self-worth. Teaching our kids to stand up for themselves is just as important as teaching them to respect others as well.
Strategy 3: Teach Confident Body Language
Body language tells others more than we think. Body language portrays our self-confidence and gives others a rough image of who we are. Like everything else, practice makes perfect. Teach your kids to make eye contact when they speak, to keep their chin up, and to hold their chest up high when they need to look strong; even if you are bad at it yourself. Looking like an easy victim perpetuates the problem of bullying.
Strategy 4: Say it Like you MEAN IT!
When it comes to standing up to a bully, it's all about the tone. If your child says, "Leave me alone.", in a weak voice, the bully may be fueled by a lack of conviction. In contrast, if the victim uses a tone that depicts strength, he will probably have a better outcome. Speaking in a confident and convincing tone needs to be taught. When kids have difficulty with this, I tell them,"Fake it till you make it!". People will believe your intentions if you make them seem believable, even if they are untrue.
Strategy 5: Teach Self-Space
Kids have a tough time with understanding self-space. As a PE Teacher, I have taught lessons on defining and protecting one’s self-space to ensure safety during an activity. The same principles apply to self-space outside of recreation and play. When it comes to physical safety, it’s important for kids to understand what their self-space is (about arm's distance), and that it is appropriate to protect it within reason and scope of the threat.
Strategy 6: Basic Block and Protection
We teach kids to throw a ball, but seldom do we teach them to block a punch or deflect a push. Check out some free videos online that teach some basics. It can save your child from getting a concussion or even more seriously injured.
Strategy 7: Hitting Back
We can’t rely on our school’s ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY to protect them 100% of the time. Violence is not the only answer, but sometimes we need to hit back and when we do, it better send a strong message. Teach your kid a simple combo of strikes and practice them. It could mean a significant difference between years of turmoil and anxiety, or a day at home for breaking the Zero Tolerance Policy and the bully’s confidence.
Strategy 8: Join a Self-Defense Class
I say this while biting my lip. Many, and I say many, Karate Schools do not teach Self-Defense, and even worse, do not give kids anything else but a false sense of confidence. Giving a “Black Belt” to an 8 year-old, who is surely not mature enough for it, just makes the kid think he is a ninja until he gets punched in the face. Look at the school you are signing up with and ask questions. If it just looks like a military boot camp then walk out. If they don't spar and/or practice hands on physical skills against some sort of opposition, leave. Just making your child feel good does not mean he can defend himself. Trophies and belts do not protect our kids, despite how much you spend on them. Furthermore, many dojos exploit our needs to make money.
Strategy 9: Reassess What are Acceptable Rules of Engagement for Your Family
Society has seemed to become softer and more tolerant when it comes to dealing with bullying and violence over recent years, while the threats have remained constant. Do what is best for your family. If you believe in it, reaffirm your child's confidence that it is acceptable to fight back and not get pushed around. At the end of the day, it is our responsibility as parents, and not that of our schools, to set the guidelines for how we raise our children.
Preparation for bullying is key, and a little goes a long way. Dialogue involving assertive communication skills, self-space management, de-escalation tactics, real self-defense strategies, and a post-incident plan, are all parts of a comprehensive roadmap we should take to give our kids the upper hand when dealing with bullies. Contact us at 401-949-5600 to get more information about programs to give your kids the skills needed for effective self-defense.
Michael Orsini is a 7th degree Black Belt in Kenpo Kobudo Karate, Black Belt in Kumi- Uchi Ju-Jitsu, owner of RI Self-Defense Center in Johnston, RI, and a Physical Education teacher for 18 years.