Face Bullying With Confidence

Here are some practices you can work on with the young people in your life.

1. Walk With Awareness, Calm, Respect, and Confidence

People are less likely to be picked on and more likely to be listened to if they walk, sit, and act with awareness, calm, respect, and confidence. This means keeping one’s head up, back straight, taking brisk steps, looking around, having a peaceful face and body, noticing what is happening around you, and moving away from people who might cause trouble.

Show the differences between acting passive, aggressive and assertive in body language, tone of voice, and choice of words. Coach your child to walk across the floor, coaching her or him to be successful, by saying for example; “That’s great!” “Now take bigger steps”, “Look around you” “Straighten your back.” etc.

2. Leave in a Powerful, Positive Way

The best self-defense tactic is called “target denial,” which means “don’t be there.” Act out a scenario imagining being in a place relevant for each kid. For example, suppose your child gets bullied walking in the school corridor. You can pretend to be a bully standing by the wall saying and doing mean things such as shouting insults, making faces, or pointing. Ask your child what these mean things might be because what is considered insulting or upsetting is different for different people, times, and places.

Coach your child to veer around the bully in order to move out of reach. Remind your child to leave with awareness, calm, respect, and confidence, glancing back to see where the bully is. Let your child practicing saying something neutral in a normal tone of voice like “See you later!” or “Have a nice day!” while calmly and confidently moving away. Point out that stepping out of line or changing seats is often the safest choice.

3. Set Boundaries

If another kid keeps following your child or threatens your child in a situation where she or he cannot just leave, your child needs to be able to set a clear boundary.

Start the practice by pretending to poke your child in the back (do this very gently; the idea is not to be hurtful). Coach your child to turn, stand up tall, put his or her hands up in front like a fence between you, palms facing outwards and open, and say “Stop!”

Coach your child to use a calm, clear voice and polite, firm words- not whiney and not aggressive. Show how different tones of voices and choices of words can sound rude, weak, or both powerful and respectful. Praise your child for trying even if she or he does not get it right to begin with. Realize that acting out being bothered might be triggering for your child — and maybe for you too.

Your people – and adults as well – need support to learn these skills. The goal is to be able to take charge of your space by moving away and, if need be, setting boundaries as soon as a problem is about to start. That way, your child is ready to take positive action rather than waiting.

4. Use Your Voice

Your voice is a powerful self-protection tool – and also an important tool in advocating for others.

Suppose somebody is trying to push, trip, or hit your child, or knuckle her or his head. Start the practice by holding your child gently and, very slowly and gently, acting as if you are about to physically bother him or her. The goal is to practice, not to be scary or hurtful. Coach your child to pull away and yell, “NO!” really loudly. Coach him or her to say, “STOP! I don’t like that!” Coach your child to leave quickly.

Pretend to block your child from leaving a bathroom, using threatening language that your child suggests. For example, “I’m going to get you! You disrespected me!” Coach your child to look you in the eyes and speak in a firm, respectful voice with both hands up and open palms facing between you like a fence, saying, “I’m sorry I offended you. I just want to leave.” Pretend not to leave. Coach your child to practice yelling words like, “STOP! LEAVE! I NEED HELP!” Or, “______ is bullying me in the bathroom. I need help!” Make yells short, strong, and low, breathing from the belly rather than the throat. Teach your child to leave and go to an adult for help.

Practice with your child how to speak up when others are being bullied if it is safe to do so. For example, practice saying firmly and politely, “That was an unkind thing to do. Please stop!” See Speaking Up About Putdowns at www.kidpower.org.

5. Protect Your Feelings From Name-Calling

Schools, youth organizations, social groups, and families should create harassment-free zones just as workplaces should. However, you can teach children how to protect themselves from insults. Tell your child that saying something mean back makes the problem bigger, not better.

One way to take the power out of hurting words by is saying them out loud and imagining throwing them away. Doing this physically and out loud at home will help a child to do this in his or her imagination in real life. Help your child practice throwing the mean things that other people are saying into an imaginary Trash Can. Have your child then say something positive out loud to himself or herself to take in.

For example, suppose someone says, “I don’t like you!” You can throw those words away and say, “I like myself.” If someone says, “You are stupid” you can throw those words away and say, “I’m smart.” If someone says, “I don’t want to play with you” then you can throw those words away and say, “I will find another friend.”

6. Speak Up for Inclusion

Being left out is a major form of bullying. Exclusion to shame or shun someone should be clearly against the rules at school, in sports, and in youth organizations – in fact, everywhere.

However, suppose a child’s negative behavior causes other kids to avoid him or her. This situation is very different than a child being deliberately excluded to make her or him feel bad. In this case, the child being avoided needs help in developing more positive social skills. The kids around this child need help in explaining to adults what the problem is and in understanding ways to be kind towards this child while taking care of their own boundaries.

Young people need to know how to be persistent in speaking up for inclusion for themselves and others. For example, here’s how to help a child practice persisting in asking to join a game. As the adult, you can pretend to be a bully who wants to exclude. Coach your child to walk up to you and say, “I want to play.” Coach your child to sound and look positive and friendly, not whiny or aggressive.

Ask your child the reasons that kids give for excluding him or her. Use those reasons so your child can practice persisting. For example, suppose the reason is, “You’re not good enough!” Your child can practice saying “I’ll get better if I practice!” Suppose the reason is, “There are too many playing already!” Your child might practice saying, “There’s always room for one more.” Suppose the reason is, “You cheated last time!” Your child might practice saying, “I did not understand the rules. Let’s make sure we agree on the rules this time.”

Children can also learn to speak up for inclusion of others. Pretend to be a kid who wants to exclude another kid. Coach your child to speak up by saying in a powerful, respectful voice., “Leaving people out is unfair and unkind.” Or, “Give her a chance!” Or, “That’s not cool!” As the kid who is excluding, say, “If you play with ______, I won’t play with you.” Coach child to say something like, “I want to play with both of you. But, if you don’t want to play with us, it’s your decision.”

7. Be Persistent in Getting Help

Children who are being bullied or who witness bullying need to be able to tell teachers, parents, and other adults in charge what is happening in the moment clearly and calmly. They need to be prepared to persist even if these adults are very distracted or rude – and even if asking for help has not worked before. Learning how to have polite, firm words, body language and tone of voice even under pressure and to not give up when asking for help is a life-long skill.

We have found that practice is helpful for both children and adults in learning how to persist and get help when you need it:

    • Pretend to be a teacher or someone else who your child might expect help and support from. Tell your child who you are pretending to be and where you might be at school. Have your child start saying in a clear calm voice, “Excuse me I have a safety problem.”
    • You pretend to be busy and just ignore your child!
    • Coach him or her to keep going and say: “Excuse me, I really need your help.”
    • Act irritated and impatient and say, “Yes. what is it now?” and keep being busy.
    • Coach your child to say something specific like, “The girls over there are calling me

names and not letting me play with them. I have told them I don’t like being called names and that I want to play but they won’t listen. ” or “Those boys keep coming up and pushing me. I have tried to stay away from them but they keep coming up to me and won’t leave me alone.” Or, “I just saw _____ hitting ______.” At school, teachers want children to try to solve their problems when they can. However, adult intervention is needed if this does not work or if someone is being harmed.

  • You say: “That’s nice!” as if you heard but did not actually listen. This is very common for busy adults.
  • Coach your child to touch your arm and keep going “Please, to listen to me this is important!”
  • Now you get irritated and say “Can’t you see I’m busy!?”
  • Tell your child that sometimes adults get angry and don’t understand but not to give up in asking for help and to say the specific problem again: “I do not feel safe here because (state specific problem again) ______________.”
  • You minimize and say: “What’s the big deal? Just stay away from them.”
  • Coach your child to be persistent and say again, staying calm and firm, “My parents told me that kids are supposed to be safe at school. This isn’t safe, and I need your help. Please listen.”
  • Now change your demeanor so that your child can see you are listening and understanding and say “Oh! I am sorry I yelled at you, and I am glad you are telling me. Tell me more, and we will figure out what to do.”

Remind your child that, if the adult still does not listen, it is not his or her fault. The child’s job is to keep asking until someone does something to fix the problem. Tell your child that you always want to know whenever she or he has a problem with anyone anywhere anytime. Ultimately, adults are responsible for creating safe environments for the children in their lives and for being good role-models for children by acting as their advocates. See Bullying in Schools: Seven Solutions for Parents.

8. Use Physical Self-Defense as a Last Resort

Children need to know when they have the right to hurt someone to stop that person from hurting them. At Kidpower, we teach that fighting is a last resort – when you are about to be harmed and you cannot leave or get help. However, bullying problems are often not as clear-cut as other self-defense issues.

Families have different rules about where they draw the line. Have conversations with your child to discuss when you think a physical self-defense technique is justified and when not. Be very specific. Schools will often punish a child who fights back. Some of our students’ parents have warned the school in writing ahead of time that, since the school has not protected their children from bullying, they will back their children up if they have to fight.

Learning physical self-defense helps most children become more confident, even if they never have to use these skills in a real-life situation. Just being more confident helps children to avoid being chosen as a victim most of the time. Give your child the chance to practice Bully Physical Defense techniques like kicking someone in the shins, pinching someone’s leg or upper arm, or hitting someone in the chest. You can practice in the air or by holding a sofa cushion. There are different self-defense techniques for more dangerous situations that kids should also learn. Consider sending your child to a class like Kidpower. See How to Choose A Good Self-Defense Program.

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