Most harm caused by bullying is preventable! This article is from Bullying – What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, our bullying solutions book used by many families, schools, and youth organizations to protect and empower their kids.
Unfortunately, bullying is a major problem in many schools and communities. Bullying prevention skills can protect kids from most bullying, increase their confidence, and help them to develop positive peer relationships. Here are some practices you can work on with the young people in your life all the time that will prepare them to take charge of their own safety and well being most of the time.
1. Walking with Awareness, Calm, Respect, and Confidence
People are less likely to be picked on if they walk, sit, and act with awareness, calm, respect, and confidence. Projecting a positive, assertive attitude means keeping one’s head up, back straight, walking briskly, looking around, having a peaceful face and body, and moving away from people who might cause trouble.
Show your child the difference between being passive, aggressive, and assertive in body language, tone of voice and choice of words. Have your child 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 where maybe your child is walking in the school corridor (or any other place where he or she might bullied). You can pretend to be kid who is acting aggressively by standing by the wall saying mean things. Ask your child what these mean things might be because what is considered insulting or upsetting is different for different people, times, and places. If you can’t think of what to say, just point your finger at the child and yell, “BLAH! BLAH! BLAH!”
Coach your child to veer around you when you are pretending to bully in order to move out of your reach. Remind your child to leave with awareness, calm, and respectful confidence, glancing back to see where the “bully” is. Let your child practicing leaving in an assertive way, saying something neutral in a normal tone of voice like “See you later!” or “Have a nice day!” Point out that stepping out of line or changing seats is often the safest choice for getting away from someone who is acting unsafely.
3. Setting a Boundary
Suppose one or more kids are following your child in an aggressive way or threatening your child in a situation where she or he cannot just leave, such as blocking the door to the bathroom or classroom. In this case, your child needs to be able to set a clear boundary.
Pretend to follow your child and then very gently poke her or him in the back. Do this very carefully; the purpose is to practice what to do rather than being hurtful or scary. Coach your child to turn, stand up tall, put his or her hands up in front of the body like a fence, elbows bent to be close to the body, palms out and open, and say loudly, “Stop!” Pull back and coach your child to walk away.
Now pretend to be blocking the door in a classroom or bathroom. Point your finger at the child and yell, “BLAH! BLAH! BLAH!” Coach the child to set boundaries using a calm but clear voice, and polite firm words- not whiney and not aggressive. For example, “STOP! Please get out of my way. I just want to leave. Get out of my way. I just want to go.” Step aside and coach your child to walk away.
Show how to do it and praise your child for trying – even though she or he does not get it right to begin with. Realize that this might be very hard and triggering for your child (and maybe for you too).
Children need support to learn these skills. The idea is that your child takes charge of his or her space by moving away and, if need be, setting boundaries as soon as a problem is about to start – so that your child doesn’t wait for the problem to become worse.
4. Use Your Voice
Yelling and speaking up loudly calls attention to a bullying problem. Suppose your child has somebody who is trying to push or hit or knuckle her or his head. You can practice by holding your child gently and very carefully acting as if you are about to do this.
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 look the person who is bullying in the eyes and speak in a firm voice with both hands in front of their body with palms facing outwards, like a wall.
If the person bullying does not stop, coach your child to yell for help. For example, “STOP! GET OUT OF MY WAY! HELP! GET THE TEACHER! ________(name) IS BULLYING ME!” Remind your child to leave and go to an adult for help as soon as possible.
5. Protect Your Feelings From Name-Calling
Schools, youth groups, and families should create harassment-free zones just as workplaces should, but this will take time to happen. Learning how to protect their feelings from insults can help kids to take charge of their emotional safety all their lives. Discuss with your child how saying, writing, emailing, or texting something mean makes problems bigger, not better.
One way to take the power out of hurting words is by 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 at school.
Help your child practice throwing the mean things that other people are saying into a trash can. Have your child then say something positive out loud to himself or herself to take in. For example, if 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 Positive Inclusion
Being left out is a major form of bullying. Exclusion of this kind should be clearly against the rules at school. A child can practice persisting in asking to join a game.
Pretend to be a bully who wants to exclude.
Have your child walk up 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, if the reason is, “You’re not good enough,” your child can practice saying “I’ll get better if I practice!” If the reason is, “There are too many already,” your child might practice saying, “There’s always room for one more.” If 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.”
7. Be Persistent in Getting Help
Children who are being bullied need to be able to tell teachers, parents, and other adults in charge what is happening in the moment clearly and calmly and persistently 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 rehearsing what to do is helpful for both children and adults in learning how to persist and get help when you need it. To practice, 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.”
Now, pretend to be busy and just ignore this 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 in a calm and strong voice, such as, “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.” At school, teachers want children to try to solve their problems first. However, adult intervention is needed if this does not work.
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 persistent and say again, “Having this happen is making me feel bad about going to school. Please, I really need you to 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.”
In each case, coach your child to throw any hurting words away, say inside “I have the right to get help”, touch your arm, and ask again, “Please, to listen to me this is important.” Tell your child that sometimes adults 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) ______________.” Or, “Having this happen is making me feel bad about going to school. Please, I really need you to listen.” Or, even, “My parents told me I have the right to feel safe here.”
Now change your demeanor so that your child can see you are listening and understanding and say “Oh! I am sorry I got irritated with 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, but to keep asking until someone does something to fix the problem. Tell your child to please always tell you whenever she or he has a problem with anyone anywhere anytime. Remember that it is the responsibility of adults to create safe environments for the children in their lives and to be good role-models for our children by acting as their advocates in powerful respectful ways.
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 personal safety issues. Families have different rules about where they draw the line. Schools will often punish a child who fights back unless parents warn the school in writing ahead of time that, since the school has not protected their children, 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. There are different self defense techniques for bullying than for more dangerous situations — let your child practice a self defense move 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. Consider sending your child to a class like Kidpower.
To learn more about how to take action and teach these skills, please visit our Kidpower Bullying Solutions Resource Page.
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