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Bullying-‘Teaseproofing’ Your Kids
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 • Posted March 11, 2009

I promised last week to clue you in on the one mistake that victims seem to make over and over that keeps the target on their back and nearly begs the bullies to return for another attack. Unfortunately, it is exacerbated by the two pieces of advice that they are most often given. Nearly all of the kids I work with have heard the advice “Just ignore them and they will go away”, or “Hit ‘em back and make it a good one!” While this advice is given with the best of intentions, ignoring a bully only gives him/her the green light to do it over and over again. It is pretty obvious why hitting someone that already has the edge on you, and maybe 15 pounds, is not a good idea! (Note that we are not talking about defending one’s self from physical threat, in which case one does whatever is necessary to stay safe). The problem with both of these is they indicate to the bully that they succeeded in making the victim upset. When we let someone upset us, whether it be an adult, child, or even an offspring, we hand over some of our power and weaken our position. The weaker our position, the more likely we are to be bullied. It follows then, that we need to teach our kids how not to be a victim by becoming upset when the predictable happens.

‘Predictable’ is a key word that we can use to our advantage as we prepare our kids to be emotionally and mentally ready for the next attempt by a bully to upset them. Since we know it’s coming, why not practice and be ready for it, rather than just hope it won’t happen again? Giving your child confidence and a high self-esteem is critical, though not always easy. Also not easy, but critical, is letting our children see us handle controversial situations without getting all upset. Children follow what we model, even if we wished they wouldn’t.

I help students prepare in several ways. I usually assume the role of one of their aggressors, as I pitch them a ball. We play catch a time or two and they always try to catch the ball. When I ask them why they caught the ball, they usually answer, “because you threw it to me”. I say, “That tells me you are a nice person and you try to do things right.” I then tell them to catch the ball only when I pay them a compliment or say something nice about them. It never fails that they will inadvertently catch the ball when I say something ugly, and they just kind of freeze and wonder what to do. The answer is obvious to me, but not to them, as I instruct them to get rid of it as soon as possible. Pretty soon, not catching the ball is easy, and not letting insults sink in becomes second nature. Just like they cannot keep me from throwing the ball, they cannot keep an aggressor from slinging insults. Like the ball, however, they can let the insults just ‘ping’ right off them, and they can keep the insults from upsetting them. (If they need to go home and cry later, that is permissible as long as the bully doesn’t see it. However, most of them are so proud of their accomplishment under pressure that they are riding high.)

Since most people want to have the last word, it will be easier for them if we give them some that won’t make the situation worse. After they get good at not catching the ball (even after I go pick it up and try to make them take it), we practice some non-aggressive one-liners. When they catch a compliment, we practice ‘Thank You’. When they drop an insult, we practice with ‘thanks for sharing that’, ‘Yea, my Mom says that, too!’, ‘you can say that if you want’, or any other creative something the child can say so as not to disclose they may be upset. I have one student who loved to say ‘No, thanks, I already had a banana.’ I used the past tense because the last time I asked him, no one was bothering him, so he wasn’t getting to say it. How cool!

We showed last week how reporting bullying is ineffective in most cases. I said ‘bullying’, and not assaulting one’s person, or stealing private property. These, and worse, need to always be reported. But if we allow every unkind word, gesture, push, or other insult to be grounds for reporting, without expecting the victim to handle it themselves, then we buy into the victim mentality. I had a fifth grader come running up with “She stuck her tongue out at me!” I could’ve called court into session, summoned witnesses, passed out free lectures, and pronounced a sentence, all of which would have infuriated the perpetrator, weakened the victim, and plowed a fertile field for more of the same. Instead I asked her, “And what did you to fix this”. She replied, “Well, I told you.” I asked her if she stuck her tongue out in retaliation, and she admitted she did. I said, “Congratulations, you just gave her permission to do it again, because if it is alright for you then it is alright for her.” If you have children, you can predict her next words, “But she did it first”. I say something like, “Sure she did. She did an ugly, so you did an ugly and now we have two uglies. We could have had one ugly and one nice, but we don’t, so what could you have done better?” I try to help kids to find their own responses, so they will feel more natural in a jam. I also role play what they come up with and encourage them to practice when the bully is not around. They can’t practice too much!

If someone comes up and says “She pushed me!” I ask them, “Are you hurt?” If they say, “They said something ugly about me!”, I ask them if they believe it, or if it’s true. They invariably say ‘no’ to each of those, so I ask them why they are telling me. I usually get something like, “So you can tell her to stop!” I ask them how they think it would work if they asked them stop, while wearing a nice face. They usually tell me something like “Well, she wasn’t really mad, and we are usually friends, but I didn’t like it.” “So,” I ask “do you think she would quit if you asked her nicely?” They usually say yes and run off to handle it themselves, rather than be a victim. If they don’t run too fast, I usually get in an empowering statement like, “You look just like the kind of girl that can fix that! Let me know how it works out!” It’s uplifting and fun when they come by, arm in arm, smiling with no front teeth, and blurt out “We’re friends again, Mr. Grobey!”

Another angle that has proven to work for some is treating everything that is said and done to them as if it came from their best friend. We know that good friends push and shove each other, say rude things or make rude gestures to each other and it is all in good fun. Both parties laugh and go on being buds. While difficult, if we practice with our kids laughing about what is said about them, about their mother, or whatever else might take place, then they can control their emotions, not go into the ‘fight or flight mode’, and develop the skills necessary to handle any life situation.

There are as many ways to help children with bullying as there are children. It is a matter of talking with them and finding out what will work for them. Some are masters at just looking the bully in the eye with a kind, yet inquisitive face, and then walking off. At first glance, that may seem like ignoring, but looking the bully in the eye says two things. It says ‘I heard what you said’, and it says ‘I am not afraid of you’. If they use the technique with a rude or upset face, then the bully wins and will be back. If they can pull it off without being upset, then they win and are victim-proof. If you would like to visit about your individual situation, please feel free to give me a call, 347-1122 ext.239, or jeff.grote@masonisd.net.

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