Win a Winner!
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by Dawn Barnes
Q: My fourth grader is being taunted by a bully at school. So far, it is just name calling and verbal insults, but I'm afraid it might escalate. The problem is, this child manages to pull this off without any adults at the school seeing or hearing. What types of things can my son say to diffuse the situation?
Personal safety expert Dawn Barnes answers …
Bullies are a fact of life. No matter who you are, or how old, it seems there will always be someone saying something about us we don't like. As adults, we learn to manage these hurt feelings and maintain our sanity—for the most part! As parents, though, it is up to us to do whatever we can to prepare our children for the many slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Is it enough to tell our children to ignore what a bully says? Not really. Feelings can still be hurt. But they hurt a lot less when we routinely take the time to remind our children of all the good qualities they possess. The more valued they feel, the less wounded they'll be by verbal jabs. Imagine that each compliment you give your child as a booster shot against the effects of teasing.
Is it enough to tell our children to tell a teacher? Not really. Yes, teachers should be made aware of the bullies in their schools. In fact, it’s a school’s duty to provide and maintain a safe environment for children to learn. But teachers can’t be everywhere and see everything. Ultimately, our children must stand on their own. And thinking about our children standing on their own can be scary.
Do you remember what it felt like the first time you were bullied? If you’re like me, it was overwhelming. Paralyzing even! Like all fears, that stunned feeling of helplessness was rooted in the unknown—what’s going to happen? Am I going to get hurt? Is everyone laughing at me? It is no different than what we may worry about now as adults—will my plane land? What will the doctor say? Will the market rebound? Not knowing keeps us from preparing, planning, and moving forward with our lives.
But imagine if you were a child again and facing your first bully. Does that thought frighten you? Probably not, because now you know all about bullies. You can see them coming. You know what they’re going to say. You have tools for dealing with them. You may even look forward to meeting up with a bully just so you can give him or her a piece of your mind! Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the good news about bullies—they are not an unknown at all. They’re a fact of life. They’re only an unknown to your child. And you can fix that.
A little role-playing goes a long way in preparing for bullies. Rather than tell your children what to say, help them find their own words. Rather than tell them what to do, help them find a strategy that they will feel comfortable pursuing. There’s no point telling your child to “speak up” or “fight back” if they are painfully shy.
Take time to work through scenarios like name-calling, pushing, or having books taken away. Let your children know that you will still love them, and they won’t be in trouble, if they raise their voice, leave a book behind, or push back. It’s always okay to run away, too! It will be a great comfort for your children to not only know you’re on their side, but that you approve of everything they might say or do. And be sure both you and your spouse agree on the messages you’re sending. Mom and Dad arguing about what is right or wrong will only add more anxiety and confusion to the situation. Once you have brought all of these fears into the bright light of day, be sure to practice your solutions every once in a while so the lessons are not forgotten. You’ll want to update your scenarios as your children grow older to keep pace with the threats they may encounter.
The bottom line—bullies almost always pick on people who are perceived as weak. But weak is just another way of saying unprepared. Bullies and criminals count on their targets to be overwhelmed, scared, or shocked. By helping your children turn the unknown into the well-known, you will be doing everything you can as a parent to prepare them for standing on their own.
Dawn Barnes has been teaching children martial arts for over 20 years.
She currently operates eight Dawn Barnes Karate Kids schools in the
L.A. area. www.karatekids.net
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