Skill #1: Act with Awareness, Calm, Respect, and Confidence
People are less likely to bother you and more likely to listen to you if you walk, sit, and act with awareness, calm, respect, and confidence. Projecting a positive, assertive attitude means holding your head high, keeping your back straight, walking briskly, looking around, and having a peaceful face and body. Staying aware also helps you to notice problems so that you can deal with them sooner rather than later.
To practice, show young people the difference between being passive, aggressive, and assertive in body language, tone of voice and choice of words. Have your students to walk across the floor, giving them directions on how to be successful by saying, “Walk with Calm Respectful Confidence toward (a location across the space),” and give positive constructive feedback, such as: “Now take bigger steps,” or “Look around you,” or “Straighten your back,” and “That’s great!”
Skill #2: Leave in a Powerful, Positive Way
The best self-defense tactic is called “target denial,” which means “don’t be there.” Leaving an unsafe situation is often the wisest and most effective solution for getting away from trouble. Act out a scenario where a young person is walking in the school corridor (or any other place where they might be bullied). You can pretend to be a bigger kid who is acting aggressively by standing by the wall saying mean things. Ask first 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 person practicing and yell, “BLAH! BLAH! BLAH!”
Coach each student to veer around you when you are pretending to bully in order to move out of your reach. Remind students to leave with awareness, calm, and respectful confidence, glancing back to see where the person who is bullying is. Coach your student to leave 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.
Skill #3: Set Boundaries About Disrespectful or Unsafe Behavior
Remind children and teens that your values are to have a welcoming and safe environment for everyone – and that being cruel or hurtful is wrong whether it happens in person, via social media, by texting, online or in any other way. Set a good example by being thoughtful about what you say and do. Address immediately any prejudiced language or remarks, even if it is “just a joke.” Teach young people to how to speak up about disrespectful language directed at themselves or others by saying, “That didn’t sound kind.” Or, “That sounds prejudiced.” Or, “Please stop saying that.” Be clear that you will understand if they don’t feel safe speaking up, and that then their job is to get adult help.
Boundaries can also be important in dealing with aggressive or threatening behavior in situations where it is not possible to just leave. Waiting and wishing for a safety problem to go away on its own usually just gives time for the problem to get bigger. Of course, if this is happening, you are going to take action to stop this behavior right away. However, if your student is worried or has had this problem in the past, practicing how to get away safely in the moment can be very empowering. Ask the student for examples, such as being followed or trapped in the bathroom or hallway.
Pretend to follow each student and then very gently pretend to poke them in the back. Do this very carefully; the purpose is to practice what to do rather than being hurtful or scary. Coach your student to turn, stand up tall, put their hands up in front of their body like a fence, elbows bent to be close to their body, palms out and open, and say loudly, “Stop!” Move back and coach your student to walk away.
Now pretend to be blocking the door in a classroom or bathroom. Point your finger at your student, and yell, “BLAH! BLAH! BLAH!” Coach your student to set boundaries using a calm but clear voice, and polite firm words – not whiny 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 student to walk away.
Children and teens need support to learn and use these skills. Encourage them for trying – even if they don’t not get it right to begin with. Realize that this might be very hard and triggering for young people (and maybe for you too).
Skill #4: Use Your Voice
Most young people who are being hurtful to others on purpose don’t want to get caught. Yelling and speaking up loudly calls attention to a bullying problem or any kind of unsafe behavior. Suppose they are being threatened physically or dealing with another kid who pushes, shoves, trips, or hits. You can practice by pretending that you are about to act unsafely without actually doing anything hurtful.
Coach students to pull away and yell “NO! STOP! LEAVE! HELP!” really loudly. Coach them to yell “STOP! I don’t like that!” Coach them to make their body tall, look the person who is bullying in the eyes and speak in a firm voice with both hands in front of their body and palms facing outwards, like a wall. It this doesn’t work right away, practice how to yell for help in a way that will call attention to the problem. For example, “STOP! GET OUT OF MY WAY! HELP! GET THE TEACHER! ________(name) IS BULLYING ME!” Remind students to leave and go to an adult to report what happened and get help as soon as possible.
Skill #5: Protect Your Feelings From Name-Calling and Hurtful Behavior
Most schools, youth groups, and families want to provide a caring environment. The reality is that, no matter how committed we are to safety and respect, not all places have the same commitment – and even when they do, people will still make mistakes. For this reason, learning how to protect their feelings from insults can prepare children and teens to take charge of their emotional safety all their lives. Discuss with students how saying, writing, emailing, or texting in ways that are hurtful to anyone makes problems bigger, not better. Their job is to stay in charge of what they say and do, no matter how they feel inside.
The Kidpower Trash Can Technique helps to take the power out of hurting words by hearing them said aloud, catching them, and imagining throwing them away. Doing this physically and out loud will help students to avoid taking in hurtful words in their imagination. Practice catching and throwing the mean things that other people are saying into a trash can. Coach students to then use Positive Self Talk to say something positive out loud to themselves 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.” For additional ways to protect your feelings at any age, see Triggers, Emotional Attacks, and Emotional Safety Techniques.
Skill #6: Speak Up for Positive Inclusion
Being left out for reasons that have nothing to do with behavior is a major form of bullying. Exclusion of this kind should be clearly against the rules at school, in recreational activities, and in all youth groups. That said, it is important to realize that sometimes kids (and adults) avoid someone because of their hurtful or negative behavior. In that case, adult leadership is essential in helping that young person to develop more positive social skills and to negotiate win-win relationships.
In addition to getting adult help, a child or teen who is being excluded can practice asking to join a game in a respectful, persistent, and powerful way. Start by pretending to be a kid who is playing a game with a group and wants to leave someone out. Coach each student to walk up and say cheerfully and firmly, “I want to play.”
Coach your student to sound and look confident and friendly, not whiny or aggressive. Ask your students for the reasons that kids give for excluding them. Use those reasons so your students can practice persisting. For example, if the reason is, “You’re not good enough,” your students can practice saying “I’ll get better if I practice!” If the reason is, “There are too many already,” your students might practice saying, “There’s always room for one more.” If the reason is, “You cheated last time,” your students might practice saying, “I did not understand the rules. Let’s make sure we agree on the rules this time.” See our article: Shunning & Exclusion — how to protect children from relational bullying.
Skill #7: Be Persistent in Getting Help From Busy Adults
Children and teens 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. Explain that telling to get help is not the same as tattling just to get someone in trouble. Learning how to have respectful 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 say and 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, coach, or someone else who kids might expect help and support from. Tell your students who you are pretending to be and where you might be. Coach your students to start saying in a clear calm voice, “Excuse me I have a safety problem.”
Now, pretend to be busy and just ignore the student practicing! Coach them 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 acting busy.
Coach your student to explain the problem objectively without using insults in a calm and strong voice. For example, “We have a safety problem. The kids over there are calling me names and not letting me play the game. 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.” Even though we want children and teens to learn to solve their problems themselves, we also want them to get help when they are not yet able to handle a problem on their own. They need to realize that their adults might not have noticed what happened, even if we were standing right there.
To give practice in persisting, coach your students to deal with a variety of common adult reactions, such as saying, “That’s nice!” as if you heard but did not actually listen. Or, make irritated, minimizing, or blaming comments such as, “I’m busy!” Or, “Solve it yourself!” Or, “What’s the big deal? Just stay away from those kids!” Or, even worse, “Don’t be a tattletale.”
Coach your students to persist in getting help by throwing away the hurting words that the difficult adult you are pretending to be said to them; to say inside to themselves “I have the right to get help;” to touch your arm to get your attention; and to ask again, “Please, listen to me. This is important.” Tell your students that sometimes adults don’t understand. Instead of giving up, they can ask again and state the problem more strongly: “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, and it is your job to help me.” Now change your demeanor, so that your student can see you are listening and understanding. 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.”
Young people need to know that, even if the adult in charge does not listen or is blaming, having someone harming them is not their fault. Their job is to keep asking the adults until someone does something to fix the problem. Tell the young people in your life to please always tell you whenever they have a safety problem with anyone, anywhere, anytime. Remember that it is the responsibility of adults to create safe environments for the children and teens in our care and to be good role models by intervening to stop unsafe behavior and by acting as their advocates in powerful respectful ways.
Skill #8: Use Physical Self-Defense as a Last Resort
Children and teens 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. Before we teach people of any age how to fight, we first make sure they have been successful in practicing how to take action that will prevent and avoid most physical fights.
Bullying problems are often not as clear-cut as other personal safety issues. Families have different rules about where they draw the line. Also, many schools will suspend all students involved in a fight, so parents have to be prepared for this consequence.
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. For example, you can practice a bullying self-defense move in the air like kicking someone in the shins, pinching someone’s leg or upper arm, or hitting someone in the chest in order to get the person bullying to move so they can run to safety. See our article: How to Choose a Good Self-Defense Program.
Adult Leadership in Taking Action to Stop Bullying
Stopping bullying requires that the adults in charge: stay aware, set a good example, intervene to stop unsafe or disrespectful behavior, and teach personal safety skills to the young people in their lives. Make your expectations clear by discussing this Kidpower Safety Message: “You have the right to be safe and respected – and the responsibility to act safety and respectfully towards others. If you have a problem, I want to know!” Make sure kids know they can count on you for help by discussing the Kidpower Protection Promise.
To learn more about how to take action and teach these skills, please visit our Kidpower Bullying Solutions Resources page. For services to schools, please visit our Kidpower Resources and Services for Schools page.