Many people, children and adults alike, simply have no idea of what to do when confronted by a bully. These skills simply aren’t taught in a structured manner and, worse, we have all heard many conflicting pieces of advice from parents and society about what to do. For example, “It’s not nice to hit” vs. “a bully won’t stop until you stand up to them.”
So, in an effort to address this situation, let me share with you what we teach our junior students at the Academy. It’s a simple progression of responses to bullying situations.
Level 1 Situation: Someone insults you from across the room - no immediate danger.
Response: “Walk away with confidence”
Walk away without hanging your head, looking down or taking shuffle steps. Keep your chin up, walk away briskly and make sure to let your parents and teachers know about the situation. Always - if we can get away, then we get away. It is always better to avoid a physical encounter. Even if for no other reason than to create a "history of events" so to speak.
Level 2 Situation: Someone moves toward you in a menacing way - escalating the danger.
Response: “Back off, you’re too close!”
(The Level 2 response assumes the child has tried to leave the immediate area as in Level 1 and can’t.) The child creates some space by taking a few steps back. They put up their hands, palms out in a “back off gesture” creating a physical boundary, and in a loud voice says, “Back off you’re too close” or something similar to create a verbal boundary. Sometimes all it takes is the realization that you’re not an easy target to turn a bully away from further aggression. Again, it is imperative for your child to understand that they need to report such incidents to both parents and the teacher.
Level 3 Situation: Someone tries to shove your child - escalating the danger once again.
Response: “Evade and redirect”
Child uses “evasion and re-direction” to avoid being shoved, further showing the bully that you are not an easy target, which by the way, is the true meaning of “sticking up for yourself.” Redirection means to use your hands to deflect the bully. Continue with the verbal boundaries and be louder! If you can’t back off the bully with your voice, then perhaps you can attract attention to yourself and the situation. Many times bullies will high tail it rather than get caught “in the act” by a teacher. Again, report the incident to both your parents and the teacher.
Level 4 Situation: Someone grabs your child and doesn’t let go.
Response: “Make ‘em weak and get free”
Here’s where opinions really start to vary. In my mind, once your child is touched in a violent way and can’t get away, the use of physical force is permissible. We teach a simple formula against being grabbed: Step one - a loosening strike. A hit to the chin, stomach, side of head, etc., just enough to loosen up the bully. Step Two - a ‘break release’. A break release is a way to use your body in a tight circular fashion to break free of the bully’s grasp. This doesn’t hurt the bully, and a smaller person can easily free themselves from a bigger one with this technique. Step three - get away. Once you are free and out of harms way, it’s not OK to keep hitting the attacker. That would take you into the attacker’s role. Perhaps we should add a formal fourth step to that process: notify parents and teacher.
Level 5 Situation: Someone repeatedly grabs your child and/or is repeatedly hitting your child each time they get away.
Response: “Lock ‘em down”
When it’s obvious that the bully is not going to give up after several instances of your breaking free, and you still can’t get away, then our students are taught how to take a bigger opponent down and lock them down until help arrives. They are taught to do so inflicting as little harm as possible, but here they are taught to do whatever is necessary to protect themselves. At this point the bully has shown that nothing short of physical force will make them stop, so physical force becomes acceptable.
All through these methods, the concepts of getting away if possible, not instigating or exacerbating the situation and reporting these incidents to parents and teachers are reinforced constantly. If parents and teachers do their part, it’s hard to see how a child would have to take it to Level 4 or higher. However, I fully believe that if a child has to, they should be allowed to protect themselves in anyway way necessary against an aggressor.
Next week: the parent’s and school’s responsibility for these 5 situations.