October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness month, a time focused on helping to raise awareness among kids and families for the need to end bullying.
Yet today, no matter how many national efforts have tried to put an end bullying, my son went to school knowing a boy who is older and larger that he is has promised to punch him in the face during recess.
“I know the counselor and vice principal say they talked to him. That just made him madder and more likely to punch my face in at recess today,” Quin says as he shoulders both his backpack and the worry.
As the mom of four boys who has dealt with bullies in different forms for 15 years, I can’t necessarily lie to my son or offer false reassurances that it’s all going to be alright.
Instead, we got up an hour early this morning to run through drills from one of our preferred anti-bully programs – Gracie Bullyproof drills. We reviewed the “Talk, Tell, Tackle” method we use for coping with situations like this one my son is about to face. Thankfully, all four of my sons have used this method to successfully diffuse bullying situations in the past.
We learned it together at a local karate academy. I trained on the mat in a Gi (white uniform) right beside Quin for more than a year.
Step 1: Talk to the bully and try and reason with him. Rener Gracie, who co-created the Bullyproof program with his brother Ryron, recommends saying directly to a bully, “I am not afraid of you” to the bully as a means of dispelling the fear factor and empowering the speaker.
Step 2: Tell BOTH a trusted adult and your parents.
Step 3: Retry step 1. If the bully swings at you, it’s “Tackle” time. Protect your face with your hands on head, elbows together so arms are like two protective cage bars in front. Then charge like a billy goat grab and hold the bully around the waist in a firm hug-like posture with no punching or kicking.
Wait and hope for help to arrive.
I am going to confess that if my child has had the time to do all of that and no adult arrives until the kids have hit the ground grappling, I am going wonder where the authority figures were all of that time.
While this is my family’s preferred method, there are many other wonderful anti-bullying methods available for both parents and educators to help everyone cope with bullying both in the real world and cyberspace. The PACER’s National Bulllying Prevention Center website offers a number of links to programs, videos, apps, and online activities.
Also, Utterly Global Youth Empowerment offers a range of “Speak Up. Speak Out.” programs and courses, as does The Violence Protection Network with its OLWEUS Bullying Prevention courses online. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website Stop Bullying, advises kids to “Tell him or her to stop in a calm, clear voice. You can also try to laugh it off.”
The site also advises kids then tell an adult what happened.
However, I disagree with the site’s advice to, “Stay away from places where bullying happens. Stay near adults and other kids. Most bullying happens when adults aren’t around.”
There is safety in numbers, but what’s to say that staying close to adults won’t empower a bully to reduce safe spaces until there are few to none left?
My Facebook community weighed in on a video I posted this morning of Quin going over our plan to remain un-punched.
Fellow mom Christina Schweiss posted in response, “ One word. Homeschool.”
Of the dozens of comments, several advised me to tell Quin, in one way or another, to “kick him where it hurts.”
Jennifer Jean Castka Peronnet asked “What about staying near the teacher at recess?”
What popped into my head while reading that last question and the Stop Bullying website’s advice was my Great-Uncle Emil. I remembered when I was I 6th grade, telling him about a girl who punched me in the face my first day of middle school.
I told Emil that my grandmother was driving me to school daily. Also that I was avoiding the playground, lunch room, girls’ bathroom, and the local mall all on the school counselor’s advice.
According to the diary I kept, Emil’s exact words were, “Better a fighter’s ring than an apron string! You can’t hide forever. Fight for your life little girl, or your life won’t be worth fighting for.”
That was pretty harsh, but then again it was 1977 and he was a man who didn’t mince words.
Today, I have softened his idea to mean that my son mustn't allow a bully to be empowered by being able to set limits on his life.
While I don’t condone fighting, I do think my kids need to know how to fight-off an attacker their age, all on their own. I also battle my instincts to directly confront a bully’s parents.
Perhaps that’s why many schools, like ours, frown on the method of parents handling the bullying issue and step-in to handle it without us.
It’s as hard to teach our kids not to swing back at the bully as it is for us not to verbally swing at the parents of the bully. Constructive tactics and restraint are much harder lessons for all of us to learn.
And I have learned the hard way not to expect success to come through controlling the moods and deeds of others, but by improving ourselves. While that may not end bullying, it may bullyproof the world one kid, one parent, at a time.