“Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never harm you,” is a phrase that has been passed on from generation to generation. Children are led to believe that words don’t hurt, but in reality, they do. The effects of words can have a profound effect on a person’s life. This phrase was first uttered by blacks in the American Civil War in 1864. The phrase focuses on the physical assaults these individuals had to endure. We have repeated it so often that were have give the “sticks and stones” phrase a new meaning. We infer that words do not hurt, but we know they do. They can leave life-altering scars that can affect our entire lives.
To help children deal with the taunts of a bully we often tell children to either walk away, ignore the words or tell a teacher. These are all good strategies, but children need more. What happens if a bully follows you, or if you cannot ignore what the bully is saying. As children get older they don’t have the confidence that telling will lead to a solution.
“What happens if I tell and I don’t get the help. Now my problem will be worst.”
As a youth, I was often the target of bullying. There were many things that I was teased about, most of which I could ignore. It wasn’t until the bully found out that I couldn’t read and write that the bully had any lasting effect on me.
I was in grade 7 and very sensitive about my learning disability and attention deficit disorder. It was my little secret. Well, the bully found out my secret and realized that if he made fun of the fact that I couldn’t read and write, he would be able to get me to react and believe his lies. The word he used to taunt me was, “dumb.” The funny thing was that he didn’t have to call me dumb. I was already using the word on myself. This word, that was not supposed to hurt was destroying me. But, I was determined not to allow the bully to win. I first found out everything I could about my learning disability and my ADHD. I found out that there were a lot of famous and successful people with the same diagnosis. This gave me hope. I realized it was what you did with what you got that made the difference. I worked really hard at improving my ability to read and write. It wasn’t easy, but worth it. After a few years, I became a really good reader. This led me to become a storyteller. I developed a real love for storytelling so I decided to write my own stories. Years later I become a bestselling author. I wrote not only books but a script for a television show and songs I later recorded with Kenny MacLean of the rock group Platinum Blonde and Alan Frew from the band Glass Tiger.
We need to teach children strategies that will help them retain their self-esteem and build their confidence.
The key strategies to help children retain their self-esteem and build confidence are:
1) provide opportunities that will lead to success.
2) self-understanding of a label they have attached themselves to.
3) an understanding of why children bully. It’s not because there is
something wrong with you. It could be that there is something right with you.
4) teach children how to be assertive and avoid the stock answers.
In the next issue, we will discuss the anti-bullying strategies that help children deal with bullying situations.
When a child deals with a bully they often hear the same stock answers: Walk away; ignore it or tell a teacher or a trusted adult. These strategies sometimes work, but children need more. What do you do if a bully follows you? What happens if you cannot ignore a bully’s taunts? What do you do if you tell and you still find yourself alone on the playground dealing with the bully?
First, children need to understand why bullies do what they do. People bully others for a variety of reasons: 1) The bully gets bullied at home and repeats the learned behavior 2) The bully receives power and attention or 3) It distracts others from their personal flaws.
Your Reaction Feeds the Bully
The biggest reward a bully receives is their victim’s reaction. If you freak out, start to cry, show fear, tease or fight back the bully receives their reward; your reaction. Here are a few steps to take that will help you deliver a strong, confident message. After all, the best defense against a bully is confidence.
STEP # 1 – Make Eye Contact
Before you tell the bully how you feel about their actions, you must look the bully directly in the eye. Making eye contact with a bully is important as it shows confidence. If you look at your shoes when talking or have not made eye contact, your message is weak and ineffective. Look the bully in the eye.
STEP # 2 – Body Language
Your body can convey a strong message depending on how you stand and what you do with it. You actually communicate more with your body than with your words. You must stand straight with your shoulders back in order to convey a strong, believable message. If your shoulders are curled and your hands are in your pockets you may be delivering a message that empowers the bully. To understand how body language conveys information, think about how someone would know that you are angry, happy, confident or shy. How would your body look? What would your face look like? What would your hands be doing? Crossing your arms across your chest may convey anger. Putting your hands in your pocket may be interpreted as insecurity. Fiddling with your clothing makes you look nervous. Be aware of the messages your body is delivering.
STEP # 3 – Tell the Bully How You Feel
It is extremely important for you to tell the bully how you feel about what they are saying or doing. You must also use your body language to show you are confident in who you are. You must look the bully in the eye and deliver the message that you WILL NOT stand for put-downs of any kind. You need to look this person in the eye and use a tone of voice that is believable. You do not need to yell. Instead, use an assertive tone. By doing this you are delivering the message that you are confident and believe in what you are saying. You are saying that you are not afraid nor are you interested in sticking around to waste your time listening to such nonsense. You are showing tremendous courage! You need to tell the bully how you feel in order to remain in control and retain your self-esteem. In no way should you feel as if the bully has won because it is you who is the winner. After you have stood up to the bully, WALK AWAY. Do not give the bully an opportunity to tease you again. Walking away after you have told the bully how you feel is more effective than just walking away.
One of the common mistakes people make is using too many words when directing a message to a bully. You could look the bully in the eye and immediately walk away or look the bully in the eye and say, “WHATEVER.” You do not have to deliver a speech on why you are upset. It may be more effective to say as little as possible. Less can be more.
STEP # 4 – Walk Away
There is nothing wrong with walking away, but asserted yourself first. A bully may try to get you back in front of him so that he can tease you some more, however after you have said what you need to you should walk away and keep going. Don’t fall for the bully’s tricks. They would like nothing more than for you to come back so they can have another chance to get you to react. You do not want to get sucked back into playing the bully’s game. To get you to come back they may shoot words at you like: “loser,” “wimp,” “chicken.” Do not go back and react to their comments. It is a trick to get you back so they can dig for the reaction they are looking for. Do not be afraid that your peers will believe what the bully is saying about you. The people who matter in your life know who you are and are not likely to believe a bully.
STEP # 5 – If They Follow You?
I am sure you have heard the line – “Just walk away if someone is bothering you.” There is only one problem with this response: bullies have legs and probably will follow you! If they follow you remember not to react. Look at them in the eye, use a tone of voice that commands respect and repeat steps 1 and 2. Repeat your message as many times as it takes until the bully realizes that they will not get a reaction from you. You can say, “I guess you didn’t hear me the first time. Let me repeat it for you. I do not like what you’re doing and I will not waste my time listening to you. Good-bye.”
When you walk away this time walk toward a “safety zone:” a teacher or another helpful adult, your friends or the school. Bullies are not usually as brave as they are pretending to be. If they think they may get in trouble, they will be long gone.
You may have to repeat these steps for a while until the bullies get the message. They will eventually get the message and when they do you will know that you handled this negative situation in a positive way. You may have even helped someone else learn the proper way of handling a bully.
In my next article, I will discuss the Tattletale Syndrome and Strength in Numbers.
Step # 6 – Tell and Keep on Telling
The Tattletale Syndrome
We have discussed why children bully and what to do about it in my last two columns. These strategies are available in my Heroes of Hope book available at my web store. It is now time to talk about how children can become part of the bullyfreeME solution.
Children often tell me that when they tell on a bully they are often accused of being a tattletale. This discourages children and often leaves them feeling helpless. It is important for children to understand the difference between tattling and being assertive. A child who is a “tattletale” tells on other children with the sole purpose of getting people in trouble. The attention the child receives from this behavior is their reward. Being “assertive” is telling with the purpose of getting someone out of trouble. If for example, a friend is being bullied, it is important to assert yourself and tell, so that your friend will be helped and led away from trouble. If you are being bullied and have delivered the appropriate anti-bullying strategies, you need to tell. By telling you are not just helping yourself, but helping all the other children who are being affected. You may even help the bully realize that their behavior is inappropriate and steer them onto the right road.
What if you tell and your requests are dismissed? This is a common question from children. They are afraid that they will tell on the bully and not be helped. Now the bully is really angry and the child’s problem is worse. This is why many older children will never tell. They are not confident that their problem will be solved.
Why should you tell and keep on telling? Children need to realize the importance of telling a trusted adult of a bullying situation that is affecting them or someone they know. I have known five children in the time I have been running my Kids 4 Kids Leadership Programs that have ended their lives due to the effects of bullying. If only someone stepped up to help these individuals their situation have had a different outcome.
If a child tells and does not receive an appropriate solution they must keep on telling until a solution is found. By telling they are helping stop the bully from not only bullying one individual but hopefully much more.
We must stand together, get involved and help anyone who may need our help and not be afraid of telling. Helping involves 1) teaching the strategies you know to the individuals who are getting bullied 2) Allowing the individuals being bullied to play with you and your friends and 3) telling a trusted adult about what is going on. We are strong when we work together and support each other. If we all stand up to bullying, bullies will be forced to relinquish their power. We must stand together for this to happen and be persistent in our search for solutions. In my next article, I will be discussing anger management techniques.
When you walk home, never change your route. If you believe a bully is going to hurt you on the way home tell your teachers, phone home and tell your parents or walk home with your friends. If you change your route home you maybe creating a vulnerability. Make sure you travel in a public area. Don’t walk through forests, behind buildings….make sure your visible so others can help if you need it.
If you are confronted by a bullying and you feel you are in danger of being assaulted make a lot of noise. Yell: help, police, or the word fire. You want to bring immediate attention to you if you believe you are in danger of being physically assaulted or you are in explicit danger. You never these words at school, especially the word fire. You have adults at school that are right there to help you. If you need help at school make sure you are close to a teacher and are visible. Don’t play in an area where you cannot be seen. I suggest only using the word “fire” as a last resort. IMPORTANT: This strategy is only to be used if you are walking home and you are in danger.
There is no evidence to indicate that talking about suicide causes children to commit suicide. There have been studies done on the copycat issue, but were is absolutely no definitive proof. I have researched this issue and spoken with leading authorities on the subject. Do not glamourize the issue. I would also avoid movies that glamourize suicide. We do need to talk to children so they are aware that there are people available to help them and community resources. It’s important to help children realize there they are not alone and that there is help available. It is irresponsible to avoid these conversations as it leaves children feeling vulnerable, and helpless. http://www.Kidshelpphone.com
Step # 9
- Never respond to a bully online. If you respond you are feeding the bullying. They will continue to bully you if they know you care and are aware of their presence.
- Take screen shots and document times, dates, conversations if the bullying continues.
- Tell your parents, the school, or the police if necessary.
Remember that if you are getting bullying chances are that someone else is a victim too. When you tell you are not only helping yourself, but others as well.
Remember that everything you put up on the Internet is forever: words, photos, comments, etc. When you look for a job or apply to a school or join a club or team there maybe people who will want to check out your social media. You can not deny them access, because if you do, they will deny you the job or opportunity. Think before you upload. Everything counts. Everything matters. Build your brand.