Returning to school after the summer break ought to be an exciting time for kids. A time to catch up with friends, embark on the next stage of life's great journey, and start to achieve those dreams and ambitions. Above all else to have some fun in a friendly and supportive environment.
However, as the statistics show this isn't always the case since the age old problem of bullying continues to be prevalent in today's society. Indeed, with the establishment of social media, the opportunity for bullying has increased not diminished.
Bullies feed off our own insecurities and so it's little wonder that the typical targets for bullying are those who don't necessarily fit into societies norms. Indeed the number 1 topic for bullying is appearance. Kids who identify as LBGT are more likely to be bullied than any other category of individual. Other factors such as kids changing schools, having different accents and such like are also likely to make them a target for bullies.
The most important step in dealing with any bullying situation is to ensure that kids know it's ok to talk about the issue. This sounds simple but in practice is often anything but simple. As the holiday period ends, watch out for those tell tale signs of anxiety and general reluctance to go back to school. These signs can be good prompts to open up communication on the subject and help them to share their problems.
DEALING WITH BULLIES
The internet is a great source of useful information to help kids and parents alike deal with bullies. Websites such as www.ditchthelabel.org ; www.bullying.co.uk offer a rich source of support and information.
For me the most important factor is building confidence in kids to deal with bullies. It requires the right tone to be set at for example, school and home to encourage communication. It requires parents and teachers to take sensitive steps to helping a child deal with the bully.
THE POWER OF CONFIDENCE
The key to helping a child build confidence in themselves is to help them deal with the bully. To enable this they will need access to the right sources of information and advice, from for example the types of websites noted above.
With this information you can then start to work with them to role play various scenarios. Focusing on scenarios which are simple and using the simplest techniques is a safe place to start. This will help ensure that kids can experience some positive early outcomes which is a great starting point for building their confidence.
Most of the approach required will work on trying to avoid difficult situations or on using verbal skills to diffuse potentially difficult encounters. These approaches must always be the starting point and will generally work very well.
THE THEORY OF POWER
Most bullying situations sadly will involve some form of intimidation. This is only possible because one party things they are stronger than the other. This strength can take many forms for example, strength in numbers; apparent popularity; or physical strength.
Things can be evened up by encouraging children to seek out friendship groups, participate in social activities and clubs, potentially outside of the school catchment. For physical strength the obvious solution is to get involved in some form of gym or martial art activity.
The theory is that once perceived strengths are more in alignment, the likelihood of open conflict will fall. We see this play out every day on the news and in the interactions between Nations with differing views. Often involving great debate and at points of escalation involving threats but happily where perceived power is closely aligned, sense normally prevails.
THE ROLE OF MARTIAL ARTS
Most martial arts originate in the East and have at their core a philosophy and set of values which promotes use of the arts only in exceptional circumstances and when all else has failed. I've been a practitioner of Taekwon-do for many years and at the heart of Taekwon-do are a set of values or tenets. They read as follows:
- Indomitable spirit
- Self control
Only students who can live by these type of values can progress in the art.
As it turns out the vast majority of people who take up a martial art, do so because they have a perceived weakness, including difficulty to deal with a bullying situation. The role of the instructor is to ensure that a safe environment is created to help build confidence and empower the students to develop their skills and importantly to know how and in what circumstances they could be used.
Confidence is developed in many ways, for example:
- there is generally a structured syllabus with regular testing which allows the student to make progress and be rewarded by moving through a series of colour belts before attaining a black belt. This reinforcement of progress and development is pivotal to building confidence
- the exercises which are undertaken with regularity help develop strong physical characteristics e.g core muscle groups become toned; posture improves as a result. Whilst it may seem like a small thing, when we stand tall and walk with confidence with head held high, we are less likely to be bullied, compared to a bashful individual, generally walking with their head down and avoiding eye contact.
- The regular practice and routine of knowing how to defend yourself becomes instinctive and well drilled and as a consequence gives confidence in difficult situations
- knowledge of how the body works; which body parts have weaknesses no matter the size of the opponent; how to hold yourself in a state of readiness all provide further reliable information to aid confidence building
In all of my time since beginning martial arts I have never had to use the obvious physical skills that are developed in Taekwon-do.
However, I have enough knowledge to:
- have the flexibility to raise a kick as high as a slightly taller persons head
- punch and kick through a brick with a bare foot or hand
- pick up the weak spots in an individuals body to stop them in their tracks
This knowledge is a good support for me in the event that I do encounter an uncompromising individual. However, the most important thing it provides me is the confidence to talk down an irate individual, a bully or an adversary and to understand when I should confront a situation and when I should walk away.
I've seen many kids including my own benefit from the same training, development and encouragement. However, it all starts by ensuring that you have open communication with your kids and are watching for any signs of a bully being in town.