Archive for August 2010

Anti-Bullying Tips for Coaches & Teachers

August 30, 2010

If you teach or coach children, your job goes beyond just conveying course material or building skills.  You’ve got to know some psychology, be familiar with complex social structures,  you’ve got to motivate and most importantly, you’ve got to be in full control of your self.

This past summer, I ran another Martial Arts Day Camp, and had the opportunity to work with dozens of  new  kids.

In regard to bullying, (as opposed to normal conflicts and insanity) I’ve noticed three primary situations.

  1. There’s a kid that everyone seems to single out and pick on
  2. There’s one  kid that bullies a lot of other kids in the group
  3. Social power-plays, usually among girls.

Here’s how I handled each situation in turn.  I’m not going to lie and say that my amazing interventions instantly fixed all problems forever. .. New behaviors need to be conditioned over and over.  I will say that by being pro-active, consistent, and setting high expectations,  even the children who were having problems were able to be civil and get along.

ONE-(The Scapegoat)

I called a huddle and sat down with everyone.  I asked what it meant to be part of a “team”, and fielded answers, highlighting the best answers.  I reiterated that everyone is important, and looks out for one another. And yes, everyone in this camp was a team mate.

Then I asked if anyone had ever been chosen last to play at a game,  or been “ditched” (left out, left behind, or excluded by their peers)….which is a pretty universal phenomenon, and feels universally crappy.  Again, I went around and asked “how did that make you feel?” I validated their input, and confided that it had happened to me as well.

Then, looking around, I made prolonged eye contact with the main offenders and stated, “You understand how much that hurts. You understand how cruel it is. I don’t ever want to see anyone playing another kid  for a punk.  We take care of each other.  Got it?”

TWO- (The Mean Ones)

After the first few instances of name-calling or physical intimidation came to my attention, I’d pull the kid aside, get on his level, and say, “Tell me what just happened”.  If another child had reported something to me privately, I’d say, “I heard that XY or Z happened.  I wanted to ask you- is it true?” (No accusations, just fact finding).

Depending on the situation, the offending kid might get a light verbal reprimand (“You know better than that.  I expect more of you.  Don’t do it again”) or a stronger one (“Why would you think that was a good idea? Bullies act like that.  Animals act like that.  Do not ever pull that again.  I expect more of you”) plus a time out for them to consider their actions and consequences.

If the bullying child hurt the other kid or made them cry,  the bully would be made to take his victim to the bathroom while the kid washed his face and got his composure back.  That often makes the offender feel the his victim’s  pain as his own.

If the bullying continued, it would be time for a “conversation”.  Again, I’d take the kid aside and say, “I’m really ticked-off right now. I don’t know what’s going on in your life, or why you’re so insecure and angry, but you better get over it.  I understand that you’re only __ years old, but you better start controlling yourself NOW. Because I’ll tell you something – everyone in here sees what you’re doing, and they don’t like it.  So if you’re wondering why the other kids don’t want to be your friend, that’s your reason.  You will sit out until you can behave yourself well enough to play with the other kids.”

Tone, pitch, volume and cadence are paramount.  While its sometimes necessary to yell “HEY” or “WHOA” across a room or field to stop something dangerous from happening, its NOT appropriate to yell directly at a kid (at least if its not your kid).  For disciplinary conversations,  my voice is low, firm and precise.

In any case, after I made my point, and the child did his time-out and apologized to the offended child, I’d give him a gentle shoulder squeeze to let him know that things were cool.

THREE-(The Social Manipulators)

Relational bullying can be  trickier to deal with. Girls can make friends, form alliances, and turn on each other with amazing speed.  In these situations, I often did the “mediation” thing, asking what was going on, and why.  I’d encourage them to talk about their feelings, and subtly take the ‘queen bee’ down a notch or two to even the playing field of power.

With girls, discussing problems in the open is often enough to disinfect the wounds and start the mending process.

EXTREME CIRCUMSTANCES

… they call for extreme measures.  These were last resort tactics for repeat offenders.  As with all very powerful medicine, there may be serious side effects.  Be judicious.

Public Embarrassment– On a very rare occasions, I’d feel compelled to call a kid out in front of their peers. These are one shot gambits.

  • “Everyone, stop what you’re doing.  Ben is at it again. Ben, please explain to us why you’re picking on someone half your size. Does it make you feel like a tough guy? Would you like it if a bigger kid bullied you?  Aren’t you embarrassed?”
  • “Julie, why are you intentionally excluding Beth from everything? Tell us why you think you’re the most perfect girl in the world.  The fact is that you are NOT a perfect princess, are you? Would you like it if your friends started gossiping about all your faults?”
  • “Terry, tell us what you know about insulting people and name-calling. Its not cool – exactly.  So why are you doing it? Do you feel so bad about yourself that you have to put other kids down?”

BEAT DOWN

Obviously, if your an academic teacher, this isn’t an option for you.  But if you’re a coach, there are dozens of ways to adapt this strategy. As an adult, you can’t lay your hands on a child – but one of your “enforcers” can.  (Again, this is a one shot gambit)

“Enforcers” are that have earned “trust equity” with you.  They’ve put in their time, worked hard, shown good character, and have developed superior skills.

So if there’s an aggressive child that habitually insults and victimizes others, and they simply don’t respond to logic or time-outs or appeals to empathy, a beat-down is in order. Sometimes it takes the form of sparring (where I privately remind the enforcer not to underestimate any opponent – and score one clean shot to the other kids tummy) – or grappling ( no submission locks, just execute a series of uncomfortable/ tight pins).

I stand impassively and watch the match.  The bully winds up crying.  The group watches silently for a moment or two.  I tell the kid to go wash his face, compose himself and come back.  (I also keep an eye on the clock- if he’s gone for more than a few minutes, I send the enforcer in to make sure he’s alright).

Lesson Learned.

****

This has been a long post.  And I’m sure you’ll want to have your say.  As always, I welcome your comments.

Be Excellent,

~Adam

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Sharks In The Pool

August 24, 2010

I just read an EXCELLENT article in Psychology Today.  Author Kevin Arnold (Director of the Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy of Greater Columbus and a Clinical Faculty member in the Dept. of Psychiatry at Ohio State University) relates a bullying incident his kids were involved in at the public pool.

Its the kind of story we can all relate to- someone holds someone else under water, name calling, shoving, angry parents, older siblings out for revenge.  What makes this particular story so engaging is how Kevin handled the situation, taking appropriate action while still considering everyone elses point of view, their dignity, and his own emotions.

Excerpt:

Calm Your Physical Reaction: When someone threatens your child, you will have a physical reaction. Your heart will pound, your muscles will tense, and your “father bear” reaction kicks in. When you’re upset, it’s easy to forget the opportunity you have to teach your children the skills they need. A “protection” reaction is normal, but losing control is not OK. My reaction was automatic, so I created an automatic counter-reaction. I concentrated on breathing to calm my body down. I took five deep and slow breaths, focusing my thoughts and counting out each breath. When bullying happens, parenting demands we be calm before we react. Breathing focuses your mind and will help you to remain calm. You can teach yourself to calm down if you practice this relaxation strategy whenever you feel that your children are threatened: breathe, focus, and count.

I encourage you to read the entire article.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-older-dad/201008/bullying-101

Back To School Anxiety

August 17, 2010

Summer was CRAZY busy… its good to be back.  Didja miss me?  😉

August is winding down, and school is about to start.  Although most kids will miss summer, on some level they’re also looking forward to going back to school:  catching up with their friends, making new ones, doing activities like sports or band, etc.

But for some children, the thought of a new school semester triggers a gnawing sensation in the pit of their belly. Every kid has the pressure of “doing well” and “fitting in”… and depending on their temperament, any change in routine can be stressful. As a parent, you need to be able to discern between normal separation anxiety and  special circumstances.

If your son or daughter was bullied last year, they likely dealt with: Name calling. Physical intimidation. Vicious gossip. Social exclusion.  Anyone would dig in their heels at the prospect of facing that!

Some ways kids manifest this anxiety include complaining of headaches or stomach aches, being abnormally cranky, depression, outright refusal to attend, and full on explosive tantrums and emotional meltdowns. Without proper intervention, children who manifest high anxiety as early as kindergarten continue to suffer for years! (Duchesne, S., Vitaro, F., Larose, S., & Tremblay, R. E. (2008). Trajectories of anxiety during elementary-school years. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37, 1134-1146.)

What To Do

  • Find the Right Setting To Talk.  You wont get a meaningful conversation in the middle of their favorite TV show, in front of siblings, or in a crowd.
  • Reveal the Actual Problem.  Physical symptoms and emotional outbursts are the symptoms-you must discover the cause.  Some parents prefer to ‘cut through the bull-sh*t’ with direct questions, others slowly uncover the truth, like peeling layers away from an onion.  Avoid giving cues about what you expect to hear.
  • Listen.  While its okay to prompt your child to stay on track, do NOT interrupt, jump in with advice, or dismiss their concerns.
  • Ask Questions.  You need to know the extent of the problem. (What, exactly, are you afraid of? Who’s involved, who’s been a witness? Where did the problems happen- face to face or online? Why do you think this is happening- if I asked the other kid(s), what reason do you think they’d give? How have you handled it in the past?).  Remember- this is a conversation, not an interrogation.
  • Validate.  “That must be very difficult for you” “Of course you’re upset, anyone would be” “Now I understand”
  • Make Sure Your Child Isn’t Playing “Pass It Down”.  There’s always someone lower on the pecking order (another kid, a younger sibling, or family pet) –  its a natural human tendency to vent frustration and rage by passing it down the line.  Be clear that this is totally unacceptable.
  • Keep Yourself In Check.  Stay cool and be empathetic (sensitive and appreciative of another’s situation/feelings), not sympathetic (taking another’s sorrows and burdens as your own).
  • Take Some Time to Reflect. Following your first instinct might not be the best thing to do.
  • Plan A Course of Action.
  • Teach Your Child Self-Control.  This takes practice, but the pay-off is amazing. Staying calm under pressure is a vital life skill.
  • Role-Play.  Go over some likely scenarios and rehearse some very simple responses until your kid can execute them smoothly.
  • Notify School Officials of your concerns.  And send a followup letter or email. There are gazillions of laws and policies that educators need to comply with.  It might help. It might not.  But its worth the effort, if only do document the communication.
  • Teach Your Child Self-Defense.  I  realize this is heresy,  but I’m not a big fan of “tiny tot tiger karate” programs.  A TKD kata will not make one iota of difference if a bully grabs your kid by the hair and slams their face into a wall.  The best self-defense for children consists of basic techniques, drilled over and over, with spirit.

Now the hard part.  Once you’ve prepared you child, take a step back, and let them handle it. (Research clearly shows that kids with over-protective parents are targeted more than their peers.)

I bid you peace, health, love and joy in abundance. ~Adam

*As always, if you have any questions, please leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you.