Anti-Bullying Tips for Coaches & Teachers
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.
In regard to bullying, (as opposed to normal conflicts and insanity) I’ve noticed three primary situations.
- There’s a kid that everyone seems to single out and pick on
- There’s one kid that bullies a lot of other kids in the group
- 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.
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.
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.
… 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?”
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).
This has been a long post. And I’m sure you’ll want to have your say. As always, I welcome your comments.