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December 20, 2010

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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.


… 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).

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,


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.

Talk To Your Kid About Bullying: 7 Conversation Killers To Avoid

May 16, 2010
Parents are often the last ones to know that their children are being bullied.  A kid who’s being chronically teased, picked-on, harassed or beat up carries a lot of shame inside, and being silent often seems easier than the alternative.  After all, telling a parent carries the risk that:

  • you might be disappointed, judgmental or get hysterical
  • you will make a fuss at school, making the situation worse (and drawing retaliation)
  • they will be labeled as a tattle tale or a rat

If you even suspect that your child is being bullied (threatened, pushed-around, shunned), talking to your son or daughter is the first step toward learning the truth.  Before you can formulate a strategy to help them, you need to find out the nature and scope of the problem.

When a kid does admit they’re being bullied, you have the opportunity to take positive action.  But take care- you might blow it with one misstep.

These are seven common mistakes that anyone can make.  When you know what to look for, you can avoid these common pit falls.

  • Being distracted, getting interrupted. The TV doesn’t need to provide back ground noise.  Make sure cell phones and blackberries are off (yours and theirs).
  • Wrong Environment.  Sensitive conversations should be carried out in a place where no one else is listening – and away from other siblings.
  • Making faces, Getting loud.  If your face twists up and broadcasts distress or anger, your kid will clam up.  If you get loud, they’ll become silent.
  • Rushing.  If your child’s conversation starts to wander (and it probably will), get back on track by asking, “what happened next”, or “let’s focus – what about XYZ?”. Avoid saying, “Hustle up” or “Get to the point”.
  • Meaningless Reassurances. “Don’t worry, everything will be fine”, “Things happen for a reason”, “This will work itself out”, etc.  It’s 1,000 times better to say nothing than to throw poison down the well with these hollow cliches.
  • Interrupting. When your kid talks, just listen.  Do NOT jump in with corrections or contradictions.  Do not finish their sentences for them.  Do not talk over them. 1) its rude 2) it models bad conversational skills 3) it prevents you from learning anything.  A good rule of thumb is to wait until the other person finishes,  and count two breaths before you speak.
  • Being Dismissive. Examples include: “Tough it out”, “You’re being way too sensitive”, and “Come on,  that’s nothing”.  Do this and your kid wont talk to you about anything important.
Avoid these 7 conversation killers and you’ll  not only forge a better relationship with your child, you’ll be well on the way to helping them solve their bullying problems.

Even if you don’t have “the conversation”, you can successfully open the door by saying this:

“We know that school can be tough, and sometimes kids are thoughtless and even downright mean. If anything comes up, I hope you talk to us. We’re always here to listen, and there’s a chance we might have something to offer.”

Weight Control / Bullying Prevention

May 10, 2010

Headed For Serious Problems

Want to cut your child’s chances of being bullied by over 60%?

Over the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than tripled. (That in itself is a national disgrace). And the latest research indicates that overweight kids are bullied 63% more than their peers.

According to the CDC and the NIH (and other independent studies), this is a very complex problem with numerous interrelated causes, including environmental factors, socio-economic conditions, lack of education, inherent genetic tendencies).

Forget that nonsense.  Its exactly the kind of babble you’d expect to find padding a well-funded report where the problems / causes / solutions are very obvious.

Don’t cry genetics.  You wont find anyone in a famine zone complaining that they balloon up from eating 1 grain of rice. Don’t cry poverty – it doesn’t cost a nickel to skip a meal, put on sneakers, and go for a run. Don’t cry lack of information – its not a mystery that eating too much packs on the pounds.

In addition to heart crushing social stigma, obese kids face  a variety of immediate and long-term health issues, including:

  • Joint and bone problems
  • Sleep apnea
  • Increased cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Increased odds of becoming an obese adult and potentially getting heart disease,  cancer and stroke

Obesity isn’t a disease.  Its a decision.

We don’t really need more studies, or more statistics, or more dire medical predictions, do we? Eat more than you burn off and you get fat. Its simple. Fortunately, ending childhood obesity is quite straightforward as well.

  • Never reward or punish kids with food. This will warp a child’s relationship with food forever.
  • Portion control.  Every meal isn’t a buffet.
  • Eat slower, always use utensils.
  • Don’t drink calories.  Replace high sugar drinks with water or zero calorie beverages.
  • Encourage physical activities that your children enjoy. Each child is unique and may have to experiment with a number of activities until he or she finds one they like. Exercise one hour each day.
  • Less TV.  Less computer.  Less video games. Set limits and enforce them.
  • Remind your kid that THEY are in control – not their stomach.  Only babies cry when they don’t get their bottle.  A growling tummy is NOT the end of the world.
  • Help children develop a positive self image. Focus on the positives instead of the negatives. And remember, a kid’s self-image depends more on their actions than anything you say.

And the big one: practice what you preach. You have to set the example.  The life you lead is more eloquent and convincing than the words you speak. Spend active time with your kids… take walks, go swimming, throw a football around, ride bikes together.

Now you’ve got the information. Consciously make a new decision, come up with a game plan and put it into action.

Be Excellent!

It’s Live!

April 28, 2010

Bullies and Self-Esteem

March 22, 2010

There’s a widely held belief that all bullies are insecure cowards who use aggression to cover their anemic self-image. Recently, psychologists have questioned their assumptions about self-esteem and reviewed decades of studies. Their findings?  Feeling great about yourself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Baumeister, R., Smart, L., & Boden, J. (1996). Relations of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological Review, 103, 5-33.

For ages, pop psychologists have promoted the idea that developing your child’s self-esteem was a magic bullet that ensured mental health and future success.  And to be sure, it does have its up-side.  Kids with healthy self-esteem are more resistant to peer pressure, recover from failure and trauma faster, and are generally happier.  Note:  the operative word was “healthy” – not “high”.

Other benefits of healthy self-esteem include:

* Independence
* Responsibility
* Pride in accomplishments
* Openness  to challenges
* Willingness to help others
* Ability to  manage emotions

Beware the far end of that spectrum,though.  Loading a child up with undeserved praise, withholding appropriate criticism,  and avoiding difficult tasks that carry the possibility of failure in order to make a kid feel good are counter-productive strategies.  Feeding kids a diet of validation actually decreases their drive to work harder and improve themselves!

An inflated self-esteem is a key component of  narcissism and egotism. Those traits are decidedly unhealthy- for the person who exhibits them and for the people around them. While these kids think they’re smarter, better looking, more competent and more popular than their peers, they often alienate others with their their superior attitude. True confidence is achieved by demonstrating hard earned aptitude.  It is the effect, not the cause. (High self-esteem does not enhance performance).

High self-esteem is not an antidote to making destructive choices, either. Kids who believe they can do no wrong are actually more likely to steal, cheat and experiment with drugs than their counterparts.

Criminals are frequently brimming with self-esteem.  Their amplified sense of importance lets them feel justified in ripping-off or hurting other people.  And to get violent if they don’t get the respect they feel they deserve.

Not surprisingly, children who’ve been targeted for social cruelty  do not feel very good about themselves, and the longer they endure abuse, the worse they feel.  As a group, the kids who do the bullying feel just fine about themselves.