Posted tagged ‘dealing with bullies’

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,



Meditation For Kids *Part II*

March 29, 2010

Let’s take a peek inside the world of the average child. Growing up isn’t all ice-cream, rainbows and puppy dog kisses.  There’s lots of stress, confusion, fear and disappointment. Plus, virtually every aspect of their lives is regulated to some degree by adults- from the moment the alarm goes off to the moment they’re sent to bed. Not surprisingly, kids frequently ‘sleep-walk’ through big chunks of their day as they fulfill other people’s expectations.

Although there are many school of meditation, I’m going to over-simplify things a bit and divide this list into 4 (slightly overlapping) categories. All of them have their advantages. (I’m leaving out religious/spiritual meditations and ‘trance states’ brought about through chanting, twirling, etc).

  • Guided Meditation. This is kind of a hypnotic state (self-induced or led by another person). Guided meditation involves a quiet narrative, mental visualization and positive affirmations / suggestions.
  • Moving Meditation. Some examples of this are tai chi, yoga, swimming laps and even long solitary walks in nature. As breathing and motion synchronize, the mind opens and clears.
  • Focused Meditation.  This deals with focusing on something outside of yourself: rhythmic music, a candle flame, or some object.
  • Mindfulness Meditation. Mindfulness means deliberate awareness in the present moment, free of judgement.

For our purposes, I’m going to key in on Mindfulness Meditation.

But before launching into the instruction and application segments, please heed this warning: as an adult, teaching a kid, you better know what you’re doing. Reading this article is an excellent start, but it will not make you an expert.  Get some books. Take out a few instructional DVD’s from the library. Maybe even find a qualified,experienced and professional instructor and take lessons. Remember, kids are like sponges- if you’re involved in a personal development program, they’ll sense your credibility. (And besides, with so much to gain, it pays to do it right).  I strongly encourage you to participate with your kid; just giving instructions and holding a stop watch isn’t nearly as effective.


Children (and a lot of adults) have pre-conceived and incorrect ideas about meditation, so its worth while to take a few moments and set the record straight.

  • Only holy men meditate.  Actually, meditation is for everyone.  You don’t need to be a guru or monk.  People from all walks of life do it: champion athletes, top musicians, respected professors, successful business people, and home makers.
  • You can get psychic powers.  Uh, no. It doesn’t give you the ability to read minds, see the future, move objects with brainwaves or zip around the universe in an astral body. Sorry.
  • You’ve got to do weird stuff, like sit in a lotus position and chant. In fact, you can meditate while kneeling or sitting in a chair.  And while some people do chant, many others don’t.  And we aren’t going to.

Another school of thought is to skip this step entirely. Don’t make it such a big deal.

Like a lot of things in life, this is as complicated as you want to make it. Keep in mind- you’re teaching a child. Keep your expectations realistic.  Your kid isn’t going to sit still for half an hour.  Two or three minutes is plenty to start with – and for some kids, even one minute is respectable.

Keep your explanation simple brief. Tell them what they’re going to do, how to do it, and for how long. And set a goal- tell them what they’re trying to accomplish. Do NOT do a “brain dump” and overload them with a gazillion details. Provide a few points on posture,  one or two things they might focus on, and the guidelines (“When you get into position, take a moment or two and get comfortable. Once we begin, you stay still.”).

And answer the big question.  Why.  One basic and elegantly clear answer goes like this:
“Most people don’t realize this, but their mind is like a dog. Sometimes its lazy and doesn’t want to do anything. Sometimes it gets all excited, and runs around like crazy. Dogs will chase birds, bark at people, roll in the grass, run around, sniff everything, and make a mess. And most people spend their lives chasing after their thoughts like they’d chase after a crazy dog. What we’re going to do now is like training that dog to behave. So when you give your mind a command, it will obey.”

In the next post, I’ll cover the actual nuts and bolts of how to practice.