A reader asked:
This ask is about bullying and being an adult who kids ask for help:I know from experience that it’s important not to teach bullied kids that the way to defend themselves is to mentally place themselves as superior to the bullies, because that can crush the kid’s self-esteem later, & can so easily turn them into someone who bullies a different kid to feel better.But what should you say to support kids instead?yrs, a past bullying victim, now older & trying to support kids thru the same thing
I think, before considerations about teaching kids who come to you for help self defense, it’s important to consider what you might be able to do to protect them. You are likely in a position to offer them material protection as well as self-defense advice. This is a situation in which actions speak louder than words.
Can you offer bullied kids a refuge?
- If you’re a teacher in a school, can you start a lunch club or recess club where kids can eat and hang out in your classroom instead of going to the playground?
- If neighborhood kids are coming to you for help, can you make your house or yard a safe space for them to hang out in away from bullies?
If you’re an adult with some kind of power over kids (eg: a teacher, a youth group leader, etc), you might be able to make some things better by supervising things more:
- Can you pay close attention to what’s going on, and intervene when the wrong kid gets suspended?
- (You know from being bullied that the kid who gets caught often isn’t the kid who started it.
- If you pay enough attention, you might be in a position to protect the kid who is being unjustly punished.)
- Can you pay attention to when harassment and bullying rules are being broken, and enforce them? Rules can actually make a difference when they are enforced consistently.
- (For instance: if there’s a rule against touching people’s stuff without permission, can you pay attention to when kids take other people’s stuff and insist that they stop?)
If the bullies are taking or destroying the kid’s possessions in a place that’s hard to supervise, can you offer them a safe place to keep it?
- Being able to store things in a place bullies can’t get to can make a huge difference
- For instance, a kid whose science project keeps getting destroyed by bullies can complete it if teachers give her a secure space to store it and work on it
- A kid whose dolls keep getting destroyed by his brothers will probably be much more ok if an adult gives him a safe place to keep his dolls.
If the bullies are preventing the kids from eating:
- Can you provide a safe place for them to eat?
- If bullies keep taking food away from the kids who are coming to you for help, can you give them food?
- If kids need to break rules in order to eat safely, can you allow them to break the rules?
Has the kid been physically injured or threatened in a way the police might take seriously?
- Sometimes the police might take things seriously even if the school does not
- Calling the police is not always a good idea, but sometimes it is
- If calling the police might be warranted, can you offer to sit with the kid while they call the police?
- Or to call for them?
- Or to go to the police station and make a report together?
- Going to the police is a lot less scary if someone is helping you; and children are more likely to be believed if adults are backing them up
- If they have to go to court, can you offer to go along for moral support? (It makes a difference. Testifying is often terrifying and horrible and it’s not something anyone should ever have to do without support)
What else can you do?
- I don’t know you, so I don’t know what the kids coming to you need, or what you’re in a position to offer.
- But there are almost certainly things you can do that I haven’t thought of
- if you think it through, you can probably think of and do some things that materially help bullied kids.
- Actions speak louder than words. If you help protect them, you send the message that they are worth protecting.
You can also be an adult who believes them:
- Being believed about bullying is incredibly powerful
- So is listening
- Kids who are bullied often have everyone in their life try to downplay how awful it is
- If you believe them about their experiences and listen, you send the message that it matters that others are treating them badly
- And that it’s not their fault.
- And that they’re ok and the bullies are mean.
There is an emotional self-defense technique that works better than the destructive one we were taught as children. It was developed by Dave Hingsburger, and he describes it in The Are Word (a book anyone working with people who are bullied for any reason need to read.)
I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about how it works, and I will probably do so again in the future.