Ideally, we want kids to follow this basic formula: use common sense before self-defense. That breaks down into a fairly simple process that I call the T.A.C.T. method. More about martial arts for kids.
Prevention, awareness and avoidance are 99% of self-defense. Knowledge of the issue and avoiding aggressive people is the first step in prevention. Learn how to make friends. When there is an argument communicate, try and work out your differences. Empathize. Realize that bully’s aren’t born they are made. As teachers and parents we can take situations like this and roll play them, building our student’s responses so that they feel more confident when conflict arises. This builds confidence. Teaching them that it’s not just o.k. to walk away but that walking away isn’t cowardly it’s brave and bold. Choosing to not be drawn in by the bully’s attempt at creating an angry, emotional reaction is a good thing. Teaching kids that bully’s do this to entertain themselves, and to make themselves feel better by making the victim feel worse is the first step in not being a victim.
Talk: Communicate. Perhaps by using empathy, humor, or misdirection you can create an opportunity to escape. However we want to teach kids not to engage. Often, there is a time at the first hint of violence that you can increase distance and move on to the next step, asking an adult to step in and resolve the situation.
Ask: Ask for help. Reporting bullying isn’t snitching or tattling. It’s asking for help. Unfortunately, many reports of bullying are disregarded. Adults often dismiss these incidents with a kids will be kids mentality. Teach your kids that you are there to listen and to help. Teach them to keep asking for help until they get it.
Confront: Every adult and ever child wants know what to do if cornered by an aggressive person and knowing what to do in a worse case scenario grants the confidence needed to use non-violent tactics.
However, facing the bully may be the only way to end the cycle of violence. This is a last resort but If you are cornered and can’t leave then it’s time to control the situation enough that you can evade or escape. If you can’t increase the distance then you must close the distance. This is what boxer’s do when they are tired or out classed. They clinch or grab the opponent in a body hold. This prevents punches and can give you a chance to consider your options.
Tactics: If you can’t deescalate the situation, and you’ve tried to evade it may be time to defend yourself. Knowing how to defend yourself gives you the confidence you need to use the verbal tactics. Avoidance first, verbal tactics to gain distance and disengage, and then knowing what to do in an emergency builds confidence. We don’t want to teach kids that striking is the first option especially to vital target areas like the eyes, throat and groin, some of the most effective for life or death emergency are likely overkill in a schoolyard confrontation. But a quick distraction slap followed by an effective tackle can bring a bigger opponent down and with proper positioning put you in place where you can wear down your opponent while avoiding any further damage. This is exactly what our little ninja did in his situation mentioned in my last post. It doesn’t always work out that you win but resisting demonstrates that you are not an easy target and reminds you that you don’t have to take it. This is an emergency and self-defense is often not an injury free activity. You have been pushed to the limit of your safety and you are taking the chance that by fighting back you will improve your chances of escaping that particular assault.
Consequences: Because chronic bullying is constant, retaliation can feed into a cycle of violence. Often children don’t just retaliate because they are scared and angry they seek revenge, lashing out with any advantage they can find and that includes ganging up on the bully or using weapons. Hurting another person is rarely the best way to solve a problem. You don’t improve people with your fists. You may prevail, pounding the bully into pudding and then face the wrath of a gang of his friends the next day. It’s better to address the problem early and create a community effort of parents, educators and other children that are aware of the problem and are working to defuse it.
The consequences of bullying and retaliation can be long lasting. We’ve seen this problem (click this link for statistics and more information about bullying) escalate into school shootings, suicides (some now use the term bullycide) and a lifetime of stress, fear, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. The best lessons are the ones that empower the victim to take control, that lead to security and support so they may fight the problem not the bully. Our job is to do everything we can to prevent our playgrounds from becoming battlegrounds.