What can I do to bully proof the people I love?
Anti-bullying week 2017
Last week during anti-bullying week I was working with local schools delivering workshops to over 800 children! Obviously teaching krav maga isn't just about what to do if there is a physical threat, it also addresses mindset and behaviour. The workshops centred on what can be done to prevent bullying, why bullying might occur, what we can do to make ourselves bully proof or to at least minimise the chance of it happening, and also what to do if it does happen. The sessions were interactive, with various exercises such as using our voices and some role play. I encouraged them to ask questions and I asked them a lot of questions. Each session I was astonished by the honesty of the children, and by something else. In virtually every session when I asked if they'd tell a trusted adult that they were being bullied, approximately 30 - 50% of the cohort said they probably wouldn't.
Why won't they tell?
Up to half of the children in each class said they wouldn't tell if they were being bullied. Up to half! Obviously this isn't anything other than anecdotal evidence, but still. This was despite a broad discussion on bullying that delved into why it can happen and to whom. It was also clear they knew what bullying was. Despite the fact they knew what it was, why it can happen, that it was wrong and there was no excuse for it, still the number of children who said they wouldn't tell a trusted adult was significant.
As I started to ask them why they felt they couldn't tell the answer was almost universally the same. Each child brave and honest enough to put their hand up to answer my question explained they wouldn't tell because the bullying could get worse. The other common response and I'm quoting here, is because they didn't want to be seen as a "snitch". Both these responses come from a place of fear. Fear of social stigma and being labelled as a snitch, or fear that the bullying behaviour could escalate.
I was shocked.
I was really blown away by this. First off because they were so incredibly honest and secondly because we had been talking about how important it was to tell a trusted adult about what was happening. It also made me really frustrated, because, despite a safeguarding champion in every school in this country, our children still don't trust us to improve their situation if they are being bullied.
Why don't they think they can trust us? Obviously, I don't know the answer to that but I do believe that we need systems in place that are simple and robust. We also need the consistent implementation of them. I am not disparaging teachers because I think they are mostly doing an incredible job, but we have to do better. Apart from anything else, children that are bullied can be damaged long-term and from a basic standpoint of what is good for society, surely it's a no-brainer we do everything we can prevent this from happening?
Talk, Walk, Tell.
I don't know where I first read about this but it's certainly not my idea and I also know that there are similar systems out there.
Talk - tell the bully it isn't ok and tell them to stop.
The first thing you do is talk to the bully. Explain that what they are doing/saying is wholly unacceptable. Unless he or she has specific issues, a child at school should be able to articulate when they aren't happy about something. This is obvious, right? I don't think so. By encouraging our children to have calm, direct conversations I think we are teaching them a valuable life skill. I believe we seem to have lost the capacity to articulate ourselves properly. Although times are changing and moving away from the era where children got "participation" medals for showing up, culturally we seem to lack the ability to offer constructive, non-judgemental feedback. We worry about how it will be received and we struggle to accept it as it becomes less and less common. I'm not saying we should go around telling people what we think 24/7 without a care in the world. I just think we need to work on our ability to have those difficult conversations. Children who learn this early get a head start in life.
Walk - if the bully continues what they are doing, move away from them.
Again, seemingly straightforward advice. Move away from the person that is behaving in the way that you don't appreciate. Distance yourself, assuming that you can of course. What came up with this was how unfair it was that you were being bullied and yet you had to move. Well here's the thing, yes, the children were right it is unfair. What is more important justice or peace? I believe it's important to introduce the fact that life isn't fair as early as you can to your children. I'm not saying you accept injustices, you still fight to eradicate them, but manage the expectation of our young ones. Resilience is a word often heard these days but rarely explored in the fullest sense.
Tell - if they still persist with the bullying speak to a trusted adult.
I really hope that in the future if I am told by a young person they are being bullied that I do the right thing. That I take it seriously and do whatever I can to help them. This series of workshops has shown me how much courage it takes for them to speak up. Even if it is little Jenny who is a bit of a drama queen or little Jonny who tells the odd fib. I know as an adult the thing that upsets me, makes me angry and makes me feel impotent is not feeling as if I have a voice. This week has taught me that our children almost certainly feel the same way. I was asked by several children "What if the adult you tell doesn't help?" and my response was simple, "Keep telling different trusted adults until someone does help you." Overly simplistic? Maybe. I suspect if we make sure we listen and take action the first time they tell then perhaps this won't crop up in years to come. I certainly hope so.
Bullying isn't going away anytime soon.
I think it's safe to say bullying isn't going away anytime soon, it's a sad and unacceptable fact of life. Yet I believe we must continue to do all that we can to talk about it with our children. I am constantly amazed at the resilience of kids. At their capacity to understand things that we as adults struggle with. At their ability to cope with conversations that we shy away from because they make us feel uncomfortable. Most of all I am in awe of the things they can teach us. I think we underestimate children all the time. This week was an incredible privilege for me, I learnt so much from these children and if just one of them remembers to "talk, walk, tell," and uses it successfully in the future, then I consider that a job well done.
What things have you done to bully proof your loved ones? Let me know in the comments below.