Back to school should be an exciting time -- new teachers, new clothes, new school supplies and new friends. But for a child who is the victim of a bully, the excitement of a new school year is filled more with anxiety than anticipation.
As a martial arts instructor, I'm often asked by parents about the best ways to help their children to deal with bullies. While there are many approaches to the problem, I think one of the best ways is to instill self-confidence in your children. And martial arts is just one way to instill self-confidence.
No matter which tactics you try, you want to start by creating an open line of communication with your child. As I mention in my book, The Self-Confidence Factor: A Parent's Guide to Bully Prevention, you want your child to feel comfortable to discuss any bullying incident with you. You can do that by simply listening to what they have to say. Then, you can continue to ask questions until you understand the whole story.
You can also share your own personal experiences with bullies. This will help them to understand that you know how they feel. Then you can try some ways to help counter the situation. Here are a few of my favorites based on martial arts:
Role play. For the same reasons you role-play to anticipate tough questions during a job interview, role-playing a few bullying scenarios with your child will teach him how to respond to a stressful confrontation. KungFu or another martial art form is not much different. When practicing martial arts, we are basically role-playing various self-defense scenarios. When practiced enough, the student can recall and instinctively respond if he finds himself in a dangerous situation. At home, you can simply role-play some bullying scenarios to help your child practice for any confrontation. When he finds himself in a difficult situation, he will have more self-confidence since he's better prepared to handle it.
Teach body language and communication skills. KungFu and martial arts stances exude confidence. In traditional martial arts training, the posture of the attention stance is body straight, eyes focused and feet firmly on the ground. Also, instruct your child to breathe properly (calm breath equals calm composure) and speak in a confident tone to help deflect any immediate threat from a bully. Any action taken on the part of your child should not be done in a manner that might be perceived as trying to challenge the bully. While standing one's ground with an air of composure -- despite the actual feeling of fear -- should be learned, and practiced, children should also learn how to communicate and create rapport with others. Using words to defuse a situation can help prevent it from becoming physical.
Take to the mat. Consider enrolling your child in a traditional martial arts program, such as Karate, KungFu, or Tae Kwon Do. The training at most self-defense academies does not promote the use of violence, however, having that knowledge will help your child feel more self-assured. And if your child does need to defend himself, his practice on the mat will provide a level of safety by allowing him to perform the moves instinctively when threatened. Besides learning self-defense skills -- and understanding when it would be appropriate to employ them -- he will take away life skills and leadership lessons that will bolster confidence throughout his life.
Bullying should never be taken lightly. While we've made great strides against bullying -- bullying policies have been implemented by schools, the workplace and the government -- we need to, as a community, prepare and educate our children on how to deal with this serious issue. I believe, only through education can we truly make a difference.