While some kids may dream of their summer and winter breaks, I spent my childhood continuously looking forward to the next back-to-school season. Starting a new semester of classes each September and January was like shedding an old skin and starting over with brand new color-coded notebooks and matching pens.
But not every kid is so lucky. For a kid who experiences bullying at school, there are few things as paralyzing as watching that first day creep closer. The problem with anxiety is that it can be hard to diagnose and easy to internalize. With so many different ways kids can be bullied today–physically and emotionally, in person and digitally–parents can waste precious time sniffing out what the cause is.
No child deserves to be afraid of going to school.
The good news: there are steps you can take to equip your children with the tools they need to identify and shut down bullying before it begins.
1. Wear Your Confidence
Just like you have to choose each morning whether you’ll put on a pair of heels or try to make Casual Tuesday a thing, confidence is something you decide to don. And just like wearing heels for 10 hours, it’s hard work.
In our kids martial arts classes, we teach that the first step is exuding positive body language. We constantly sent signals out to the world that clue people into who we are. And things like proper posture, body-control, not folding your arms in front of your chest, looking straight ahead–these signal that you’re someone with self-confidence. We know that a lot of bullies are looking for an easy target, so don’t even give them the chance. Teach your child how crucial it is to carry her head high, showing the world that she’s too strong for any bully.
2. Rely on Muscle Memory
Unfortunately, the truth is that we’re all susceptible to bullying. So if your child ever finds herself confronted by a bully, you don’t want her to forget everything she’s been taught.
In martial arts class, you’ll hear us talk often about muscle memory, which is when you’ve repeated a task so many times that your brain has it programmed to complete on autopilot. It’s as though your muscles remember, even when your brain can’t. One of the reasons we practice self-defense repeatedly is so that if your brain is ever flooded with adrenaline, you’re not lost trying to remember what to do. You’ve trained for this! Your body has the muscle memory to remember what to do even if your brain freezes.
Practicing how you react to a bully is no different. You want to have role-played the scenario so many times, your body is able to take the next step for you.
3. Live By the Principles of a Black Belt
“I will live by the principles of a black belt: modesty, courtesy, integrity, self-control, courage, perseverance, and indomitable spirit.”
It doesn’t say a lot about your character to do the right thing when the right thing is the easy choice. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not character-defining. We teach the 7 principles of a black belt because they’re the ones that count in the face of a difficult choice.
Each of the above values has an entire month dedicated to it at our martial arts school, in which we spent several minutes in every class discussing what these values mean. We hope that they’ll serve as a compass for your child in all of their decisions.
When faced with a bully, the easy choice might be to out-bully him or her. We know now that a lot of bullying stems from a lack of self-confidence, trouble at home, and a lack of self-discipline. Preying on that by putting a bully down may seem like the best way out, but it doesn’t fix anything. It just saves the problem for another day.
To choose to be above the bullying is to utilize all 7 principles: modesty, courtesy, integrity, self-control, courage, perseverance, and indomitable spirit. And that’s the kind of person we’re helping your child become.
4. Common-Sense Before Self-Defense
When you hear martial arts do you think of ninjas kicking and punching? Or the Mr. Miyagi wax on, wax off? The truth is, martial arts has little to do with breaking boards.
One of the first things kids learn in our program is Common-Sense Before Self-Defense. After so many classes practicing, our students are prepared in high-stress situations and able to keep their breathing steady and their bodies under control. They can assess the situation in front of them: is this something they can just walk away from, or do they need help? Stooping to the bully’s level isn’t an option.
If they can walk away, they do. If they need help, their first weapon is their voice. Yelling, “Stop!” “Leave me alone!” or “Help!” are all your first line of attack to get the attention of a grownup. If the situation physically escalates, you can’t safely get away, and you’ve already called for help, then and only then do you resort to self-defense.
The most important thing you can do is to talk to your child before a problem arises so they know what tools they have already. It’s never too early to start teaching your child how to protect himself. Through open conversations about ending bullying, we can continue to educate one another and teach our children that with strong character, they can take on anything.