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Kids are mean. Adults can be meaner. We all probably had to deal with bullies while growing up. I did. My bullies wore faces of silent exclusion and judgment on the school playground, in the gym during PE, and in math class when I raised my hand to answer most of the questions. My bullies were family members. They were girls I thought were my friends in elementary and high school. Boys who called me “freak” when lined up for a fire drill on the soccer field.
Ignoring bullies carries a high price, especially among the younger demographic. When I was much younger my parents enrolled my sister and me in karate, but neither of us stayed with it for long.
I wish I had. I wish my parents had put us through jiu-jitsu and encouraged us to keep with it regardless of the rollercoaster of emotion that accompanies childhood.
But martial arts, regardless of how cool they are, are not the only way to protect yourself against bullies.
A lot of it comes down to emotional protection, boundaries, knowing when to walk away, and knowing when to get help.
Nip it In the Bud
If you have children and you think they’re being bullied at school, take measures to get involved. A lot of time kids won’t talk about it because they’re embarrassed and think they need to just toughen up and handle it – this is how kids end up contemplating suicide as a result of bullying.
Encourage open and non-judgmental communication with your children.
But what if you are the kid being bullied? Or you know of that one bully at school who hasn’t set her sights on you… yet.
As Alastor Moody always said, “Constant vigilance!”
It’s important – both for adults and children – to develop and cultivate situational awareness and remain vigilant. I maintain a healthy measure of paranoia at all times because when your attention wavers or complacency builds, you’ve made yourself vulnerable.
Bullies are Opportunistic.
They pick on the weak, the weird, and the “different” probably because they are dealing with insecurity and low self-esteem themselves. So they take it out on others.
You know who bullies don’t pick on?
Those who fight back.
“Zero-tolerance” policies nowadays protect the bullies more than the victims since it punishes fighting back.
This is where parental support comes in.
Strong relationships between parent and child will empower those who are bullied to stand up for themselves and not fear the “zero-tolerance” nonsense that might land them in trouble.
Regardless of the relationship between victim and parent, however, if you’re being bullied you should never fear standing up for yourself.
“Courage doesn’t mean we are never afraid, courage is simply daring to take action, despite our fear.” —Ruth Soukup
Jocko Willink advocates for kids to begin jiu-jitsu at a young age. Jiu-jitsu takes the longest to learn but also develops the most discipline and mental respect out of any other martial art. It’s about knowing how to fight when you need to – not about going into street fights to show off.
I want to get into this martial art even now, as an adult.
For children, though, wouldn’t you want to know that your kid has A) the skill to fight back without hurting herself and B) the mental discipline to know when to walk away?
Jiu-jitsu is what happens when the bully (or assaulter) places their hands on you.
I honestly wish I knew more about this martial art, but since I don’t, here’s Jocko Willink talking about it:
It’s easy to get upset about bullies and bullying. Developing mental armor and emotional protection takes practice and conscious effort.
It’s also easy to bottle things up – which really just makes things worse in the long run.
How many times have you heard about boundaries by now? Have you at all?
Boundaries govern YOUR reaction to things. They do not place rules upon the offender. This is a common misconception.
Strong boundaries for children are especially important. It gives them clear rules about what is or isn’t okay and how to react to them.
Don’t be Marty McFly. Don’t get your knickers in a twist if someone calls you “chicken” or insults your pride.
Bullies want that reaction. They want you to get upset, to get riled up, and to make rash decisions.
Your first attempt should always be to walk away in the face of bullies. Only when you’re physically threatened should you consider physically fighting back.
Talk About It
It’s difficult to face bullies on your own, which is why I advocate for parents to develop strong, trusting relationships with their children so that they feel comfortable approaching their parents with problems – especially bullying problems.
But sometimes talking to the parents isn’t enough. Some parents have no idea how to handle direct emotional trauma from bullying. Therapy is a great option.
In fact, animal therapy is a thing. Children are much more comfortable talking things out with a dog, who can’t talk back – but can offer licks and head nudges. Petting animals (real, live animals) has been proven to reduce stress.
I know from experience that I always feel better after spending a little quality time petting the cat, and I often would pet the family dogs to calm down while growing up.
Call to Action
If you’re dealing with a bully right now, set some boundaries. Sign up for a jiu-jitsu class. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. It’s important to protect yourself against bullies, whether as a child or an adult. Do you practice a martial art? Has it helped you in stressful situations like bullying? Join the discussion below!