How to Beat a Bully with Body Language

There is little that is more painful for a parent to watch than their kids being hurt in some way, either physically or emotionally. Knowing that they can’t prevent the ups and downs of life, parents try to give their children the skills to cope with the injustices that are sure to come their way. But when the unfairness is doled out day after day at the hands of a bully, that’s a little harder for everyone to take.

You’ve raised your child to be a compassionate and caring little soul—it doesn’t seem right that perhaps because someone did not pass these values on to their child, other kids should have to suffer. And yet, it goes on—and not just in elementary school, but also in middle school, high school, college, and even in offices around the country!

Thank goodness, recognizing the long-term and potentially disastrous effects that truly mean-spirited teasing and harassment can have, many schools are adapting zero-tolerance policies when it comes to bullying. Of course, once the kids step off the school grounds, all the well-intentioned policies in the world can’t stop a more aggressive child from picking on others.

Teach Them to Walk Tall

So what is a parent to do if his child has been singled out as the target of a bully? First, talk to your child and let him know that no matter what this other child says, it’s okay to be himself. That’s what makes us all different and interesting—we don’t just all look different from one another; we all express ourselves differently and move in unique ways.

The way the bully behaves is, sadly, his way of expressing himself. He might be trying to get attention from other kids or he might come from a family where everyone behaves this way, so he honestly has no idea of what it is to be kind and compassionate. It’s difficult—if not impossible—to feel badly for a kid who is making your child miserable, but sometimes understanding a bully’s motivations can help provide a solution.

So let’s say your child, Billy, is dealing with a bully who gets a real kick out of embarrassing Billy in front of other kids. Billy is smaller than his friends and smarter, too—two things that make him “different” (and very visible) in the bully’s eyes.

Since Billy is smaller, he knows that when he gets pushed down, tripped, or put into a headlock, he can’t physically fight back because he’ll get hurt. His solution has become to either run away or simply take the abuse without saying a word, fearing fighting back could make things even worse. Some kids will cry, of course, even when they try not to, which feeds into the bully’s attention-seeking behavior.

Here’s where a little talk about the animal kingdom can help Billy out. You’ll remember, we talked about posture and how to make yourself look confident and ready to take on the world. Our self-assured posture can be linked to the ways animals present and defend themselves in the wild. A smaller animal being pursued by a larger one will either curl up and try to hide or, when confronted by the beast, try to make itself look as large as possible in the hopes that the predator will look for another animal to pick on.

A person—even a tiny one—can make himself appear larger and therefore pretty darn confident with just a few tweaks to the posture:

  • Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart

  • Keep your spine straight, with your chin level to the ground

  • Clench your jaw—it broadens the base of your skull and looks tougher than your mouth hanging open

  • Your shoulders should be squared forward

  • Your arms should either be at your side or on your hips

Put Billy in front of the mirror and show him how to perfect this stance, all the while keeping eye contact with his pursuer. You might even do a little Internet research about smaller animals fighting larger ones; review the sites before you share them with your child to make sure there isn’t an abundance of gore and that the smaller animal prevails, of course.

Your child might be very reluctant to try even this much, as he naturally doesn’t want to confront someone who has hurt him before and could hurt him again. However, with some practice, your child might become comfortable enough to give it a try one of these days. While this may not deter the bully completely, it shows him that Billy is not an easy, weak target. He is confident and not scared, and the bully might think twice about approaching him—he might be more trouble than he’s worth!

Of course, you should always speak to your child’s teacher about bullying issues at school. If you don’t get a successful resolution at that level, contact the principal and, if need be, the superintendent. All schools should have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying that is ready and able to be enforced.

Middle School and Beyond

Teaching a young kid to stand up for himself is, believe it or not, a simple task compared to dealing with the hell that is the middle school bully. At this age, kids—girls in particular—can be ruthless in their quest to make themselves feel important, and popularity often comes at the expense of others.

Some of this can be dismissed as girls being girls, but some of it goes way over the line, leaving scars that last a lifetime. Just ask any middle-aged woman if she has a memory of being bullied in middle school; most will cringe at the thought.

If you have a middle schooler who is being tormented by a peer, chances are she won’t want you to step in and call the school. Kids this age can be fiercely independent, but even more than that, she’s probably afraid of being called a baby once word hits the street that you tried to help. So again, a good tactic to help this child deal with mean kids is to show her confident body language. Read the previous section for tips on posture, and then add the following to it:

  • Teach your daughter to adapt a blank stare for situations when a bully is nearby. This is an expression with absolutely no emotion to it. Everything is still, including the eyebrows and nostrils (two areas that can subtly betray emotion like fear). Bullies want a reaction from their prey. If your child refuses to respond, she may not be such a good target anymore.

  • Along with that blank stare, however, teach her not to be afraid to make eye contact. Kids who are shuffling between classes and dreading meeting up with a bully understandably tend to look at their shoes while they walk. But this just makes them look scared, which doesn’t camouflage them from the bully at all. Eye contact won’t help her hide, but it will make her look like a self-assured person, which will help her develop a “don’t-mess-with-me” persona.

  • When traveling the halls in school, tell your daughter to be very mindful of the way she walks. Again, confident kids don’t make good targets for mean girls. Her head should be up, shoulders back, and she should have a confident stride. Practice at home. And if she looks doubtful about this, tell her it’s fine to fake confidence—some of us do it all the time, and it works wonders.

The Alpha Dog

There are different kinds of bullies, and your child might be old enough to understand this. There’s what we could call the “alpha bully,” the child who leads the taunts and torment and who would do so with or without a gang of friends backing him up. Then there’s the “follower,” the bully’s friend who has a big mouth when she’s surrounded by pals, but who is suddenly speechless when she’s alone. The follower is actually sometimes a former victim of a bully, and she’s just desperate to fit in at this point.

Bottom line: Alpha bullies are tough to break; followers are just as scared of the alpha as anyone else. In a one-on-one situation (a chance encounter when both are in the bathroom during class), your child should not be afraid to look the follower right in the eye, as if to say, “I know your secret. You’re a fraud.” Chances are the follower won’t say a word—and if she does, your child should simply give the blank stare she’s learned to perfect by now. Not responding to a follower is the ultimate statement of indifference.

Above all, try to teach your kids by example. Project confidence in your own body language, and they’ll have the perfect person to mimic when the need arises.

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