Sticks and stones…

Really enjoyed this NYT article on how to “bullyproof” your child.  Maybe, more “bully resistant.”  Especially since my 8-year old daughter could so benefit from the advice in here.  Honestly going to try role-playing this with her:

Searching for answers, I came upon the work of Izzy Kalman, a school psychologist, educator and author of “Bullies to Buddies: How to Turn Your Enemies Into Friends.” His concept of the golden rule is to treat the person insulting you as a friend rather than an enemy, and not to get defensive or upset.

Following his online advice, I told my daughter: “If they say they don’t want to play with you, say very politely, ‘It’s a free country. It’s O.K. if you don’t want to play with me.’ Then find something else to do.”…

Mr. Kalman’s strategy differs from the approach favored by many schools in several ways: It avoids labeling a child as a bully (it’s an insult, like “wimp” or “loser”), but also advocates going to adults for advice or help with role playing. His method encourages kids to solve problems on their own rather than asking an adult to put pressure on the school to take the side of the upset child over the one identified as the “bully.” He also teaches children how to handle threats and situations where they are made to feel unsafe.

Of course, if a child is physically attacked, he deems that a crime and endorses calling for adult intervention.

“The message given today is that although sticks and stones can break my bones, words can kill me, but that is counterproductive,” Mr. Kalman said. If someone is committing a crime against you, go to the authorities. “But not because they’re insulting you or don’t want to sit with you at lunch.”

Don’t Punish Kids for Saying Negative Words

Mr. Kalman explained that when we punish kids for using certain words, it teaches them that words are very harmful. And when an adult punishes a child for saying something hurtful, it magnifies hostilities and takes the solution for fixing the issue out of the child’s hands.

Here’s the part I love and will so try to implement.  Not because my daughter is bullied, but because she so easily allows others to provoke her:

Instead of having adults act like law enforcement officers against bullying, Mr. Kalman advises teaching children the following four facts:

1) The real reason they are being picked on is that they get upset when they are picked on.

2) They have been making themselves upset.

3) Fighting back and acting defensive fuels the bullying.

4) By not getting upset, the child wins, and gets the bullies to stop. [emphasis mine]

“The way to reduce bullying is to not punish kids for exercising their freedom of speech,” Mr. Kalman said. Teaching children that everyone is allowed to speak freely removes much of the power of the bullying and enables children to be their own advocates.

I definitely find this interesting in how it speaks to larger issues about whether we are actively harming our kids by trying to over-protect them.  It’s not simple:

The popular model of encouraging parents and educators to report and punish bullying often escalates to more aggression, according to Susan Kavich, a principal at Three Rivers School in Channahon, Ill., who uses Dr. Kalman’s methods.

Dr. Doris M. Greenberg, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician in Savannah, Ga., said “Of all the approaches to the problem of bullying, Izzy Kalman’s approach stands out.”

But many anti-bullying experts think Mr. Kalman’s scripts oversimplify things and call on a child who is likely to be upset to show outsize maturity and restraint.

Anyway, I think really reinforcing the lesson of “sticks and stones…” has some really value in that, ultimately, the person that controls whether you get upset, is you.  A good lesson for kids and adults.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

8 Responses to Sticks and stones…

  1. Nicole K. says:

    Yep, I have dealt with more than my share of people saying mean and extremely hurtful things to me that range from telling me that I am a disgusting pervert, deserve to burn in hell, and I could go on. I think that coming to the realization that when people say things like that to me they are actually saying more about themselves than they are saying anything about me.

    I still would prefer not to have people say things like that to me, but reframing it in that way has helped me to not get upset or feel bad about myself just because there are people in the world who don’t like me and don’t have a problem letting me know that. Fact is that I don’t really like people like them either, so their opinions aren’t of any importance to me.

  2. Nicole K. says:

    And I am curious what are the requirements to become an “anti-bullying expert”?

    Having an opinion and being willing to forcefully advocate for it seems to be the only actual expertise I’ve seen many of these “experts” possess. Most psychologists and similar people with actual training aren’t the people advocating for overprotecting kids and constant adult supervision and intervention into every slight that a kid experiences.

    Doing that flies in the face of everything I learned in CBT and life experience too. Having mom or a teacher handle a kid picking on me would 99.9% of the time have made things much worse for me when I was growing up. That’s the last thing I wanted to happen because all the other kids would see that as weak would avoid the kids who did that. The only time I would have involved an adult as a kid was if someone hit me or stole from me. That happened exactly twice that I can remember.

  3. Jim Danielson says:

    “1) The real reason they are being picked on is that they get upset when they are picked on.”

    In my experience, not so much.

    • Nicole K. says:

      I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I did my share of picking on kids while I was in prep school, and we were absolutely most interested in getting a reaction from those people. That’s 100% why we did it. The underlying motivation behind intentionally pushing someone’s buttons is because you want them to react in some way because it either entertains you or makes you feel a sense of superiority. Why else would you do it? The satisfaction from doing that comes from the knowledge that you are getting under a person’s skin.

      • Jim Danielson says:

        I can only tell you my experience, in which I did not react for two years of harassment. Finally when one of the group got in my face when he was alone (which I had been waiting for) I did react, insulting his clothes, his hat, his smell and the way his mother dressed him until he took a swing. I put him in a choke hold, held him until he complained that he couldn’t breath. I told him if he can talk he can breathe, but the next time he bothered me I was going to choke him until he got brain damage and had to spend the rest of his life drooling onto a hospital bed.

        They stopped harassing me.

        It all started when, on my first day at a new school in PE we played basketball. I took the ball from a kid, passed it and our team won. After the game I was told by another guy on my team that I was probably going to pay for showing up the other player.
        I can’t tell you what their motivations are, I couldn’t read minds then and I can’t read minds now. I doubt they could have told you what their motivations were.

        Asking “what else could it be” is a logical fallacy, the argument from ignorance. Just because I don’t know and you can’t imagine something else doesn’t mean your assertion is correct.

        Once I was attacked because the guys friend said I was throwing fire crackers at them the night before. It wasn’t me but they didn’t seem to be open to rational discourse. I was attacked then when I put the guy down it resulted in a two hour car chase and numerous encounters and threats for a close to a year when at the end of summer we wound up in the same school.

        I didn’t feel the least bit guilty that I sent one of the other kids to the hospital. I sometimes wonder if he was ever able to father children.

        People rarely fit into nice neat little check boxes of motivations, sometimes they are just angry and want to take it out on someone. Or are frustrated. Or insecure or a combination of those and/or other reasons.

  4. Nicole K. says:

    Ok, wasn’t trying to upset anyone. In my experience people pick on other people because it either makes them feel superior or they find it entertaining to watch people react. I’ve seen it from both sides. And “not reacting” to someone picking on you isn’t what is being suggested. It’s almost impossible to do that because your body language will give away how you really feel.

    What they are suggesting are ways to react that don’t give the desired reaction. If you honestly don’t allow yourself to get upset and don’t send out the signals that indicate you are, the people harassing you don’t get what they were looking for which is you showing that what they said or did bothered you.

    I’ve been a new kid in a new school in many different environments, and I remember experiencing situations similar to what you described. And even though I started out having people do things that were most absolutely hazing or bullying, within a short period of time (perhaps a month or two) I ended up friends with most of those kids. And it didn’t require putting anyone in the hospital. It required accepting that I was a new kid in a new place and I had to earn respect to find a place in the social hierarchy. And the way I did that was to show them they weren’t making me upset, usually by making jokes and not making a big deal about having to put up with a lot of crap while they were figuring me out. I saw it as a test that I needed to pass, and it happened in every single new school I was in from about the 7th grade until I started college (I went to 7 different schools during that time).

    • Jim Danielson says:

      I’m not upset. I’m relaying what happened over 40 years ago. I don’t know why you think I’m upset.

      When you are surround by guys who are pushing you around and you are trying to protect yourself it’s difficult to make jokes. Also, I try to have a better class of friends, not people who are known bullies who enjoy assaulting kids. I’m glad it worked for you but life isn’t always so cut and dried, peoples motivations are not all the same.

      As for not having to put someone in the hospital, well good for you. Perhaps if you are assaulted by three people in a parking lot you can tell them jokes and make them your friend. Me, I’ll defend myself and try not to wind up in the hospital or dead.

      FYI, it also said “Of course, if a child is physically attacked, he deems that a crime and endorses calling for adult intervention.”

  5. Nicole K. says:

    I realize that. I assumed we were talking about school bullying and not assault in an alley.

    I was a guy getting pushed around, sometimes tackled and what we called “speed humped” (with clothes on. it was a dominance thing guys on the football team at my prep school would do). I saw what happened when people got upset when stuff like that happened, so I decided to roll with it and not be intimidated. I got tricked into applying Icy Hot someplace it really should never be used. People would say really mean things too. That’s the stuff I think about when I think about typical bullying or hazing type behaviors.

    I was also hiding the fact that I was transgender too during this period of my life, so I think I just got used to pretending to be someone else, and that really actually made fitting in when I was in junior high and high school a lot easier.

    And sorry, I have been dealing with a message board with my job that contains a ton of people who feel like saying things they don’t agree with is hostile and mean-spirited, so I’m used to apologizing for expressing my opinions in that context.

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