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One Way to Stop Bullying

“I’m Not the Only One” Part 2

(Continued from January 4)

As it turned out, I did not have to wait long for an opportunity to address the bullying issue. Later that week Davion did come to my office to complain about Jeremy, telling me about his intimidating behavior and threatening language, emphasizing, “It’s not just me. He’s does it to everybody.”

He talked for a while, and I listened intently. When he was finished, I said slowly and thoughtfully, pondering the situation, “I think I understand. Tell me about the last time it happened.”

“It just happened today,” he said, as if he were still trying to convince me that there was a problem.

“What happened? Give me the blow-by-blow so I can see it like a movie in my head.”

“Well, we were playing soccer on the playground, see, and the ball went out, and we both chased it, but I got there first and picked it up, but he tried to take it out of my hands and when I wouldn’t let go and twisted away, he pushed me and said, ‘gimme the ball and came at me like he was going to hit me.”

I nodded knowingly. (Don’t we all know this situation?)

“So what did you do?” I asked.

“So I gave him the ball.”

“Hmmmm.” I said nodding thoughtfully. There was silence for a while.

“What would happen,” I asked, “if you had faced him, holding the ball like this,” and I pretended to hold the ball with both arms across my chest, “looked him straight in the eye and said: ‘stop that’?”

“He would hit me.”

“Really? Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Then what would happen if you hit him back?”

“I’d get kicked out.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Well, I would get in trouble.”

“Well, maybe. But you would both get in trouble, right?”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“You might both be sent to my office, right?”

“Yes, I guess so.”

We looked into each other’s eyes for a few seconds. I felt a click of understanding. He left the office.

Neither Jeremy nor Davion ever got into trouble, again. As far as I know there were no more incidents the teachers couldn’t handle. I talked to the homeroom teacher to inquire a week or so later, and she confirmed that Jeremy was no longer bothering Davion. The epidemic of intimidation stopped. Four years later, they both graduated from eighth grade in good standing. I never had to speak to Jeremy the perpetrator, again, either.

It sounds like I had a magic wand, and indeed it felt like I had actually waved one. But what did I do right? That question rattled around my brain for some time. Did I make a mistake?

One thing I did learn is to pay attention when someone says: “It’s not just me….” For the first few years I just noted it. Then, I began to respond to it with something like: “It doesn’t matter to me whether or not there are other people. You are upset. Let’s deal with that.” For the last ten years I would often find myself saying: “Let’s make it just you. Right now, to me, you are what matters.”

What do you think I did right, or did I just get lucky? What do you think? What would you have done?

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6 Responses to “One Way to Stop Bullying”

  1. Susan Raisch January 11, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    Brilliant! First of all, you were patient enough to let Davion come to you and you saw him as a person and gave him the respect of spending time and really listening. (I wonder why it took him so long or why he was so frightened to talk to you at first. This is such a common thing and I think we have to really think about that for kids and somehow change their attitude about talking to adults about this problem. I think, as adults, we have to gain their trust more.)

    Secondly, you proved that you understood when you physically showed him what it would take to stop Jeremy…and he didn’t expect that. The fact that you gave him permission to take power back…and you’re the main “power” guy in the school…is a lesson he’s probably benefitting from still today.

    Bravo, Rick. Fantastic story and something to really think about.

  2. Corey January 11, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    Well done. Yes- what Susan said. You made him aware of his own power. Sometimes it does come down to that, and the current thing is to pretend that it doesn’t or would never need to. Standing up to the bully is what the kid needs more than he needs physical protection from that bully (except in extreme cases where things being life-threatening are possible- hat crimes and similar). That bully probably needed someone to stand up to him just as much as the first boy needed to stand up. And it wouldn’t happen because a teacher “made it better” onsite- it had to be just between them.

  3. Claire January 12, 2012 at 9:39 am #

    Hi Rick: Your example reminds me of my kids’ preschool, which strives to teach the children to be effective communicators. The teachers teach children to make their emotions known and help them resolve conflicts. They help them learn vocabulary and phrases; the children learn to say to each other “I’m not done with that yet” or “Stop that” or “I don’t like that” from age 2.

    The children are also taught to seek out the teacher when they cannot resolve conflict on their own. This is so very valuable.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. Rick Armstrong January 12, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    You did “get lucky” in the same way that a .333 hitter gets ‘lucky’ every time he gets a hit (since he fails 2 of every 3 times). Like a hitter, you ‘knew the game’, you had ‘studied the pitcher’, you ‘read the pitch’, and this time ‘hit a homer’.

    In teaching, our keys are to be well prepared, to be willing to step to the plate, and swing the bat. There will be a mix of hits and misses. But we keep learning and keep trying new tactics. (I do miss that part of it.)

    Baseball analogies are very popular this year in St. Louis!

  5. Nina September 23, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    Perhaps I missed it but I dont see that you EVER met with Jeremy. Frankly, as a parent I would see this as non-responsive. Rather than dealing with the issue and talking to the perpetrator and having him experience consequences you told the non-violent kid to become violent and then, at least, you would both be back in the office together. My son has been bullies, he tells me, the teachers address it then but EACH time whine 1. Why didnt you tell us? My response is “why should he” why isnt it being seen and handled by the caregivers? The few times my son said anything he was told to stop complaining and go back and play and that he was a liar and that we dont tell tales about each other. So now he tells me. And I am starting to tell him to strike back. If caregivers are not going to protect my son and I am not there, I will have him stand up for himself. I am over relying on a bunch of lazy caregivers that dont see abuse. I wonder if Jeremy really stopped or if kids saw you did nothing so nothing was going to change unless they took care of it themselves. Frankly, if my son told me he went to the principal and was told to get into it with Jeremy because you would do nothing, i would have gone to his parents, the police, the school board and the board of education myself. And cps, who I have had to call when the school told my son he was a liar telling me about about being molested by another kid, and then a few days later realized that kid was molesting a number of kids but no one else had said anything yet…so my son was the liar! My son is four and im doing all I can to make it so I dont have to send him to school because of the poor response and protection hes already experienced. Your story just reinforces that for me.

  6. Rick September 24, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Nina, I certainly sympathize with your situation and can see how in your situation the key move would be for the principal to keep the kids safe. It is indeed the number one job of the principal to make sure that everyone knows the school is a safe place and to enforce rules, even to the point of kicking kids out who cannot actively participate in keeping other kids safe.
    This is a story about a subtle difference in which the key variable was Davion’s vulnerability. I actually didn’t tell him to get violent, I asked him to thing it through as a way of getting him to see that he could stand up for himself. It turns out that my instincts were right. that was all that was necessary. He never even had a confrontation with Jeremy, let alone “get into it” with him. (I would most certainly have heard about it, and indeed I checked with the teachers, one of whom said, “what in the world did you do.”
    It upsets me to hear about schools where it is not safe.
    You might like to read my “story of the three little girls” on this website. Another story about bullying.
    A theme running through all these stories is that the number one responsibility of a principal is to educate, which includes punishing bad behavior–but it is but no means limited to that. And even perpetrators are my responsibility. –until they no longer are, because I can’t take responsibility for them and they have to go somewhere else.

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