American Taekwondo Association | Martial Arts, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Tae-Kwon-Do
Nine Ways to Combat Bullying - ATA Leadership NOW

ATA Leadership NOW



Because I'm in the Leadership program at my ATA school, my Instructor asked me to think of a way to serve others in my town. I decided to pick up trash at a park near my house so that kids like me would have a clean place to play. My Mom and Dad and even my little brother helped. It was kinda gross, but I had fun. I really like helping people!
– Paxton Thomas, Yellow Belt, 9 years old

Nine Ways to Combat Bullying

How to prevent bullying before it starts, and what to do when it occurs.

By Sarah Asp Olson / Illustrations by Pietari Posti
ATA World | Winter 2010

Bullying happens in nearly every school to kids of all ages. With research from the leading bullying prevention specialists at the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP), ATA has created its own Bullying Prevention Program through which students learn to stand up for themselves, deflect bullying attacks and stop bullying before it starts. Read on for nine (9) tips that kids, parents and teachers can use to combat bullying in school and beyond.

1. Know What Bullying Is

Kids: Bullying happens when a person or a group of people do or say something to intentionally hurt you physically or emotionally. If you are bullied, remember: It's not your fault. You may feel powerless when another child bullies you, but you can prevent bullying if you know what it is. (Start by enrolling in ATA's Bullying Prevention Program at your ATA school.)

Supervising Adults: In order to combat bullying, you need to know what it is–and what it is not. Bullying is not just kids being kids or simple horseplay. Bullying is a persistent, intentional act of aggression from one or more children toward another, often weaker, child. Bullying is peer abuse, and it could happen to your child. In fact, according to OBPP statistics, one out of every three children is bullied, and the results can be devastating. Learn how to recognize the signs of bullying and talk to your child about them.

2. Spot Potential Bullying Before It Happens

Kids: What are some of the bullying hot spots in your school or neighborhood? Often they are areas where there are few adults. Try to avoid these hot spots. If bullying hot spots–like the bus or the playground–are unavoidable, and you feel threatened, seek out the protection of an adult. Even standing near a supervising adult can reduce the chances you'll be bullied. Also, keep your head up and your eyes moving. If you're alert, you'll be more likely to spot a potential bullying situation before it happens.

Supervising Adults: "Playground supervisors should be right in the middle where the kids are playing, not standing by the door," says Senior Master Patti Barnum, an instructor and school owner in Darien and Homewood, Ill., and part of the bullying prevention development team. "Be alert and keep your eyes and ears open, but also watch body language. If you see two kids off isolated, and you see one looking scared and the other standing over him or her domineering, you need to get into that situation as quickly as possible."

3. Be Confident

Kids: In Taekwondo class, you're instructed to stand at attention and project confidence. Take those same skills out of the do-jahng and into the way you walk, stand and present yourself at school and elsewhere. If your body, face and attitude show confidence, you are less likely to be bullied. When your shoulders are back, you look stronger. When your eyes are up, you're less likely to be surprised by an attack.

Parents: Reinforce Taekwondo instruction at home by instilling confidence in your child. When kids are picked out as targets, it is because they are vulnerable in some way and they are not able to defend themselves in those situations. Parents need to reinforce confident behavior by catching their kids when they are showing their strength and leadership skills and praising them. When a child is told she's demonstrating confidence, she'll gain confidence. Even if your child is not feeling confident, let her know that in bullying scenarios, she can act confident to prevent an attack, even if she feels scared inside.

4. Be Calm

Kids: When you're being called a name or pushed around by another kid, your natural reaction is to get upset and use a scared voice. When that happens, the bully has won. Instead, practice taking a deep breath and not showing fear on your face, in your voice or in your body language. The breath will bring oxygen to your brain so you can think. If you stay calm, the situation may not get worse.

Parents: When somebody is harming your child, you naturally want to spring into protection mode. Taking a deep breath before confronting your child's bully, going in to talk to the teacher or meeting with a bullying child's parents allows you that extra second to get calm instead of reacting. "When [parents] get upset, it teaches the child that's the way to respond. It isn't," says Barnum. "The more calm you can be in any situation, the more you can think, and the better plan and strategy you will pull off."

5. Be Friendly

Kids: Even if you feel like you're too shy to stand out in a crowd at school, it is important to have a few friends in school or in ATA. Not only will friendships do wonders for your self-esteem, but having a good group of friends also can help you in bullying situations. Plus, the more friends you have, the less likely you'll be bullied, especially if that bully might have to take on a group of people. The best part about being in ATA? Your Taekwondo friends have your back. But if you're still feeling nervous about making social connections in school, remember that to have friends, you must be a friend first.

6. Be Proactive: Tell

Kids: If you are being bullied or you see bullying in school, you must tell an adult. Knowing the difference between tattling and telling will give you the words and confidence to report bullying behavior. Tattling is when you are telling an adult something just to get attention for yourself, or to get someone else in trouble. Telling is when you are seeking protection for yourself or somebody else. "Often teachers are inundated with kids telling them all kinds of things, and teachers sometimes don't respond because many kids are coming up to them and pestering them," says Master Greg Moody, a member of the ATA bullying prevention team. "The teacher will respond, as long as the kid knows the different between tattling and telling." And if you are not getting the response you want from the teacher you've told, tell another adult and another one, until you feel safe for yourself and others.

7. Be a Protector

Kids: At ATA, you learn the skills necessary to defend against bullying, but not every kid has the confidence you do. If you see another kid getting bullied, it's your responsibility to speak up. If you feel someone may be in physical danger, run and tell an adult immediately. If the bully is just using words, walk up to the kid being bullied, take her by the arm and simply walk away from the situation. Your confidence in a bullying situation may rub off on her and others. "In our Taekwondo class we actually have the kids practice intervening," says Senior Master Barnum. "What we're trying to create are kids who are so confident they realize they have skills other kids don't have, and they can step in if needed."

Parents: You typically won't be around when bullying happens to your child, but if you know the school is understaffed, and you have time, offer to volunteer. "The more adults supervising, the better off the children are," says Barnum. "And you get to know the teacher better, so if you do have a complaint, teachers will be more apt to listen to you because they know you're not just a complainer, you're a helper."

8. Change the Culture

Teachers: Preventing bullying takes more than a single school-wide assembly. It takes a consistent and continuous message in the classroom, in the halls and out on the playground. Rally for an Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in your school to get started.

Parents: You might feel like the only person who has a child being bullied, until you talk to other parents. Often you find out many kids in the same classroom are being bullied by the same person. Talk to other parents about it. Also, gather concerned parents and–with the support of the PTA –rally for an Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in your school. Since funding and staffing a program is often an issue, encourage teachers and the administration to get on board by offering to raise funds for OBPP materials. "A great number of programs that have been instituted in the schools are there because parents have gone to their school administration and said, ÔThis is a problem, and we need to address it,'" notes Dr. Marlene Snyder, director of development and program director for Olweus. "Schools cannot afford to leave bullying unaddressed," she notes, because it can adversely impact not only academic achievement but also student health. Eliminate bullying, and you create what Snyder calls a "safe school climate" for all.

9. Be Prepared to Defend Yourself

Kids: When bullying crosses the line into violence, and you are afraid you may be injured, it is important to know how to defend yourself. "A rule in any defense situation is just do enough, run and report," says Master Moody. "If doing enough is to run away, that's fine. If the kid is attacking more aggressively and you need to strike the kid, do that and then run and report."

Also attend ATA's seminar "Kids'n Power: When Bullying Turns Violent." It teaches you how to react when bullying goes beyond words and shoving and becomes a dangerous act of violence against you or another kid. Then, practice your self-defense moves and learn when and how to properly implement them. ATA