It’s bully awareness week.
So I thought I would share with you a story, a true story, of how I beat the bullies.
Firstly who am I.
I'm Paul Truman the Chief Instructor of Peak Performance Martial arts and fitness. Ive been training in Martial arts for 15 years. So looking at me now I wouldn't let a bully near me.
But when I was a kid it was hard. I let them in and it hurt.
It wasn’t quick to get over it, it took time. The main reason it took so long was because it wasn’t dealt with at the time. So I’m hoping my story will help you take action early on.
So in the dim and distant past I was a child.
At some point I was happy and confident.
I have an older brother. We didn’t get on so well. Regular fights at home, and I mean proper fights. Beating each other senseless, throwing stuff at each other, seriously trying to hurt each other.
I remember one incident where my brother threw a golf ball at me so hard it went through a door!
So I’m not messing about, we hurt each other. (Its all happy now by the way!).
The main reason I’m introducing my brother to this story is because he is pivotal to how I was treated. We went to the same school you see, my brother was a brawler, always in trouble with teachers, getting into fights with other kids and getting expelled.
Me on the other hand, I used my gob. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog that I’m a little bit autistic. So quite often I can sound very pedantic. I’m not doing it on purpose, I just have to make it make sense in my head. Back then I didn’t know it was a symptom of an undiagnosed problem.
Kids would say stuff that didn’t make sense to me, so I would “correct” them. Not on purpose, just to get it right in my own head. Of course, this doesn’t go down very well.
This was fine with my peers, but less so with the older kids. But this was ok, I had an older brother at the same school who was, lets face it a bit of a thug and had a big reputation.
So I was wandering around in my own pedantic world thinking everything was fine.
As an older sibling, he then left the school and I still had two years to go. This, along with being allowed to join clubs under my own steam (Scouts) was the start of my downfall.
As I continued on my own way doing what I had always done, the other kids didn’t like it so much. But now they didn’t need to worry about the repercussions of giving me a good beating. So they did.
On a regular basis.
Because I was a confident kid (at first) teachers didn’t believe me.
Because I was the brother of a naughty child, teachers who didn’t know me, assumed I was the same as soon as they heard my surname. “Oh right, off to the head with you, you’re just like your brother”.
I was taught not to “tell tales”. So I didn’t tell on the older kids. I didn’t tell on my peers and even when I did I wasn’t believed.
I didn’t tell my parents, you’re not allowed to tell tales.
I even had kids from younger years giving it a go now. I of course defended myself. But because I was the bigger kid I was the one in trouble.
Before you knew it I was scared to go to school. In a fight almost everyday. Specific kids found where I was and “played football” just so that they could get into an altercation with me.
My attendance went from nearly perfect to nearly 50%, in some classes less than 25%. I was always off to see the dentist (which was miles away so took all day and a train journey.) I learned how to forge my parents signature. Tracing paper and making holes in the paper meant it was near perfect.
And also meant they never chased my parents for my poor attendance.
Bonus, I was a clever kid. The class I had the worst attendance in, Science, was also my favourite subject. So I could get top marks in tests without actually going to a class.
By the time I returned in the GCSE year I was a virtual recluse. I remember many a lunch break finding a quiet place in the playground where nobody was and just sitting by myself. Sitting in my own little world. Don’t remember what I did, just remember avoiding anyone and everyone.
Some of the nicer kids in school, you would probably have called them the dweebs, or nerds nowadays, found me and befriended me. So at least I had someone to talk to.
But of course, they were the nerdy bunch so they got picked on as well.
Eventually school was over and I went off to college. Finally a reprieve.
School can be tough. School can be really tough. On more than one occasion it nearly broke me. If social media were a thing back then, I would have been self harming or worse that’s for sure.
But fortunately I was resilient enough to get through it.
Doesn’t mean I’m whole even now. I sill have mental scars from those days. I still have hang ups. I still have quirks, I still lack confidence under certain circumstances.
I’m petrified of large groups of people I don’t know. I hate going up in front of people (I know I do it every day, I’m not saying it makes sense!).
I push myself outside my comfort zone on a daily basis.
Of course I’m still slightly autistic. And since Sarah has worked this out, it makes her understand me better and means my pedantic-ness is more forgivable. I know it makes her laugh when she’s sees me holding it in when people say things that she knows will make me twitch.
I’m walking away correcting them in my head!
Anyway, that’s why I was bullied.
So how do you overcome all of this?
The most important thing you can do with your child is to make it clear you will listen to them. You will listen and act accordingly.
I’ve attached our five step plan. Which I will go into in more detail.
But first, know this.
Listen to your child. I mean really listen to them.
Do some research on your kids and what things they say and what they “might” mean.
What does saying I’m bored mean.
What does saying my tummy feels “funny” mean.
What does “I don’t like that person” mean.
Find out and explore it with them.
Sometimes, they may have a funny tummy. Sometimes they mean Butterflies, which means nervous. Why are they nervous? Make sure they’re confident to tell you. Make sure they can trust you to listen and find out.
Make sure they’re telling the truth. Kids tell lies, fact! They are pushing the boundaries and learning. So do lots of fact checking to make sure they’re telling you the truth and if they are, give them 100% of your support and help.
“I’m bored” can often mean they don’t understand something. Or they’re just trying to avoid something.
“I don’t like that person”, why? What has that person done?
Listen listen listen.
Now coming onto what the kids can do.
1 - Firstly I always encourage kids to AVOID the problem in the first place. Now this should not be to the extent that I describe above. They shouldn’t become a virtual recluse and hide away. Just if they see someone coming along a corridor at school or in the playground, that they know is a bully, can they avoid them.
Can they go in a different direction? Can they go and speak to a teacher about that they had for lunch?
This links into my advice on self defence. Trust your gut and if something doesn’t feel right, avoid it. Go in a different direction. But I totally understand that in school, especially infants or primary, the situation may be unavoidable.
2 – Say NO. Now I’m leaning towards believing that all people are nice at heart here. I choose to believe that the bully in infants school doesn’t know what they’re doing. So you need to make it clear. What they are saying or doing is not nice, hurtful, physically or mentally and you should tell them.
It might be that nobody has told them to stop before. So they think that calling you names is acceptable. Because their friends think it’s funny, they think its ok to make fun of you or your friends.
So make it very clear there and then that you don’t like it and its not acceptable.
In my opinion anything after this is now bullying. Up to this point, it could easily be argued it was just a bit of fun or a mis understanding.
You must tell them that it is not acceptable first.
They may wish to tell a teacher at this time or encourage your child to tell you. Just so you know its happened. Not to do anything about it necessarily. As it’s a great confidence builder if they can deal with something like this themselves and trust that you will listen and react accordingly.
3 – The bully doesn’t stop. Notice I’m now referring to them as a bully. As I said, up until they’ve been told of the issues, it’s just a bit of unwanted fun. Especially for infant school kids who wont know any better. The older they get, the more likely it is they know what they’re doing.
Now you must encourage them to escalate. It must be brought to a teachers attention. It must be brought to your attention. If for what ever reason they don’t feel comfortable telling you, make sure they have an adult they do feel comfortable telling. A Nan, an uncle or aunt, but make sure they’ve got someone they can confide in.
This person must give them support. But they are also responsible for some fact checking. What exactly was said, what did you say/do before hand. Are there any witnesses, did you say do anything. I know this sounds like you don’t believe them, but it's very important that you don’t go off to the school demanding to see the head, or the parents of the other child only to find it was a playground incident over a ball or even instigated by your child.
So get as many facts as possible. Hold in your own emotions. It's likely you will be angry.
How dare anyone be mean to your child!
Get as many facts as possible. Call the teacher and ask if they’re aware of the situation and find out what the teacher has to say. If the teacher isn’t aware, get a meeting called with the other parents. (or let the teacher call the other parents and come back to you). If its secondary school, keep in mind that they have cameras in most places so will be able to verify everything that is being claimed.
You don’t want to have a go at the teacher to only find it was your little one to blame!
Hopefully once teacher has spoken to both kids, cleared the air, that might be the end of it.
All schools have bulling policies.
4 – escalate. You’ve spoken to teacher, but it's still going on. Now you escalate and make sure the head is involved. Find out exactly what the school bully prevention policy is. You can probably do this earlier or even online.
Get an appointment with the head and start quoting their policy at them.
Get results. We are still sticking to facts, you must be giving your child as much support as possible. Make sure they know it's not their fault, whatever it is and you are there for them.
Make sure they are recording every incident. Speak to them about this diary on a daily basis. Speak to the school immediately any incidents occur.
Keep calm and keep the end goal a nice happy confident child in mind.
5 – Still no solution. Going to the head is not the end of it. Ofsted can be called directly by you. If its physical or even in come circumstances, cyber, or significant mental you can actually call the Police. This must be a last resort.
But if your child is talking about suicide, or self harming. Or being beaten up, or harassed on social media, as an adult these actions are against the law.
Beating a child is not ok. It isn’t bullying, its abuse. The Police have powers to arrest. If the school hasn’t stopped it, they may have bigger issues. So getting the police in to deal with one child may send a big message to all the kids.
They are unlikely to prosecute the child, but it will certainly give them a shock they won’t forget.
I got Sarah to proof this before hitting print. As a teacher of 15 years’ experience she assures me the above wouldn’t happen. Schools have better policies now. As long as the child talk to you or the teachers it would get fixed. So I’m pointing it out here. Make sure you have the relationship with your child that means they know they will be listened to.
Finally, get them into clubs that will help build their confidence. Martial arts and self-defence is one of the best activities for this.
Our classes get them to work towards small goals, whether it's learning a technique or a pattern , they work towards gradings to earn rewards. We reward the kids with Star of the class, so in between gradings they get small rewards if they’ve done well.
Plus we have our champions for life program which teaches them awesome life skills, including self-esteem.
There are many clubs out there like ours, so find something that suits your child and they can excel at and enjoy with a passion.