Teaching Children to Defend Themselves


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


Inevitably our children will come in contact with a bully. A bully is someone who believes that their rights supersede the rights of others. Bullies are everywhere. They can be of any age, any sex, any religion, or of any race. The problem is learning how to deal with them.

When you child is small and under your supervision protecting them from the bullies of the world is not to difficult. Your love and your experience in living serve as a foundation to your approach to this problem. You know when to approach the problem of a bully by shielding your child from the bully, reporting the bully to the appropriate authorities, verbalizing with the bully so that the bully recognizes that his or her behavior is inappropriate and must be stopped, and you have learned when it is appropriate to use some type of physical intervention.

But when your child matures to an age when you can no longer be physically present to protect them how do you teach them to handle the bullies they will meet? Making decisions on how to handle bullies is not an easy process. To help your child learn such skills you must first get some ideas clear in your own head. Let’s explore some of these ideas.

1.    The first idea we must recognize and embrace is that all human beings have value. There are no disposable people, even bullies. This idea helps us teach our children that those individuals who are different or who believe that they are right and we are wrong do not fall into the category of “bully.” In a democratic society every individual has the right to believe as he or she chooses.

2.    This does not mean that everyone has to think like everyone else. If I believe that opening a door for a female is showing respect and another person believes that to open a door for a female is disrespectful and labels me a male chauvinist pig that is their right. But, because they choose to believe as such does not make them right.

3.    No individual or group has the right to forcefully impose their ideas on others. I have heard this idea expressed as follows, “Your rights end where my nose begins.”

4.    Bullies loose the right to concern for their person when they move from persuasion to force and harmful behavior. My physical safety and the safety of individuals I am responsible for justifies force. My physical protection supersedes the bully’s right to protection from harm when the bully decides to hurt. Hopefully, there will be assistance available, when protection is necessary, from trained and authorized individuals such as police or other authorities who society has given the right to use necessary force to protect citizens from unprovoked harm.

Where do these ideas lead us when helping our children handle bullies? Here is what you teach your child.

1.    Because a bully is a valuable human being your child should be taught to talk when someone becomes aggressive or threatens harm. The bully has the right to know that you do not like what they are doing and a statement such as, “Stop, I don’t like that,” can be taught to a child so that they know how to tell someone to cease from doing what they are doing.

2.    Reporting bully behavior to the teacher, police, or some other authority is a tricky thing because no child wants to get the label “tattle tale.” But there are times when it is obvious that the child who is being bullied needs to let those responsible for helping the bully know that help is needed. Let your child know that this is a difficult decision and that they need to tell authority figures only if they feel they cannot, on their own, address the problem of the bully or if they feel that they are in real physical danger.

3.    Inform your child that running away from or avoiding a bully may be the best solution available. It may even be the smartest thing to do if the bully has the capacity to cause serious injury and/or if there are no “protectors” available. It is not the “chicken” thing to do. It is the smartest thing to do because it protects both you and the bully from being hurt.

4.    Tell your child that it is usually wiser to give the bully what he or she wants rather than resist. They should use common sense before self defense. It is better to escape a threatening situation and fight the bully later when you have the resources to protect yourself.

5.    If there is no other alternative then your child should be taught that defending themselves is appropriate. Hopefully, they will be taught by you how best to do that. Teach that when you decide to defend yourself that you do not defend yourself in a half-hearted manner.

Those who have dealt with the bullies of the world know that bullies, who think only of themselves, will eventually respond only to force or the threat of force. Given all the criticism of President Bush and the threat of war with Iraq there is one thing all can agree on. If the threat of war did not exist, the inspection team would not even be inside Iraq at this time. Whither we go to war or not is not the issue. The issue is that the bully, who by definition has no concern for others, must know that, even though you are a caring and loving person, you are not a person who will allow yourself to be physically harmed.

If you are patient with your child and stand by their side, rather than fight their battles, when they face bullies, your child will eventually know when to “turn the other cheek” and when to defend themselves.