Therapy in L.A.


  article of the month
September 2004
"Defeating Bullies Without Getting Into Trouble"
By Dorothea McArthur, Ph.D.

This is a story for parents to give to middle-school children who are having trouble with bullies.

"Hey you, what do you think you are doing...????"
Todd kept running as fast as he could.
The policeman caught up with him and grabbed him by the shoulder so that he had to stop. Todd was panting and so was the policeman.
"Why are you running away from middle school?"
"I have just been suspended. If my parents find out, I am going to get beat up by my dad. I can't go home. I'm running away. Let me go..... I can't go to school today. They won't let me be there......and please don't arrest me....I'm too young to go to jail. I didn't do nothing wrong."
"Hey, slow down there. Let's talk. I bet we can figure out what to do with this situation so you don't get hurt anymore. Come on, slow down."
Todd began to sob.
The policeman put his arm around Todd's shoulder and said very quietly, "Want to tell me why you got suspended?"
"A boy tripped me in PE. So....I slugged him. . I got suspended; he didn't. I'm new at the school. He's been there a long time. They don't like new kids..... they bully me every day. I haven't had a chance to make any friends yet. I never have friends, my family is always moving."
"Let's walk back this way. We'll go to the police station. While we are walking I can tell you some of the ways I used to cope with bullies when I was a kid."
"Sure, man, go ahead but I'll bet no one bullied you, You are a policeman." "Oh yes, they did bully me and I wasn't a policeman then."
"There's nothing I can do."
"Did you know that a bully is someone who feels bad about himself?"
"Nah, they are the tough guys."
"Nooooo..... they are pretending to be tough guys. Underneath, they are having a bad day."
"Gee, really?"
"Yeah, try it and you will see. Ask them, as they show the first sign of bugging you, "Are you having a bad day? Want to talk about it?" Sometimes they will. In any case, the question usually stops them in their tracks at least long enough for you to slip away. They just can't believe that you've asked it."
Todd stopped crying and was listening with attention. "Would my Dad be having a bad day when he hits me?"
"Good thinking...... It is always a bad day for a parent when a kid gets kicked out of school."
The policeman had shortened his gait so that it matched that of the boy. They were walking in rhythm together drawing strength from each other. The policeman continued., "Want to know something else you can do?"
"There is something else?!"
'Yup, you can carry something small and good to eat in your pocket. Start eating it yourself and just silently hand them a piece."
"Cool...Anything else."
If they turn down these two invitations, then you have no choice but to get physical. You can trip a bully with your foot carefully and then sit on top of him and pin him by holding him down by the wrists. They can't hurt you and you can't hurt them. He can't kick you and you can't hit him because your hands are occupied. You are safe. See....If you don't hurt him, you can't be suspended. Besides, you earn respect from the bully, the kids and any teacher who has gathered around to watch. Just pin your bully and say quietly. "I'll let you up when you calm down and are willing to talk with me respectfully. You just sit there and sit there. The teachers will watch but there will be no fight to break up...... got it? "
"Yup, got it. ....... but does it really work?"
"One of my best friends when I was a kid your age was first bully a I had to pin. We talked afterwards and became good friends. He and I were having the same problems with life. Both of us were going through a parental divorce in our families. Both of us did not have enough money to buy lunch at school. Both of us missed our Dads. Both of us were scared, and wanted to express our feelings of frustration with a fight. Both of us had gotten suspended."
"Wow. Who taught you this stuff?"
"My grandfather did. He was a policeman too. He learned it in his training program........
Well, we are approaching the school. How about we go in and I will talk with the principal. I will tell them that I found you on the street. I'll also tell him that I have already talked with you about how to handle a bully and you listened to me really well. I would recommend that you go back to the classroom. If he doesn't agree, then I will call your parents and make sure that your Dad does not beat you. That is against the law.
He'll listen to me."
"Thanks so much. Are you a Dad, I mean, do you have kids of your own?"
"Yes, I do, I have a boy your age. He's been bullied too. I tell him the same things. It works for him. It should work for you."
" He's lucky."
" ....And remember, if your dad wants to beat you, ask him, 'Are you having a bad day?' Then tell him "I am sorry I am making you have a bad day. Can we talk, please..... instead of hitting me? A policeman told me that it is against the law for you to beat me. "
Todd and the policeman just had time to finish their conversation before they were face to face with the principal.
" I found this boy running away from school."
"Yes, I've suspended him." interrupted the principal with an irritated voice.. He was in a hurry to move on to another meeting.
"I have already talked with him about how to handle kids who might bully him. He listened carefully. Would you let him go back to class? I'm concerned about his Dad's response to his suspension, if you know what I mean."
The principal paused in his impatience and said "Well, boy, what did you learn from the policeman?"
"I learned the right question to ask and how to control someone without hurting them or letting them hurt me."
"I'll send you back to class this time. You better show me what you learned if there is trouble next time."
"Yesss, sir."
The policeman winked, squeezed Todd on the shoulder, and slipped out the door saying too quietly for anyone else to hear, "I'll just bet I'll never see you running down this street again. I know you can handle it."
Todd's eyes filled with tears, so he ducked his head, brushed his face with his hand, then straightened up as tall as he could as he went back to his classroom.

Dr. McArthur is a psychotherapist in practice in Los Angeles. She is the president of the Independent Psychotherapy Network.

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