MOUNT VERNON — Parents instinctually do anything and everything to protect their children especially from bullies. According to Jim Bisenius this is one instance when it is better to empower than protect.
“As a parent, you are a coach. You can never step out on that playing field,” he told Mount Vernon Middle School parents and administrators Thursday night. “We have to teach them and coach them to substitute behaviors that radiate confidence instead of fear.”
Bisenius, a child and adolescent therapist, explained how bullies operate in a school setting and offered detailed examples as to how victims of bullies can change their reactions to confrontations and eliminate instances.
“If you meet them (bullies), they are really nice kids,” Bisenius said. “In front of their parents they are angels; with kids they control through fear.”
That, he said, is why it is often difficult for teachers and administrators to catch bullies in the act. He also added that on average, a bullying attitude develops around age 2 and they often bully different individuals up to 15 times a day.
“If you practice something 15 times a day for eight or nine years, you are going to get really good at it,” Bisenius said. “That’s what we are up against — the kid who has been bullying his sibling, the neighbor kids and even his parents for all these years and has gotten really good at it.”
One of the surprising tidbits of information Bisenius shared was connected to the psyche of the bully. He said that all the opposites are true when it comes to the stereotype of a bully. In actuality, they are not popular, they are not secure and they have little self-esteem.
“The bully will light up when he’s attacking you either physically or verbally. Deep down they don’t like themselves and none have high true self-esteem,” he said.
These facts, Bisenius has learned through years of interviews and evaluations of bullies, both male and female.
For many parents, just the thought of another student bullying their children often brings image of physical abuses — pushing, shoving, tripping and even hitting. Bisenius said that 95 percent to 99 percent of bullying is actually verbal or social and it is less common for something physical to happen than for a child to be teased or belittled in front of their peers.
Judging the difference between whether a child is being teased or bullied is rather clear cut to Bisenius.
“If we are friends and you make fun of the size of my nose, I know we are friends and you didn’t mean anything by it. Chances are you will let me know you were just joking around. If you are not my friend and you say the same thing, that’s bullying,” he said.
Bisenius went on the explain bullies feed on fear, attention and things — lunch money, possessions, homework, etc. When the fear, attention and things are taken away, the bully becomes bored and move on. The trick, he said, is for everyone to learn to the process to deter a bully and eventually, he or she will have no one to turn on.
There are several steps to the process and they all must be practiced so they are perfect in order for the scenario to work.
“Bullies look for a fear reaction,” Bisenius said. “If you show any of these reactions the bullying will continue.”
There are four forms of fear, he told the group: scared, anger, upset and sad. When you display any tell-tale signs of these emotions, the bully is going to feed on those emotions.
Bisenius compared these fear emotions to the Arby’s sign floating above someone’s head when they are hungry for an Arby’s sandwich. When bullies test other kids, they can see that Arby’s sign floating above their target letting the bully know his or her tactics are working.
He has developed a proven plan that allows victims to regain the self-esteem that has been lost through altercations with bullies and empower the student to put his or herself in a position to not be a victim ever again.
“In about a month, no one is gonna push you once you know how to stop them,” Bisenius told a sixth-grader who has been physically and verbally bullied.
When a bully starts, Bisenius said to do the following things:
•Raise your head slowly.
•Lock your eyes on something high; never look your bully in the eye.
•Push your tongue against the back of your teeth.
•Keep your shoulders down and relaxed.
•Move your arms naturally.
•Hold your fingers together.
•Walk at a slower pace than normal.
•Slow down all movements but look natural.
•Don’t say a word.
“You will be so focused on the steps that you aren’t listening to what they are calling you,” he said. “While it is very difficult to keep quiet, the object is to look bored and uninterested. When the bully is no longer embarrassing you or getting a fear response from you, the thrill he or she gets is gone.”
Bisenius said to practice these techniques over and over again both at school with friends and at home with parents. This process along with a simple take down will help victims regain the power and self- esteem.
“You need to see a martial arts instructor and tell him you want your son or daughter to learn his five favorite blocking and control combinations — what they would teach police officers to apprehend a suspect. Once you put your bully on the ground, the tables will turn.”
While Bisenius is not condoning violence as a solution, he feels that empowering students to defend themselves is one of the keys to successful termination of bullying.
“You might get called down to Mr. White’s office, but in the long run, whatever punishment he gives you will have been worth it,” he said. “When a bully finds out that he can’t hit you or can’t verbally get to you, he will move on.”
Bisenius stressed the best way to learn this technique is to learn it yourself and then teach your friends. When the entire school catches on to the process, the eventual hope is that all bullying will cease.
Editor’s Note: Bisenius also discussed social bullying with the group Thursday. Read Saturday’s edition of the News for a report on how social bullying works and ways to reduce its prevalence in schools.