Every parent wants their child to have friends, get along with their peers, and feel safe and secure when they go to school, camp, the playground, or to any other social setting. One of a parent’s worst fears is that their child will become the victim of a bully. Not only does bullying cause immediate physical injuries, a study released by the National Institute of Health in 2015 found that it can lead to numerous long term negative effects, including anxiety, emotional trauma, and psychological conditions that can last into adulthood.
The most effective way to keep your child safe from bullies is to equip them with the tools they need to be safe, confident, and secure, no matter the situation. Some of these tools involve developing a social sense for danger and insight into what others’ actions might be, knowing when and how to remove themselves from risky situations, and having the diplomatic skills to resolve conflicts peacefully. But an essential tool is also having the physical training and discipline required to defend themselves if necessary. Formal instruction in the martial arts provides one of the best means to develop all of these skills.
The following are some of the specific ways martial arts training can help keep your child safe from bullies.
Self-Defense Maneuvers. Martial art students develop a range of self-defense maneuvers that they can use in a variety of different settings and situations. That flexibility is key to being prepared for bullying. There is a common misconception that these traditions promote violence, but any martial art is really about preventing violence—including the violence perpetrated by bullies. When someone has been trained in these traditions, they will have the strategies necessary to keep themselves, and others, safe. They will be able to resist the temptation to respond emotionally to being struck and will know how to get back up again and respond with strategic protective maneuvers rather than anxiety or fear. And in practicing those maneuvers, they will develop the physical fitness, muscle power, coordination and dexterity, and stamina to stand up to bullies with confidence.
Communicating Confidence. When a child has learned a martial art, they communicate a sense of confidence. Even if they feel fear, they know how to manage that fear. It is important that they do not antagonize or challenge the bully, but they also need to send a message that they are not going to tolerate being harassed. An upright core, squared shoulders, focused eyes, and firm stance tell bullies that this person is not going to be intimidated. Most bullies look for easy prey; someone who knows how to defend themselves and who conveys that through body language can dissuade opportunity attackers. Taking deep, steady breaths creates a calm and composed body, and makes your child prepared to defuse the situation with words rather than violence.
Scenario Preparation. In most martial art training, students learn by role-playing different kinds of self-defense scenarios. Role-playing is one of the most effective methods for teaching because it provides practical, active learning opportunities, which helps students better retain and understand the content being learned. When students learn how defend themselves by practicing exactly how they should behave in a given situation, that response eventually becomes instinctual. And when self-defense becomes instinctual, students grow their capacity for self-confidence and reduce the severity of anxiety caused by facing a potentially dangerous situation.
Calculated Response. An essential element of martial art training is developing a mindset that responds to threats with restraint, calm, and calculated evaluation. Instead of lashing out in anger or fear, a child who has learned a martial art uses quick thinking to establish distance from the situation and use that perspective to determine the safest way to resolve the situation. Being able to recognize options, trace the chain of cause and effect for each course of action, and identify the best choice reduces the likelihood of physical fighting and potential injury.
Structured Time. Because gaining skill in a martial art takes time, the classes, exercises, and other activities associated with their training will provide your child with a considerable amount of structure time. Not only does this help your child develop self-responsibility, time management, and planning skills, it can also keep them busy and in a safe environment after school or on weekends—the two times when most bullying occurs. In addition, because training occurs in classes and usually centers on collaborative exercises, your child will build close friendships with other children who are also prepared to stand up to bullies alongside them. There is strength in numbers.
Every bully is, at heart, a coward. They will typically avoid confrontations with someone whom they determine to be a potential danger, who seems mature and confident, or who looks like they could effectively protect themselves. You do not want your child to deliberately provoke a bully, but at the same time it is essential that he or she is able both to stand their ground with confidence to deter a fight and, if a fight does happen, to back up that position with effective self-defensive moves. If other children in the community know that your child has self-defense training, that reputation alone can be enough to disincentivize bullies from bothering them.
Children who know how to defend themselves know that they are going to be safe, which helps them to manage self-doubt, build self-respect and respect for others, and instill a sense of discipline. They know how to stand up for others and defend those who cannot defend themselves. And they are more likely to keep the lines of communication open with you and other caregiving adults because they will not feel a sense of shame, embarrassment, or humiliation if they do end up being bullied. These are all skills that are not only of use in a fight, or in defusing a fight: they are social skills that will serve your child throughout their lives.