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Practice word blocks to help manage verbal bullying

November 27, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)

Just like blocking a punch or kick in a physical altercation can prevent injury, so too can having blocks against hurtful words. We call these “word blocks,” and they are an important tool in managing verbal bullying.

Also just like blocking a physical attack, you must learn to use word blocks reflexively and immediately, without any trace of emotion. The goal of these word blocks is to stop a verbal attack by showing that you are listening to the other person’s concerns and initiate a redirection.

Some examples of word blocks are:

  • “I hear what you’re saying and I’m listening, but…”
  • “It seems that way and I agree it’s difficult, however…”

Using these simple word blocks can help take the heat off of you and give you the opportunity to steer the interaction into a more useful direction where the two parties might be able to come to some sort of mutual understanding.

Next time you find yourself in an argument, try using a word block to stop it and shift the focus of the conversation to a more constructive place.


When dealing with bullies, confidence is king

November 14, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)



The easiest way to deal with a bully is to never have one in the first place. Although this may seem like common sense, most people don’t know how to keep themselves from becoming a target. The key is to project confidence.

Bullies look for easy targets; those who look like they won’t fight back or challenge their authority.  They look for targets like this by paying attention to how other kids carry themselves, how they speak and how they respond to adversity.



The easiest thing for a bully to pick out is the body language of a potential target. Several factors combine here that display what the person is feeling about themselves or their surroundings. Someone showing weakness or a feeling of intimidation is going to be much more likely to attract a bully than someone who shows that they feel self-assured.

Here are the body posture cues they look for:

  • Head and eyes – are they looking at the floor or scanning the area ahead for potential trouble?
  • Shoulders – slumped shoulders typically indicate submissiveness. Hold your shoulders up and slightly back.
  • Chest – when your shoulders move back, your chest moves forward
  • Back – slouching or walking slumped over indicates that you are unsure of yourself or your surroundings. Stand up straight and the rest will feel more natural



In many cases, displaying more confidence will help to deter some bullies but others may still decide to test your confidence by verbally interacting with you to gauge your response. Here it is important to speak assertively and decisively.

  • Volume – imagine a scale from 1 to 5 with 1 being a whisper and 5 being a shout. Your volume should be at a 3.
  • Tone – talking loud but sounding unsure won’t help your cause. Speak with confidence and assertiveness.
  • Speed – too slow and it sounds like you’re stalling, too fast and it sounds like you’re in a hurry to run away from the conversation. Speak at a natural, even tempo.
  • Preparedness – have a preplanned practiced response to what a bully might say about you.



Looking and sounding the part is a great start to displaying confidence, but if you fold at the first sign of resistance all that work will have been for nothing. This doesn’t mean that you should be ready to get into a fight, instead knowing how to quickly and appropriately respond to situations will show bullies that you are well prepared.

  • Scan your surroundings – stay out of harm’s way by looking out for potential trouble. If you can’t avoid it, scan for the nearest exit in case something does happen.
  • Self defense – martial arts training is a great way to learn to keep yourself safe
  • Know who to speak with – if something serious happens to you or someone else, knowing who to report the incident to can put a quick stop to it.


NFL Bullying Incident Shows it Can Happen to Anyone

November 6, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)



There’s no doubt that to play in the NFL you’ve got to be tough. But as the recent bullying case involving Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins shows, all the physical strength in the world can’t protect people from the torment of bullies.


Beyond stereotypes

The bully/victim stereotype is of a bigger, stronger child picking on a smaller, weaker child who may be younger than the bully. And while that size and strength disparity may be true for many bullying incidents, it surely doesn’t hold true in all cases.

Perhaps that’s part of why people are so shocked by the news that bullying was enough to drive Jonathan Martin to quit playing for the Dolphins. At 6′ 5″ and weighing in at 312lbs, Martin doesn’t fit into our preconceived notion of a bully victim which causes people to be taken back at the thought of this happening to such a person.


Skills that should be universal

But the fact that bullying can – and does – affect those we don’t typically think of as victims means that everyone should know how to prevent and control bullying.

In a recent interview, bully expert Dave Young points out “Bullying happens everywhere,” and not just to the small kid with glasses. You can see the story here:

Expert says NFL bullying incident can be lesson for all

Everyone should know how to:

  • project confidence
  • create and use deflectors
  • address the situation before it gets out of control
  • speak up for themselves and others


The need for change

If you or your child is being bullied, you’re not alone. Anyone can become the victim of a bully and should learn the skills needed to lower their chances of a bullying encounter. As a society, we are doing ourselves a disservice by not addressing the full scope of the issue.

Schools, companies, government agencies and individuals need to have the tools in place to address bullying because as the case in Miami so clearly demonstrates – it can happen to anyone.


The Shocking Numbers Surrounding Bullying

November 4, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)



With all this talk about bullying and how much of a problem it has become, it made me wonder just what the statistics were regarding bullying rates in America. What I found was staggering.

A quick Google search revealed the scope of the problem and, at least in my mind legitimized the use of the term “epidemic” when describing bullying. Here are just a few statistics from a number of sources:

  • 71% of students report bullying as a problem in their school
  • 1 in 7 K-12 students is either a bully or the victim of a bully
  • Daily, an estimated 160,000 students skip school for fear of attack or intimidation
  • 1 out of 4 kids will be bullied sometime within their adolescence
  • About 35% of kids have been threatened online

Hopefully these numbers help to put in perspective just how serious this problem is. And if you are the victim of a bully, you are not alone.


Ed Holpfer

* statistics sourced from BullyingStatistics.org, MakeBeatsNotBeatdowns.org, National Education Association

Understanding Bullying: Verbal Bullying

October 28, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)



Welcome to the second in a series of blogs aimed at shedding some light on the types of bullies and providing strategies for solving the problem.

My name is Ed, and today I want to speak with you about verbal bullying.



Of the many types of bullying, verbal bullying is typically where problems with a bully begin. The verbal bully wants to bring down your mood and shake your self-confidence by mocking, taunting and teasing relentlessly. Through sharp words and unyielding messages, this type of bully’s goal is to embarrass, humiliate and degrade their victim for personal gain.

Often, this type of bully is looking for an easy way to:

  • impress others
  • feel better about themselves
  • compensate for a feeling of inequity in their own life

The victim of choice is someone who will present an easy target and not resist.


What can be done

Conventional wisdom is to simply ignore such a bully, after all “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Alas, there are several problems with this approach.

First off, that’s just foolish.  No one should have to subject themselves to verbal abuse and emotional distress in the hope that it resolves itself. Standing up for yourself will not only help your self esteem, it will also show bullies that you are not going to be the easy target they pegged you for.

Which brings me to the next point. If a bully puts you down and they get away with it, don’t you think they’re just going to keep on doing it because they CAN? Staying quiet against verbal bullying is akin to a boxer refusing to defend their body against another boxer in the hopes that their opponent just gets tired of punching and gives up.

Lastly, verbal bullying can escalate. It might start with a threat of violence, then progress to a physical attack. Nipping the problem of verbal bullying in the bud may prevent more serious forms of harassment from progressing.


The Wrap-up

The effects of emotional bullying can be quite serious. Bruising will fade and embarrassment will subside, but the emotional toll of repeated verbal abuses can last a very long time and crush your self esteem. Don’t be fooled; just because verbal bullying doesn’t leave any physical scars doesn’t make it harmless.



Understanding Bullies: Cyberbullying

October 14, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)



Hello, my name is Ed and for the next few weeks I would like to devote every Monday to shedding a little more light on the types of bullying, what causes it and what can be done if it happens to your child.

I’d like to begin with the newest form of bullying.



Cyberbullying involves repeated harassment or threats online. This can also spill over into the real world and has caused a number of high-profile suicides with many more being tied – at least in part – to cyberbullying. Although it is done online, the effects can be just as devastating as when endured in person.

Born from the digital revolution, cyberbullying is a truly unique problem faced by the current generation. And therein lies one of the biggest challenges in addressing the issue: the generation gap between parent and child can make it difficult for both sides to relate to what is happening when someone is facing cyberbullying attacks.

What is important for parents to understand is that kids are very emotionally invested in what happens online because:

  • what they post about themselves reflects who they truly feel they are
  • what is posted about them is always accessible through the proliferation of mobile devices
  • the eyes of their entire peer group is on them

Just like in the real world, most kids are eager to tell others about their interests with the thought and hope that others will be as excited about a topic as they are. When that doesn’t happen, it not only opens the possibility of ridicule, but also plants in the child’s mind that the things they enjoy are in one way or another socially unacceptable.

That feeling can be crushing to a child who gets all excited about posting something only to discover that they seem to be alone in that train of thought. Then there’s the scope of the ridicule and embarrassment.a stop bully

Earlier I wrote about how I had a childhood bully who liked to tease me in front of the rest of our classmates. When a joke was made at my expense to a classroom of 25, it really hurt. Now imagine that multiplied to the thousands.

The level of embarrassment and the many directions that the insults come from give cyberbullying some serious emotional punching power. And because everyone and everything is connected to the web, those reminders are always on hand and always capable of being updated minute-by-minute.

That presents a lot of pressure on a child to either endure or conform.


What can be done

The occasional hurtful comment or putdown can and should be ignored. Don’t encourage others by posting a response to a negative comment, tempting though it may be. But if things become more serious, it is not an overreaction to bring it to the attention of others such as other parents, the school or even the police. So how do you know if this is happening to your child?

As with any problem, communication is key.

Talk with your children and ask about their day. Are they having problems with bullies at school, on the playground or on the bus? Chances are those same bullies and more are also giving them problems online.

Check your child’s phone for mean or threatening messages. Same goes for their social media accounts. If your child suddenly tries to avoid using the computer or phone, it may be a clue that they are being victimized.

Cyberbullying may often times be anonymous, but it is very easy to keep a record of. If your child is repeatedly being harassed online, keep a log of what is being said and where it is coming from. It may be useful down the road and at a minimum establishes the fact that there is a real problem that needs to be addressed.

Learn how to tell when a comment or picture crosses the line and becomes criminal. Sending a message to someone saying “I hate you!” may be mean, but a message saying “I will kill you!” becomes criminal. Your children should also know how to spot when something becomes more serious than just another mean comment and bring it to the attention of an adult.



Although the delivery method may be different, it is important to recognize that the impact on a child is no less real than “traditional” schoolyard bullying. It is also not something to be taken lightly. If the messages your child receives turn from hostile to violent or threatening, it’s time to contact the school and potentially even the police.

There is no doubt that the Internet  has the potential to educate and entertain, but it also provides easy access to targets for a bully. And it’s important for adults and children to recognize that whether it’s said in person or online, no one deserves to be put down and verbally abused.







Lessons learned from my childhood bully

October 11, 2013 | 0 Comment(s)



Hello, my name is Ed and I’d like to share with you a story from my past about dealing with bullies.

When I was in the 6th grade, I had a bully named Dave who would put me down and pick on me every chance he got. He was particularly good at saving his biggest insults for when there were as many other students around as possible.

That of course only compounded the hurt and humiliation that Dave had become so adept at hurling my way. Until one day something changed.


Know thy enemy

My parents knew that I had been getting picked on. They also happened to know Dave’s parents.

As it turns out, Dave’s home life wasn’t all that great and my parents assured me that he wasn’t focused on me because of any issue he had with me, but because I presented an easy target for him to turn his frustration out on.

Of course, I didn’t think that fact was helpful to me at all. It’s not like I could change the way he was being raised. It took me a little while to figure out, but I realized that while I couldn’t change the cause of his bullying, I could change myself so I wouldn’t be such an easy target.




Finding the strength

One afternoon as class was letting out for the day, I found myself alone with Dave in the classroom. I frantically tried to gather my things and slip out the door before he noticed this too, but to no avail.

He began walking over to me.

Afraid of what he would do with no one around to help me, I knew this was my time to change his perception of me or face a potential beatdown. As he approached, I stood up and before he had the chance to say anything I took the initiative and finally confronted my bully.

In a firm, loud voice I asked him what exactly it was about me that made him choose me as his target. I still remember what I said.

“Is it because I’m short? Sorry, but I can’t control that. I don’t wear glasses so that can’t be it. What is it? Why do you pick on me?”

And for the first time, he turned around and walked away without a word.


What I learned

It took me a while to realize but appearances truly can help or hurt your cause. There was nothing I could do about being shorter than my classmates but standing up, speaking assertively and having a preplanned practiced response put my bully on his heals.

Dave never bothered me again and I learned a lesson that holds true regardless of age; if you don’t want to be a victim, don’t look like one.