Bullies like the passive response. It means they're getting to you. They like the angry or frustrated response. It means they're in control and you're not.
What children need to learn is the confident response. The response that communicates, you're not getting to me, but if you don't stop, I'll take control.
For bullies, that response is no fun.
And teaching children how to respond to bullies with confidence is the goal of a new anti-bullying program instituted by the Pavilion Central School District.
The Bully Boot Camp -- seven lessons that parents complete with their children -- was developed by Timothy Shoemaker primarily as an online course parents purchase from his Web site, timothyshoemaker.com.
One of the social workers at Pavilion, Chuck Kron, saw Shoemaker speak at Genesee Community College for a youth camp last spring and decided to check out his Web site.
"I thought he was a very effective speaker for the kids," Kron said. "You could year a pin drop. So I went to his Web site and checked out his tools and resources and I found them concrete, totally unique, boots on the ground, roll up your sleeves kind of stuff."
After some discussion, Shoemaker developed a plan to make the boot camp available to entire school districts. Kron liked the idea because it would allow school districts -- particularly Pavilion -- to provide the program to parents and students at no cost to the parents.
Pavilion did a trial run with the program last spring and is implementing it this year, making Pavilion the first district to offer the boot camp on a districtwide basis.
The program has already proven its effectiveness, Kron said. There was a student and parent who went through the boot camp in 10 days last spring. A few days after completing the program, the child showed up in Kron's office.
Kron admits that his first thought was along the lines of "oh, no, here we go again," but actually the student was quite proud of himself.
"He used a certain specific exercise to confront a bully in the lunch room and he felt good about it, and a lot more confident," Kron said. "He's been significantly less picked on, but when it happens he feels equipped and confident. He's no longer going home crying. He no longer wants to not come to school any more. Instead, he feels like he's got a little tool box to reach into."
Last night's introduction to the boot camp was attended by maybe a dozen or so Pavilion parents along with six or seven administrators from school districts in the area. Kron and the other administrators in Pavilion walked the group through what most of the seven-day course covers (ideally, a parent goes through the course in seven consecutive days with a child, with each session taking about 30 minutes).
Robin, a parent who attended said she's exicted to get started with her child, who had been a bit picked on last year and it's starting again this year.
"I learned (tonight) that I can give my son really great skills he can use as he is growing up
and can use in the future," Robin said. "It will help him in school and throughout his life. It's really important for my child because he's extremely passive. I'm hoping I can change that and get him to be more confident in himself."
One of the lessons, in fact, covers teaching a child how to act confident even if you don't feel confident. Body language, facial expressions and tone of voice can all be used to convey confidence even when you're trembling inside.
"What this does is build up the victims' capacity to take the target off their heads," Kron said.
Implementation of the program doesn't mean the school district is letting bullies off the hook. The traditional methods of dealing with bullies -- punishments and consequences -- still exist and the district councelors will still try to bring about mediation and restorative justice, but the program is unique in providing students ways to neutralize bullies and helps give the parents the means to help their children.
"Often parents, when kids come home and say somebody is bothering them or somebody is bullying or harassing them, parents feel very powerless," Kron said. "They say, 'I wish I could just go into that school and tell that bully off myself.' Well, this gives parents something to do and channel that energy in a positive way that benefits their kids."
Top photo: Mike Brown collects examples of bullying from parents at Tuesday evening's introductory session. Bottom photo: Katie Newby tosses a wad of paper at Chuck Kron in a demonstration of the kind of practice a parent and child might do together on how to effectively respond to a bully.