Saturday, October 9, 2010

Kidpower Bullying Solutions – Teaching Children to Use Their Inborn “kidpower” Safely and Well

Note: Erika Leonard is a Senior Program Leader and Master Instructor for Kidpower. In the following post, she describes Kidpower’s approach to teaching adults how help children to build Positive Peer Interaction skills.

Kids are born with the power to think, make noise, and move. They have it from the moment they start breathing, and the power belongs to them. As adults, we can help them learn to use that power well and responsibly. If we choose to let them just figure it out on their own, we can expect them to cause a lot of damage along the way.

Children experiment with their power, and this experimentation is normal. Very young children might scream, kick, hit, or clamp their mouths shut. After just a few years, children discover the power of their words and say things like, "I don't want to be your friend." Not long after, they will likely discover that words have power through name-calling and gossip. They will also figure out that silence has another kind of power when it's used to ignore or shun another child.

Learning how to control our inborn "kidpower" takes time. Learning to control that power responsibly, to make situations better and safer rather than worse and more dangerous, takes consistent guidance from adults over many years.

Given how much power children have, and given how many years it takes to learn to use that power well, it's no surprise that bullying behavior crops up in groups of kids everywhere.

Common People Safety problems often referred to as bullying that happen when young people misuse their power with peers and siblings include shunning, teasing, excluding, kicking, hitting, threatening, name-calling, gossiping, taunting, ganging up, beating up, leaving out, ‘backbiting’, texting, sexting, flaming, and all other forms of bullying and cyber-bullying.

The process of experimenting with power is developmentally normal, which does not mean that the actual behavior is safe or appropriate. Adults have every reason to expect that bullying behavior is likely to occur in any group of young people, and adults should expect to see even more of these problems in contexts like schools, where many people with very little experience managing their own poer are together every day in a very small space with a comparatively small number of adult leaders.

Though we often hear adults say, "Let them work it out themselves," we have frequently seen this approach result in problems growing quickly out of control. In our experience, quick, consistent, compassionate, and clear adult leadership is crucial to stop problems from growing and to prevent isolated incidents of bullying behavior from giving rise to ongoing or chronic behavior that is destructive or damaging, that becomes a regular part of a peer group's way of interacting with each other, or that mushrooms into a major safety problem because of email, texting, and the Internet.

Mistakes are part of learning, and young people will make mistakes as they learn to use their power. Some mistakes cause small problems; others can cause serious damage or injury, especially if they involve wide-reaching technology like phones and the Internet. Adult guidance, supervision, boundaries, and mentoring are crucial for managing kids' smaller mistakes and for preventing significant, damaging ones.

Young people misusing power need calm, consistent adult guidance and firm, consistent boundaries so that they learn the consequences of their behavior; they learn ways to be powerful without causing damage; the damaging behavior stops and others are safe; and so that all kids in a group are confident that the adults in charge “walk their talk” and truly do put physical and emotional safety first with their actions, not just with their words.

At Kidpower, we encourage adults to take charge of leading young people in developing Positive Peer Interaction skills. This means that they step in right away children are using power in a way that is damaging, whether they call it bullying or not -- just as they would stop a child from using a hammer or scissors in a way that was unsafe or inappropriate. They step in with the recognition that the fact that the behavior sprouted in the first place may be normal, but allowing it to continue is absolutely unacceptable. The adult then puts the focus on practice of pro-social behaviors we want young people to develop.

Children who are the targets of bullying behavior need opportunities to practice all they ways they can use their power to stay safe and to get help. They need reassurance that the responsibility of maintaining an environment that is physically and emotionally safe is entirely an adult responsibility. We teach kids and adults skills they can use to notice, avoid, get away from, and talk about safety problems and to persist until they get help. We give adults opportunities to practice listening and taking charge appropriately and realistically.

Children who are using their power in ways that cause damage need adult intervention. Research shows that bullying behavior in a peer group can be socially rewarded; leaving the problem to resolve itself is likely to result in bigger problems and more damaging and destructive behavior. Just as a child using any tool dangerously and inappropriately deserves adult support to keep everyone safe, a child using social-emotional power in a destructive way deserves swift, caring, firm adult intervention to prevent that behavior pattern from continuing or becoming chronic.

Children who are witnessing inappropriate uses of power deserve the opportunity to practice a broad spectrum of safety choices they could make while being free from unrealistic adult expectations that they engage in behaviors on principle that might put them in very real danger.

Adults have years of life experience to draw on to decide when they are willing to put themselves at risk in order to stand up for what they believe in. Many young people choose to do this, too. But, telling a child that he or she MUST or SHOULD take an action in the face of bullying when that behavior puts them at risk of retaliation is unfair and unrealistic and is unlikely to address the problem. Sometimes, the best way to support someone who is the target of bullying behavior is to leave quickly and quietly and to get help.

For more information on how to teach “People Safety” skills to the children and teens in your life, and how to learn these skills for yourself, visit our website
Library and Store, or take one of our Workshops. Our new e-book, Bullying - Kidpower "People Safety" Solutions, will be available later this month for $12 per copy. E-mail us at for more information.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

ABC News Now- Beyond "Stranger Danger" - 6 Key Points for Teaching Child Safety

Kidpower North Carolina Center Director, Amy Tiemann, Ph.D., did an excellent interview on ABC News Now, Parenting with Ann Pleshette Murphy about how to teach children to be safe with strangers - and with people they know.

These key points from Kidpower are discussed during the show.

1. “Stranger danger” is a misleading concept. Children are emotionally safer if they understand that most people are good - this means that most strangers are good. The sad reality is that about 90% of abuse is perpetrated by people known and trusted by a family, school, or organization. Children need safety rules that they can follow that will work both for strangers and for people they know.

2. Kids need to know that they should not blindly obey an authority figure who is acting unsafely. Most two-year olds know how to say, “NO!” about anything they don't like, but they often lose that ability as they get older. Because they lack life experience, young children have to learn that some things are not a choice – but we never want them to lose that ability to say “NO” if they are unhappy or uncomfortable. We can honor their feelings, encourage them to tell others about how they feel, and still set limits when we need to.

Rather than teach kids not to talk to strangers, we need to teach them how to talk to strangers. The safety rules are different when children are with their adults and when they are on their own. When children are with you, give them chances to practice talking to strangers, such as buying something from a clerk at the store. You can explain that, "It is okay to talk to this nice man even though you don't know him, because we are together. If you are on your own, come over to me and check first." If a child gets lost in a store, she'll be safer if she knows how to ask for help, and whom to select (i.e. ask a person working at the counter; if you can't find someone else, ask a woman with children).

4. The rules are different in emergencies. A child should always check first with an adult before changing their plan or going somewhere with someone, but we want kids to know that they can get emergency help from a paramedic, fire fighter, or other emergency help. There have been instances of kids lost in the woods who hid from rescue parties because all they had been taught said "don't talk to strangers."
Children who might get lost on a hike need to know to stay where they are or in the nearest safe place, to sit down if they get tired, and to look for a search party - especially if this stranger is calling their name.

5. Open the door to conversations about safety concerns. Listening is an essential safety strategy for parents. Having parents and other caring adults who will listen to a kid's concerns compassionately without lecturing or judging is so important. From time to time, ask your child, "Is there anything you've been wondering or worrying about that you have not told me?" Be prepared to really listen to the answer. Even if it seems silly to you, you want children to trust that you will be respectful of their concerns. Also, a child with a big problem might start with a small disclosure to see how parents will take it. For example, a child might say, "I don't like the way my cousin smells," when there is a serious abuse problem going on.

6. Parents sometimes think over-protection keeps kids safer, but we believe that skills for independence are skills for safety. Experience is a great teacher, and the goal of Kidpower training is to give kids the skills they need to experience the level of independence and exploration that is right for their current ability and environment.

Often, parents have not been taught a lot about child safety beyond the myths of "stranger danger" and "good touch/bad touch". Kidpower provides direct training to families through workshops, and also offers many free resources on our website as well as publications for sale. Here are links to our resource pages:

Stranger Safety/Kidnapping Prevention

Child Abuse Prevention

Bullying Prevention

In addition to her work with Kidpower, Amy is the creator of Mojo Mom and of the valuable parenting book: Courageous Parents, Confident Kids: Letting Go So You Both Can Grow.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Every Child Counts - So Please Teach Them Skills

An article titled "Child-abduction study finds capable kids are their own best defense" in the September 5 on-line edition of the Washington Post describes a recent study of 4,200 kidnapping attempts by non-family members.

I get upset when people minimize the importance of teaching children personal safety skills to protect themselves because "stranger abductions almost never happen." Yes, the reality is that most of the time, children are harmed by people they know rather than by people they don't - but this issue is still important. In any case, personal safety skills taught in an empowering, effective way can prepare children to prevent and protect themselves from many kinds of dangers.

The loss of even one child is a huge tragedy. Current studies estimate that between 300-500 children die in the US each year after being kidnapped by strangers and the heartbreak that goes with each loss is enormous. If we might prevent the loss of even one child in a way that can empower countless children, this is worth doing!

Second of all, there are an estimated over 100,000 attempted abductions by non-family members in the US each year. The impact of each abduction attempt can be traumatic for the child and her or his family, neighborhood, and school.

A couple of years ago, I was teaching a parent education workshop that had been organized in response to one of these attempts in a small town where people had felt safe. During the evening, two different parents described very frightening abduction attempts that had happened to them as children that had never been reported. In both cases, they eventually escaped before being harmed, but it was a very close call. Their fear, even after many years, was still tremendous - and they wanted to teach their children to know what to do without passing that fear on to them.

Kidpower prepares parents, teachers, and other caring adults to empower children to be safe both with people they know and people they don't. Our Positive Practice Teaching Method makes rehearsing skills fun and successful instead of upsetting and difficult. The "People Safety" skills we teach can prevent and stop most abduction, bullying, abuse, and other violence - and help build healthy relationships. Visit our website for our free on-line Library, low-cost cartoon-illustrated publications for sale, and information about our workshops. Here's the link to our Stranger Safety Resource page:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Under-Reported School Violence - Kidpower Solutions and Skills

This recent Education Week News commentary describes the tremendous under-reporting of levels of school violence in the US. My guess is that this might be true in other countries as well.

While the situation described saddens me, it does not surprise me. At Kidpower, we hear stories all the time from upset, frightened parents whose children have been harassed, bullied, intimidated, and attacked at school. We coach parents in how to advocate with school authorities for their children and in how to prepare their children with skills to protect themselves and get help. In our experience, most of these assaults are not reported.

To be effective, administrative and reporting solutions must include resources and skills for preventing and stopping peer aggression. Teachers, playground supervisors, bus drivers, parents and all other adults in the school community need to know how to notice problems sooner rather than later, and how to intervene in a pro-active balanced way. They need to be commended by school administrators for addressing problems, rather than trying to minimize those problems.

This article gives some of Kidpower’s perspective about what makes it hard for institutions such as schools to address problems and what actions we can take as individuals to address these issues:
Worthy of Trust: What Organizations Need to Do to Protect Children From Harm

The purpose of our Positive Peer Interaction Initiative is to give adults and children tools for building healthy relationships, for setting boundaries in powerful and respectful ways, and for being persistent in getting help. This article gives an example of how we use skills to address difficult and/or dangerous behavior.
Practice as a Management Tool for Unsafe, Disrespectful Behavior

These two articles are examples of our approach to dealing with violence in schools:

Armed Violence in Schools – Solutions for Empowering Children

Overcoming the Bystander Effect: Kidpower Response to Richmond High School Assault

Finally, this article provides guidance for parents on what to do to take charge of the safety of their children at school in ways that are realistic, respectful, and effective most of the time:
Bullying in Schools - Seven Solutions for Parents

At Kidpower, our goal is to empower administrators, teachers, parents, and children with knowledge and skills for creating cultures of caring, respect, and safety for everyone. We do this through our free on-line Library, our publications, and our workshops. Please contact us at for more information.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

My sister often says that your qualities are gifts when you are in charge of them, but problems when they are in charge of you. A drive for excellence is an excellent thing, but perfectionism - when nothing is ever good enough unless it is "perfect" - can become a destructive force in our lives.

Getting stuck in the details of what's lacking and forever measuring ourselves against some impossible standard can diminish our joy and ability to keep the big picture of what we truly most want to accomplish in mind.

One of my life tasks is to set boundaries with myself about my forms of perfectionism. We have a Kidpower saying that, "You don't have to be perfect to be great!" A useful correllary is, "Trying too hard to be perfect can cause you to lose great."

For example, my perfectionism often takes the form of trying to do too much with way too little. Many people, when they try to fit too much activity into too small a "box" of time and resources, tend to have things they have promised to do and need to do spilling over the top and not getting done. More often, I tend to cram so much into my box of time that the whole box starts straining at the seams, which is hard on anyone sharing that box with me,not to mention myself.

As a recovering perfectionist about some aspects of my life (NOT housekeeping or cooking, however), here are a few things that I have found to be helpful:

1) Notice my anxiety about things not being perfect and focus on regaining perspective rather than on trying harder.

2) Before I try to fix something, ask myself, "Is this really important or am I being a nitpicker right now?"

3) Celebrate each moment, our mistakes as well as our successes. Remember that falling down is part of learning to walk. If we were to worry about each fall as being a failure to walk, our toddlers could get discouraged, Instead, we cheer toddlers on for each attempt, however shaky, and however often they plop onto the ground. Let's start celebrating each moment for ourselves and others in each part of our lives.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Protecting Against Sexual Assault Without Blaming the Victims – Kidpower Response to London “Wake Up to Rape” Study

When I was a young woman coming of age in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, the woman's movement was just beginning to build understanding that sexual assaults were NOT the woman's fault. Even if women were involved, as I was, in working on social justice issues, most of us believed that we only had ourselves were to blame if a man tried to harass or rape us.

If we were assaulted, most of us believed it was probably because we had dressed too provocatively, been in the wrong place at the wrong time, or “led the man on” by giving him the "wrong idea." Ironically, since sexual assaults are most likely happen from someone you know, the men I had problems with were usually men who were also working for social justice.

Forty years later, I have mixed feelings about the on-line survey titled "Wake Up to Rape" of 1,061 Londoners between the ages of 18 and 50 in which many respondents said that the woman was at least partly responsible if she went back to the assailant’s house, flirted, wore revealing clothing, or danced provactively.

Nearly 75% of the women responding said that climbing into bed with the eventual attacker meant the woman was responsible, even if she was too drunk to make a decision or later changed her mind. One in three of the men respondents said they didn’t think it was rape if they made their partner have sex if she didn’t want to. Women respondents, especially between the ages of 18 and 24, were more likely to blame the woman than the men were.

The sad news is that the “blame the victim” beliefs still exist in a high percentage of women and men, leading to many sexual assaults going unreported and many victims feeling extremely isolated and not getting help. After all the work done by educators, mental health professionals, and self-defense experts, how can so many people still hang on to these destructive beliefs?

The good news is that the percentage of people who hold these beliefs is much lower than it was 40 years ago and that studies like this exist, are highly publicized instead of being ignored, and cause shock and outrage that will lead to increased education and understanding. And the good news is that self-defense, self-protection, and personal safety training is much more widely available than it used to be.

As educators in the personal safety and violence prevention field, our challenge is to balance the teaching of effective self-protection skills with clarity about the fact that the person who is responsible for an attack is the attacker, not the victim.
Yes, someone might make choices that are more safe or less safe. However, no matter how someone dresses or behaves, no one deserves to be attacked or forced to have sex against her or his wishes. Even if you get into bed with someone, you have the right to change your mind about what you are going to do or not do with this person and no one has the right to force you to do something you don’t want to do.

In Kidpower, we teach women and men, boys and girls, to take charge of their personal safety and to advocate for the safety of others. We tell our students that, if someone tries to harm them, this is not their fault, but that they do have the right to protect their own boundaries and the responsibility to notice and respect the boundaries of others.

In our self-defense workshops for teens, I often say, “I am not here to tell you how to dress or how to behave. That’s the job of your parents, teachers, and other adults. My job is to help you develop the knowledge and skills to make safe choices for yourself and others so that you know how to prevent most attacks and to protect yourself in case someone tries to harm you.”

Rather than arguing with people about what they will or won’t do, we have them practice skills and explain, “What you choose to do out in the real world is going to be your decision. What’s important is that you have the understanding and ability so that you are making decisions that are truly your own choice, rather than something you are doing because you don’t know you have other options or because of social pressure from someone who is not respecting your safety or the safety of others.”

We teach that lack of awareness, whether caused by being distracted or oblivious or by being drunk or high, makes you more vulnerable to an attack. This reality does not make an attack your fault, but it does give you information that can protect you from harm.

Using examples that are relevant to their lives, we coach our students so that they are successful in practicing self-protection and self-defense “People Safety” skills including:
• Being aware, calm, and confident;
• Projecting a peaceful powerful attitude;
• Putting safety first even if this causes offense, inconvenience, or embarrassment for yourself or others;
• Moving away from potential trouble even if someone is acting needy, charming, upset, or rude;
• Feeling one way and acting another;
• Managing personal triggers;
• Coping with rejection;
• Protecting yourself from hurtful words and emotional coersion;
• Staying in charge of what you say and do;
• Setting powerful respectful boundaries;
• Physical self-defense to stop and escape from an attack; and
• Being persistent in getting help.

Even with all these skills, we all need to remember that you can do everything right and still have something go wrong. Or, you can make a mistake or an unwise decision. No matter what, if someone attacks you, their violent behavior is never your fault unless you started the conflict by being violent yourself. No one has the right to attack you and, if someone tries, you have the right to protect yourself and to get help.

Note: Copyright © 2010 Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International Permission to quote or reproduce with author's and organization's names and contact information clearly visible.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kidpower Self-Defense Strategy: Make Being Nice a Decision, Not an Automatic Habit

During our Fullpower and Teenpower self-defense workshops for adults and teens, we have students practice setting boundaries in role-plays about someone approaching them for help on the street. We ask them to imagine being a place that is isolated and that this person could potentially be a threat to them. The person might be asking for a little money to buy food or coffee, for you to take a paper, for directions, or for help finding a lost child.

We practice briefly acknowledging the person's presence and quickly disengaging from this person. This can be done by giving quick glance and then walking away, with a quick glance back to stay aware of what this person is doing. People can add language that is gentle but clear by saying, "Sorry, no." Or, "No, thanks!" Or, "Not today!" We have people practice using an attitude that is calm, aware, and confident - assertive rather than passive or aggressive.

If someone is more pushy, the message needs to be stronger. For example, "I said NO!" Or, "Stop following me!" Or, "Stop right there!"

Often a student, almost always a woman, asks questions like, "But what if this person really does need help? What if social stereotypes about people are causing me to make unfair negative judgments? What if I hurt this person's feelings when he or she meant no harm?"

I say, "My assumption is that you already know how to be nice. You are safest if you can make being nice a conscious decision rather than an automatic habit. Assess the situation. Assess the person's behavior. Remember that an attacker wants privacy and control. By getting close to someone in an isolated place, you are making it easier for someone to attack you."

I also demonstrate how someone who just wants help will probably respond to a boundary, such as, "Stop right there!" In this case, the person will probably stop, take a couple of steps back, and say something like, "I didn't mean to startle you. I just need help." This response gives you time to think about whether or not you feel safe or okay about giving the help asked for.

Someone who is not respecting your boundaries is likely to keep trying to approach you no matter what he or she is saying. Someone who keeps trying to get closer to you is giving you less time to make a decision and it is safest to be clear and to disengage as quickly as possible.

This doesn't mean you don't choose to help people. It means that you make helping a choice rather than a habit.

Here are two stories about similar situations where I made different decisions.

Once a few years ago, I was picking up bagels donated by Noah's for our Kidpower instructor training program very early in the morning before they were open. There had been a number of assaults on women on that street. I was knocking on the door of the shop to get the attention of the staff, but kept up my awareness of my surroundings.

Suddenly, a large man approached me from behind. I whirled around with my hands up. The man quickly backed up, but kept lurking nearby. I decided that the safest place was inside the shop, so I kept knocking.

When they let me in, I had a brief internal struggle with myself about not wanting to make assumptions, but ended up mentioning the man and saying that I'd appreciate someone watching while I walked to my car, in case there was trouble. A large man in an apron said cheerfully, "I'll be your Bagel Bodyguard!" and walked me to my car.

The next day, we had bagels donated by Santa Cruz Bagelry, which was also in the area where the assaults had occured. Again, early in the morning, I started knocking on the door to get someone to open up. This time as I was waiting, a different man called out from about ten feet away, "Mam, I'd appreciate a quarter so I can get coffee at the 7-11. I've got one quarter and I just need one more." He opened his hand to show me the quarter.

Normally, I don't like to give money to people on the street because I worry that it might be spent for drugs or alcohol, so I said, "Sorry, no!"

The man very respectfully said, "You have a nice day, anyway." He sat down on the ground, well away from the entrance.

When I came back outside, the man was still sitting. He smiled at me, but didn't say anything.

It was cold outside and I appreciated his not asking again, so I said, "Come inside and I'll buy you a cup of coffee."

"No," the man explained, "That's designer coffee and costs a dollar for a little cup. For just 50 cents, I can get a great big cup at 7-11."

I walked over to where the man was sitting and gave him the quarter.