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Kim John Payne - Building Resilience, Bucking Bullying
Sunday, October 30, 2016


Let’s call bullying what it really is—peer abuse.

And if the incidence of bullying seems to be increasing, there’s a good reason. You can blame it in part on the rapidly increase pace of life.

Kim John Payne has counseled hundreds of children who bully other kids. And before he talks to any family about bullying, he talks to them about overstimulation and overscheduling, which he believes can become chronic stressors that lead to out-of-control behavior.

Payne recently addressed a hundred parents, therapists and teachers at a Family Wellness Weekend organized by Carrie Thomas Scott with the backing of such groups as The Advocates. As he did, he recounted the story of a 12-year-old who had been bullying his classmates as an example of how life on an ever escalating treadmill can affect children.

Rather than focus immediately on the boy’s antisocial behavior, Payne began probing what it was the boy was in flight from.

The boy immediately related how anxious he was. He was on a competitive sports team that had four practices a week plus travel to games on the weekend. That, he said, was compounded by the pressure his parents and teachers put on him regarding his class work.

"The boy needed to be calmed before his behavior could be addressed," Payne told his audience.

“Our cup can only hold so much. If it’s overflowing, coming out in anti-social behavior, we need to tame the amount going in or we’ll always end up mopping it up with things like counseling and therapy,” he said.

"The level of cortisol—the stress hormone—in kids’ brains today is at an unheard-of level and it’s persistently elevated. It’s akin to the type of stress you feel when raiders threaten your village. And it never lets up," Payne said.

"It not only leads kids to act out, but it causes kids to succumb to ADD and other D’s," he said.

Payne proposed a “low pressure month” for the boy, in which the boy moved to a recreational team that practiced only one night a week and did not travel on weekends. Payne asked the teacher and parents to ease up on the boy regarding his schoolwork. And they restricted his playground activity so he couldn’t stoke his adrenaline addiction by roaming and pillaging his schoolmates.

It worked. The boy began asking for more homework. And he became a protector of the weak—the kids he might have bullied earlier.

"When the boy was in survival mode, he figured out who were the sensitive, vulnerable kids he could  pick on to prop himself up," Payne noted. When his parents and teachers made it safe for him, he was able to use that same intuition for good.

In ancient times, kids came into a sense of inclusion and who they were by initiation—elders helped them understand their place in the world.

“We are the new elders,” Payne said, nodding toward the adults in the room. “It’s our job to be inquisitive about what’s going on in kids’ lives. It’s our job to say, ‘Are you okay? Do you need my help?’ ”

"It’s our job as elders to help children by coaching them how to react to bullying," he added.

"Hitting back doesn’t work. It only escalates things. And there’s always someone bigger who’s only to happy to flatten the kid who hits back," he noted.

"If you tell a child to walk away from a taunter, you have to coach them how to do that," he added. "If you counsel them to give a retort, you have to give them an example, like, 'Well, four eyes is better than two.' And then you have to practice it, even making it fun for the child."

"Counsel kids not to let anyone put them on the witness box, "he added. "Teach kids to say, ‘Do you really believe that? And, if so, 'Do you really believe everything people tell you?' "

"Ignoring taunting is not an option. The child doing the taunting will presume that it’s okay and that you’re on their side," he added.

“It’s not about bullying. It’s about culture and ways to change the culture,” he said.

"Bossy kids are also disoriented kids," Payne added. "If you have a little girl who’s bossy, you need to figure out why she needs so much control?"

“She’s probably just trying to figure things out. With kids like these, it can be helpful to preview the day’s events for them, give them a picture of what’s ahead,” he said.

"Achieve accountability without blame and shame—when you blame and shame a child, he has to push back," Payne said.

Build social resilience in by creating small steps to help a child say, “I did that!”

“Hopefully, we as parents are creating a sheath for our children,” said Payne. “Resiliency gets stronger when what comes at the family is met with a spirit of ‘I can do this. I can do what I’m being asked to do.’ ”

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