Handpewer exercise

Some children are so traumatised by the bullying that they can't imagine the impact of a successful retort or other assertive behaviours. To help them, play this simple game.

I. Ask your child to sit down opposite you, on a chair of matching height. Put up your hands, ask her to do the same, and say, 'Push my hands as hard as you can'. Make sure that your hands stay upright while you are pushing. Ask your child how hard she is pushing on a scale of one to ten, and share your score, e.g. 'If you are pushing a six out of ten, then I'm pushing an eight out of ten.' Compliment her on how hard it was for you to push and how easy it was for her. Then say, 'Let's take a breather.'

2. Once again ask your child to push as hard as before, using the same 'amount' out of ten. You don't push back.Just allow your hands to stand upright but relax and flop where they are pushed. What happens?

3. Your child begins to fall over, then stops, straightens her posture, pulls back and looks confused. She wonders what's happened.

4. Ask your child, 'Why did you stop pushing?' She will say, 'Your hands went floppy' or 'You didn't push back'.

5. Then say, 'This is not good enough, I asked you to push me and you should be able to do that regardless of what I am doing. You did it before so you can do it again.' She looks confused. Then ask, 'Who took your power away?'

6. If she has difficulty understanding the underlying concept or if she looks confused, explain it by saying, 'I gave you the power to push me. When I stopped pushing, you lost your power to push me. I took your power away. If you had pushed harder, then you would have lost your balance and fallen on top of me. Falling on a parent is not a big deal, but if I were someone else, you would have felt embarrassed if you had fallen into my lap. Nobody likes to feel embarrassed, including bullies. When the bully has the "dumbstruck look" it means she won't repeat anything that embarrasses her in front of her mates. So if you respond correctly, the bully must stop.'

7. Although the 'dumbstruck look' can seem very funny to a child who has been bullied for a long time, say, 'When we played this game I didn't laugh, even though I knew what would happen. You must promise not to laugh in front of the bully if she looks dumbstruck, as that would give away our secret. You can do so later on.' (This helps her visualise her future success.)

8. Then say, 'It doesn't matter whether people bully you physically or verbally, you can give away your power or keep it for yourself.'

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