How to Deal with Bullying in your Martial Arts School

Childhood can be a particularly hard time as children find their place in the world and bullying is an issue especially relevant to martial arts schools because of the nature of the sport. Martial arts are marketed as offering skills to develop a child’s confidence, discipline, self-respect and self-control. This means parents may see your school as a place to seek help for bullying, whether their child is the bully or being bullied. We’ve put together our key tips for dealing with bullying within your school.

Set clear standards of behaviour

It’s important schools have an awareness of what constitutes bullying along with clear boundaries and structures in place for all members of the community to follow. This means having behaviour and rules of engagement that are clear to everyone and demonstrating them by following them yourself. That doesn’t mean your school has to be a police state though. Taking a child who is acting out aside to explain which behaviours are unacceptable and how the child could improve could only take 30 seconds. It also helps reinforce those boundaries with the rest of the class.

Bullying isn’t just poor behaviour; it’s repetitive behaviour towards another child. It’s worth making sure your staff and students know how to recognise bullying by discussing the issues with them. There are ways you can get more information on how to do this, including Martial Arts Against Bullying.

Be a “good finder”

In episode 4 of the Martial Arts Business Success podcast, TIMA co-founder Graham McDonnell discusses how to deal with kids who are disruptive or distracted in class. He recommends starting by finding the good in people.

“We talk a lot about spotlighting, or highlighting, good behaviours. If a student isn’t listening well, point out the three or four or five other kids who are doing exceptional listening. What that will do is remind the other kids that that’s the behaviour that’s expected.”

A bully often has low self-esteem and struggles to find their place in the world. Martial arts can help overcome those behaviours by developing self-confidence and self-control. There will be a period of adjustment after any child starts something new and that’s when you need to model and reward positive behaviour, rather than dwell on negatives.

Never give up on the child. Encourage the child to strive to meet the behaviour guidelines you expect and tell them what they could get out of it. For example, they could become a leader in the class and get to demonstrate skills if they stay in line.

Develop a partnership with parents

Some parents may expect your martial arts school to work miracles with a child but the best results will come from a productive partnership. If parents and your school are on the same page with the kinds of behaviours expected—and those that are unacceptable—it will be that much easier for the child. Sometimes this means you have to educate the parents, as well as the student. Developing a partnership can also help you identify if a child is a victim of bullying and ensure consistent, confidence-building messages are delivered both at the school and at home.

Be firm but fair

Working with children requires a great deal of patience. Kids push the envelope because they’re testing boundaries, and it’s likely they will challenge you. The secret is to be consistent in your approach, so they see good behaviours positively rewarded and unacceptable behaviours discouraged. If you are positive, enthusiastic and have faith in the children, they will see the benefit in following suit.

Giving children something to motivate and inspire them presents an alternative to problematic behaviour. Challenging a child to achieve certain goals may provide them with the determination and structure to break out of their troublesome habit, and the hint of future achievement shows you believe in their behaviour improving.

Take bullying seriously

By following these strategies you can prevent a serious problem. But what happens if you discover you do have a bullying situation in your school? Firstly, you need to address it straight away; you can’t hope it sorts itself out. This is when the casual chat or timeout with a child has not worked and you need to ask both the child and the parents into the office to discuss the behaviour. Again, it’s about clearly defining the unacceptable behaviours and outlining how the child might change them. If the conversation happens with the parents present, both your school and the student’s parents can expect the child to uphold the same standards of behaviour. Again, make it clear there are good things down the track for the child if the behaviour changes—never underestimate the power of inspiration. You can encourage a child to achieve great things with consistency, boundaries and a lot of patience.

Do you need help managing problematic student behaviour at your school? Contact TIMA today! We have experience managing martial arts schools of all sizes.

This article has been adapted from the TIMA blog.

TIMA1-150x150Graham McDonnell and Phil Britten are Directors of the WA Institute of Martial Arts, one of Australia’s leading martial arts providers servicing over 1,500 clients over three locations with their world class programs. In addition to running successful martial arts schools, they have also established The Institute of Martial Arts (TIMA), offering business coaching and learning programs to help other martial arts businesses plan and develop for success. 


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