Removing Targets ‘Shuts Down’ Bullies

The anti-bullying presenter at Wheeling Country Day School Wednesday night opened with: “I’m not going to teach your kids to say, ‘Stop, or I’m going to report you.’ That’s not going to work.”

What followed was a crash course on how to teach children to “starve” bullies of what they crave: fear, anger and attention. Jim Bisenius of Columbus, a child therapist for 18 years and founder of Bully-Proofing Youth, said he focuses on equipping the victim rather than changing the bully because once a target knows how to “shut down” a bully, the bully becomes powerless.

His technique to combat verbal bullies centers on exhibiting body language that conveys a calm, cool attitude and ignores the bully. For physical bullies, he recommends kids learn five basic martial arts moves that involve “containing” rather than fighting the bully. And for social or relational bullies – mostly girls – he described an elaborate scheme based on friends banding together to keep the bully from tearing them apart with nasty rumors.

Several parents commented they found his methods novel and refreshing.

“Everything he said made so much sense,” said parent Patty Dunlevy.

The fact is, Bisenius said, parents and teachers can do very little on the front lines of bullying because it doesn’t happen when they are around. They can empower their children, but they can’t “rescue” them.

His approach, however, gives the kids a game plan that has proven effective among his patients.

Bisenius has worked with hundreds of victims and bullies so he knows how the bully’s brain ticks.

“My whole goal was to pick these kids’ (the bullies’) brains to help them, but while I did that, I learned how to train the kids they targeted, and shut them down.”

The No. 1 reaction a bully craves is fear, Bisenius said, as well as anger. What the verbal bully loves, he said, is the “rise” he gets out of the target. But once the target engages, things usually just get worse.

“They can’t keep trying to out-bully a person or it’s like me trying to beat Lebron James at basketball over and over again.”

Instead, he said the target should remain silent and exhibit body language that conveys calm indifference.

“You don’t want to look weak at any time,” he said. The body language includes keeping the chin slightly raised, shoulders relaxed, feet shoulder-width apart, eyes fixed on a point, movements slow and breathing steady.

“It is not instinctive. It is counterintuitive. Your child needs to practice at home” intensely and then with a friend who will critique him after a real encounter.

For a physical bully, he tells kids to “first, let your parents and school know.” If they know about it, they can try to catch the bully in the act. If they don’t know it’s happening, they never will because bullies know how to attack under the radar.

Then, instead of telling the child to fight back, he recommends taking the child to a martial arts expert – with no less than a black belt – and asking for private lessons in five specific blocking and controlling moves that will “put the bully on his belly.” The moves are similar to what police officers use to contain a suspect. These moves need to be repeated 1,000 times, Bisenius said, before the child will be ready to put them to use against a bully.

“It’s not fighting,” he said. He has found that once former targets are trained in this way, the bully senses something has changed and may not attack again.

“I haven’t had one kid who took more than two months” to shut down their bullies, he said.

The program was offered for free and sponsored by the school, Main Street Bank, West Liberty State College and United Bank. For more information, call the school, 304-232-2430 or go to