The Power Of Teaching Kids The 'Opposite Compliment' Method To Stop Bullying

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Let’s say we’re kids and you’re a bully looking to have fun at my expense by insulting me.

What can I say to stop you?

This is one of the common concerns of anti-bullying advisers, as insults are by far the most common form of bullying among kids.

And though they’re just words, they can make kids absolutely miserable.

There are actually many responses that work well, and they are well-known in popular literature. Others do not work as well. Perhaps the least successful is the one that that has been promoted most, part of the highly advertised ‘Talk, Walk, and Tell’ approach.

RELATED: 4 Responses That Instantly Shut Down Insults

What is the ‘Talk, Walk, and Tell’ approach?

1. Talk

The ‘talk’ part entails telling you, the bully, “Stop! I don’t like that!” This is exactly what a bully wants to hear. It is literally an invitation for you to continue the behavior.

2. Walk

The ‘walk’ part involves walking away. This is supposed to free me from you. But it also lets you know that the insult upset me, so you are likely to continue saying it.

3. Tell

Finally, the ‘tell’ part, which involves informing adult authorities, is the clincher. It turns me into a snitch, which can lead to serious hostilities against me.

The better responses involve making it clear that the insult doesn’t bother me.

The list is of unbothered responses is potentially endless but here are some good examples:

  • “So?”
  • “And?”
  • “Thanks for your opinion.”
  • “Your point is…?”
  • “Sometimes I feel like that.”
  • “I didn’t hear you. Can you say it louder?”
  • “Do you believe that?” If the answer is, “Yes,” my follow-up response is, “You can believe it if you wish.’
  • “Is that the best you can do?”
  • “You’re not the first person who told me that.”
  • If you insult me about an obvious flaw or difference, I’ll say, “You just noticed?"

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In recent years, there is a response that I have come to like above all others in most situations.

It requires almost no thinking and works like a charm. It is actually the embodiment of the ‘Golden Rule’, which instructs us to be nice to people even when they are mean to us. The reason it works so well is that it totally catches you off guard and is most likely to elicit an instinctive positive response from you.

I call it ‘the opposite compliment’. It goes as follows:

You: You are ugly!

Me: Well, I think you are good-looking!

You: Thanks!

And it usually ends there. It puts a smile on your face, and you are more likely to be nice to me in the future. What I’m doing is telling myself that if you’re calling me ugly, it’s because you want me to know that you’re good-looking. So, that’s precisely what I tell you. Notice that I do not agree that I am ugly. I am just countering with how you look to me.

It doesn’t always end quite so quickly. It can go like this:

You: You are ugly!

Me: Well, I think you are good-looking.

You: But you’re still ugly!

Me: And I still think you are good-looking.

You: But you’re still ugly.

Me: And you’re still good-looking.

After a couple of repetitions, you are bound to give up, and you may even have trouble resisting a response of “Thank you.” For the opposite compliment to work, it is essential to say it sincerely. If I say it sarcastically, you won’t like it, and I will be met with more hostility.

RELATED: 3 Things To Do Immediately If Your Child Is Being Bullied

How to teach ‘the opposite compliment’ method to kids:

Let’s say you are a parent, teacher, or counselor, and a child informs you that they’re being insulted.

To help them, start by asking if they want the kids to stop insulting them. They will certainly say, “Yes.”

It helps to use the exact insult that is being used against them, so ask them what’s the most common insult they face. Let’s say it’s “ugly.” Then say, “I’m going to play a game with you to teach you how to make them stop. Call me ugly and don’t let me stop you.” You will do two trials. It will go something like this.

Trial One

Child: You are ugly!

You: No, I’m not!

Child: Yes, you are!

You: No, I’m not! Stop saying that!

Child: But it’s true!

You: Stop it already!

Child: No! You’re ugly!

Trial Two

After several rounds, continue as follows:

You: I give up. I’m not making you stop, am I?

Child: No.

You: Isn’t this fun?

Child: Yes.

You: Now do it again. Call me ugly and don’t let me stop you.

Child: You are so ugly!

You: I think you are good-looking!

Child: Thanks!

Wait a few seconds and continue:

You: Do you want to continue calling me ugly this time?

Child: No. I want to thank you.

You: Yes, now you like me better. You see, they are not calling you ugly because you’re ugly but because you get upset and try to stop them when they call you ugly. So instead, call them good looking. They will stop very quickly and are more likely to be nice to you in the future.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Teach Kids How To Resist Bullies And Emotional Abusers

You can use this for virtually any insult.

Here are some more examples:
Child: You are so dumb!

You: I happen to think you are smart.

Child: You have no friends! Nobody likes you!

You: You’re one of the most popular kids in the school!

Child: You suck at sports!

You: You’re really good at sports!

Child: You are so gay!

You: No one would ever think that you’re gay!

You will find that most kids love learning this class of response and have fun using it.

Does ‘the opposite compliment’ method work on adults?

Will it work if an adult is insulting you? Adult situations are usually more sophisticated than this. If they’re insulting you, chances are they’re not just trying to have fun getting you upset. In their minds, they are probably trying to let you know something important about you.

Answering with the opposite compliment is likely to be inappropriate. So instead of getting upset, try to find out what their gripe is. Show them that you appreciate their letting you know and address them like a friend.

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Izzy Kalman is a certified school psychologist and pioneer of the resilience approach to bullying. He has been featured on The New York Times, Psychology Today, and Good Morning America. He is the founder of The Kalman Bullying Institute

This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.