Students, staff and parents in the Johnstown-Monroe school district learned strategies about dealing with bullies from an expert Jan. 17 and 18 and picked up lifelong skills for handling themselves with domineering people.

Students, staff and parents in the Johnstown-Monroe school district learned strategies about dealing with bullies from an expert Jan. 17 and 18 and picked up lifelong skills for handling themselves with domineering people.

Child therapist Jim Bisenius spent two days in local schools, and also gave an evening presentation to crowd of adults Jan. 17. Titled "Bully-Proofing Youth," the program focused on one primary skill: Don't show fear.

And he advised the adults that - although they need to be participants in handling bullies - they cannot stamp out bullying on their own. The young victims need to do an important part of the heavy lifting.

Responsibility for "ending the dance," as he calls it, lies with the student victims.

For one thing, the students know who the bullies are. Bisenius said the bullies are usually less obvious to adults because they're smart enough to charm their elders. But they only seem charming.

"They're ruthless," he said. "They control the kids around them."

It's best for parents of victims to notify the school if their children say they're being bullied, Bisenius said, so officials can "stake out" the problem kid. But parents who try to solve the problem themselves by directly confronting the bully or the bully's parents may only make the situation worse.

Bisenius said most bullies feed off their victims' fear. Upset, hurt, and annoyance are all forms of fear, he said, and that's what bullies want from their victims.

"A big part of that fear is body language and tone of voice," he said.

The goal for the victim is to appear relaxed when confronted by a bully. Showing anger and shouting back is rarely effective and can, in fact, escalate the confrontation.

"When you don't feed back the fear, you control the dance," he said.

He said kids start bullying at by the time they're 2, and they perform bullying acts several times day.

"They're very good at what they do," Bisenius said.

Particularly for boys, Bisenius suggested that the victim lift his head up slowly, lock his eyes near the bully without trying to stare him down, close his mouth so his lips are touching, and press his tongue behind his front teeth to stop any shivering.

He said it's a good idea for someone who's experiencing bullying to try this technique first with a friend, who could act as a bully so the victim is ready when it really happens.

Bisenius said it's a bad idea for the victim to turn his back on the bully because he might get hit.

If physical violence is involved, the victim should learn some self-defense techniques.

"This is not telling your kid to beat up the bully," he said. "If it's physical, there's no substitute for the martial arts." It takes most students about two months to learn enough of the martial arts to be effective against physical bullying, he said.

Whether it's a child or adult being bullied, Bisenius said, it's important that the victim keep his or her mouth shut.

"Silence with body language is a powerful combination," he said. "If the child talks back, they're going to be picked on. It's critical they do both together.

"When you don't respond as victims, the show goes away entirely. Moments of silence are difficult for bullies."

For girls, bullying tends to be more complex and socially sophisticated. It often involves one bully latching onto a popular girl and controlling those within her circle of friends through exclusion, humiliation, and rumor.

"The bullies attach to the leader and control the group," Bisenius said. "One real friend is really paramount to help your child develop. The bully's goal is to split up the friendships within the group . If a victim can maintain a close friendship with one of the other members (even if it means communicating in secret), the bully's effectiveness is severely diminished."

Bisenius said bullying is part of society and exists almost everywhere. He suggested that parents find ways to empower their children if they are victims, to discreetly notify other adults that the bullying is taking place, and to encourage children to stay in touch with their friends.