REEDLEY – Approximately 500 fourth and fifth grade Kings County Unified School District (KCUSD) students happily and loudly participated in Dr. Brooks Gibbs’ Sept. 11 presentation at the Reedley High School Performing Arts Center, where he gave a presentation on how to develop emotional resilience and flexible indifference to withstand bullies and how to respond to hate with kindness.
“The more upset I got, the more fun they had. The more fun they had, the meaner they were. The meaner they were, the more upset I got.” This was Gibbs’ mantra he imparted to the students, explaining why bullies grow bolder and meaner when they sense blood in the water – so to speak.
The 45-minute presentation was part standup (on Gibbs’ part) and part role playing. During his presentation, Gibbs brought up students for different scenarios where he played the victim and the students played his tormentors, and a few students displayed a natural facility for pushing victim Gibbs’ buttons. Not only that, the presentation was also part pragmatic psychology.
OWNING YOUR OFFENSES
According to his website, Gibbs, who holds a PhD, has been delivering his training for 20 years. He has given 2,500 speeches. His videos have more than 300 million views online and have been translated into 20 languages.
Gibbs’ two key concepts, which are emotional resiliency and flexible indifference, are grounded in expectations and reactions.
“There are two things that have to happen for emotional resilience to grow in a child. One, they need to lower their importance of offenses,” Gibbs said. To illustrate this concept, he used the example of acne.
“If they hope no one teases them about the zit on their nose, and someone teases them, they’re disappointed,” Gibbs said. “But if they demand that no one has the right to tease them about the zit on their nose, then they will be disturbed. And to the degree that they demand, they will be disturbed to that degree.”
Flexible indifference means learning how not to take offense at words. In one of the role-playing scenarios, Gibbs played the unpopular girl who was not invited to a party. The three audience members he brought up onstage unloaded verbal barrages at the “teenage girl Gibbs.”
In character, he responded to their insults with a degree of poise and composure one would not expect to find in most fourth or fifth graders.
“Practice,” Gibbs responded when asked: how does a young adult develop such poise?
“If they’re going through my curriculum, the teachers facilitate activities after they watch the videos,” Gibbs said. “They do these role play-type games, or they just talk about it in their imagination.”
Gibbs said a smart second grader can learn that they contribute to their own emotional suffering. An average third grader “can absolutely learn it.”
“By the time they’re in fourth or fifth grade, they need to understand why they got upset in the first place,” he said. “The sooner they learn that they contribute to their own emotional suffering in the rigidity of their demands, the sooner they take responsibility for their emotions.”
“Now is the time (for you not to) show how reciprocity works, and how the Golden Rule works, but you (should) show them why they’re getting upset,” Gibbs added.
VICTIM PROOF CHILDREN
Gibbs said many kids feel the need to be perfect – a feeling fostered by a succeed-at-any-cost mentality in society. As a result, kids develop rigid demands of themselves and others, which leaves very little room for imperfection. It can also lead to children feeling vulnerable and becoming victims.
“We need to victim-proof children,” he said. “All the research shows a supportive parent increases the chances of resiliency because the kids have that support system.”
However, Gibbs also pointed out the flaws that can be had with this system.
“Sometimes mothers can be smotherers, and it weakens the child,” he said. “It’s better that she quits cuddling, coddling and smothering the child because she is creating a professional victim who goes to school with rigid demands about how people must treat them.”
Following this statement on a darker note, Gibbs said society should sometimes be careful with children who see themselves as victims, because sometimes “victims take guns to school, victims turn guns on themselves.
KCUSD AND GIBBS
Nick Hustedde is the integrated student services support coordinator for KCUSD. Hustedde the district first contracted with Gibbs just before COVID.
“He was scheduled to come and COVID happened. That killed it. The next year we introduced his curriculum,” Hustedde said. “There was a welcome reception to his presentation.”
Gibbs first presentation was to sixth through eighth grade students at Grant Middle School. But Hustedde said the district noticed that bullying was becoming an issue in the lower grades, which is why Gibbs gave his presentation to younger students this time.
“What we’re trying to do is respond to the need out there and really help to build up emotional resilience in the kids,” Hustedde said.
Hustedde added, “When I saw his (Gibbs) curriculum, I thought, ‘This is what I’ve been trying to do for 10 years.’
Hustedde said he expects to see decreased suspensions for bullying because the curriculum empowers students to resolve problems at a lower level and prevents the problems from escalating into an altercation or fight. He added Gibbs’ can also help with online bullying.
“With all the issues with social media. Kids are already encountering these adult-sized problems on their own,” Hustedde said. “I think it is key for us to give them some skills to address (these issues). To know when they can handle problems on their own and when they need to go to an adult.”
On his site, Gibbs advertises two products. The “Feeling Strong Parent Program” costs $49 and includes an eBook, video lessons, parent video training and a 21-day audio program.
The “Feeling Strong School Tour,” which KCUSD purchased, costs $6,000 and includes student assemblies, an eBook for every student, 21-day audio program for every student, K-12 classroom curriculum, parent/teacher training and downloadable promotional materials.