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Former police officer teaches kids and adults to deal with negative situations

© Journal Newspapers . Reprinted with permission.

By Cathy Herholdt

Paul Figueroa started his organization to make a difference. Twelve years as a King County Sheriff's deputy working in the gang unit led to a desire to help kids avoid violence.

"I saw a lot of negative stuff first hand," said Figueroa, a Shoreline resident who now leads anti-bullying workshops for kids and teaches adults to refrain from the harmful behavior of gossiping.

Bullying, he says, is a huge issue for kids today. Defined as a misuse of power and a negative way of not dealing with anger, bullying can affect people of any age.

To address the problem, Figueroa teaches workshop attendees positive ways to deal with anger and be assertive, but he also has them act out what they're learning.

"Knowledge of how to deal with it isn't enough," he explains. "You need to experience new skills."

Figueroa says that when faced with a stressful situation, the cognitive part of our brain "takes a cab," and they rely on learned behaviors, many of which are not effective. Utilizing past experiences that did not go well, students have the opportunity to re-do (hence the name of the program) the event with support from audience members and a tool kit of new skills.

"Doing is the key," says Figueroa, who believes we only remember 10 percent of what we hear, 25 percent of what we see, but 90 percent of what we do. "This is especially true with conflict, and bullying is conflict.

"When you get angry, you may know how you want to deal with it, but you'll do what you've always done."

He teaches practicing new behaviors so the body will react in a different way.

At a recent workshop at the Shoreline Library, two kids acted out a scene on the playground that turned negative when one started making fun of the other. Figueroa stopped the role play several times to ask questions about how the participants were feeling, what they were thinking, and how they wanted to react. The kids then followed through with suggestions to resolve the conflict.

"You provide structure for the bully and remove the victim," says Figueroa, who also offers self-esteem building exercises to his students to help them avoid taking bullying personally.

One example is what he calls the "Truth-tester." When kids hear something unkind and start to think old messages like "I'm bad," they hold up the Truth-tester and ask themselves if that message is really true. Figueroa uses a stuffed turtle with a soft inside to represent feelings and a hard shell as the Truth-tester. Kids can "go inside" that shell to test what they're hearing.

"What we do at Peace Enforcement LLC is support people to use their power and make new, safe and healthier choices in their own lives - for themselves and their loved ones," he says, summing up his purpose.

For his efforts, Figueroa received the Governor's Child Abuse Prevention Award and was featured on the "Today Show." He's also been featured on Radio Disney several times.

Adults are not immune from negative ways of dealing with anger either, and gossiping is a top choice for grown ups in all sorts of situations. So, Figueroa takes his positive approach into workplaces where adults can use the skills as well.

Stressing that gossip is harmful and can be as simple as talking about someone who's not in the room, he teaches adults to go directly to the person and deal with their anger.

"It breaks down teamwork, honest relationships in the office, productivity, and a feeling of belonging," he explains. And, "It feels yucky."

Rather than listening to gossip, Figueroa instructs adults to respond by saying, "That's interesting. It sounds like you need to talk to Mary about that," directing the gossiper to resolve the conflict directly with the person.

In both bullying and gossiping, Figueroa believes people have a choice when they're angry: to hurt someone, to deal with their anger or to use it to do something constructive - something this former cop did when he created Peace Enforcement.

For more information on workshops, call 206-650-5364.

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