Response to 'Bully boys get trapped below the belt' in the Spring 2007 issue of Speaking Out. By Susanne Rosenberger and Stephen Davis, Department of Psychology, University College London; Mark Dobson, Innate Youth. www.dobbo.com.au
David Yates's article on bullying was interesting, and in response we would like to make some suggestions on how to respond to bullying. In David's case the bullies were imitating his speech, and after several months, David's self-confidence "gradually wore away". Bullying is the misuse of power (Dobson, 2002). Bullies attack weaknesses in their victims to make them feel small and themselves big (Dobson, 2002). Usually the bully does this in such a way that the victim cannot respond. Violence is always a last resort. On one morning David "reacted on instinct" and this reaction helped him to redress the balance of power in his situation. It is easy to judge his behaviour as being inappropriate or wrong. However if we as a community cannot show people like David how to handle a bully and how to balance the power in relationships, how can we blame David?
Therapists, teachers, and carers continually tell children not to use violence to solve situations such as that described by David. However violence is always an option for children who are victims of bullying. We consider that the appropriate questions are how has the violent situation arisen, and what can be done to prevent such situations in the future?
Rosenberger has worked with children and adolescents who stutter for 13 years (www.sommercamp-hessen.de). Dobson has considered ways of dealing with bullies in his book Back off Bully. Davis, Howell and Cook (2002) have conducted empirical work on the bullying of children who stutter in the UK.
David makes the important point that, even after he had surprised the bullies, not everything changed for the better automatically. He still needed time to build up his self-confidence.
Some strategies that can be used to stop bullying are now highlighted (Dobson, 2002). Rosenberger uses these in workshops and they appear to work (although they still need empirical support):
1. How do you stand? A good strategy is to get the child to think of a time they felt strong and confident and get them to pretend that they are in that situation again. If a child acts small and tries to be invisible, they are a potential victim. If the child stands up tall, a bully will think twice before tackling them. Role-play, for instance getting children to imagine they feel confident, can teach a child to do this.
2. Don't react. Bullies want a reaction as it rewards them, and thus they continue, or as Dobson says, "If there is no reaction, bullying's no fun". This strategy is hard for children to understand at first as they often seek revenge. The advice does not mean that children cannot do anything. They can respond, but not react: No screaming, no bursting into tears, no fighting back. They can act as if the taunts are childish. If something is said to the teachers or bullies it needs to be calm and controlled.
3. Don't argue, just agree. If you don't argue, there can be no conflict. An argument always has two sides. If the child does not take a side, the situation is not an argument. It is just a difference of opinion, and the bully will get bored because there is no reaction. This does not mean never argue, just that the child should not be tricked into arguing on the bully's terms. The child should never put him or herself down: Agree by using terms such as "If you say so", or "I'll have to give that some thought." Pausing before speaking helps too. Pauses suggest personal power, indicating that the speaker is choosing how to respond.
4. Keep a journal. Teachers are not always a lot of help, even when a child has been teased or bullied for some time. This might be because the child does not tell the teacher everything. If the bully does seven bad things, a child may be able to handle the first six but not the seventh and at this point tells the teacher. By that time, there is only evidence of the seventh incident. The aim of the journal is to identify the bully as being a bully on each occasion, not just for one offence. So in the journal, the child should report when each offence happened (date and time), where it happened, who the bullies were, what they did, how the child responded, who was told, who else saw what happened, any injuries that happened. When bullying is reported to a teacher, the journal can be shown and it will be apparent how serious and constant the bullying is.
Teachers, carers, parents, and peers have the responsibility to act, help and educate a victim of a bully. The strategies mentioned can help the victims to make the bully back off.
Davis, S., Howell, P., & Cook, F. (2002). Sociodynamic relationships between children who stutter and their non-stuttering classmates. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43, 939-947.
Dobson, M. (2002) Back off Bully - a crash course in stopping bullies, Doubleday Sydney 2002.
From the Summer 2007 issue of 'Speaking Out', pages 5-6