Dealing with Bullying

According to Rigby (2006), bullying is the intentional act of causing harm and unhappiness to others through harassment, physical assault, cyber assault, or other more subtle methods of coercion such as manipulation. Further, the harassment can be verbal, physical and/or emotional.

Bullying is a general term applied to a pattern of behaviour whereby one person (the bully) who has uncontrolled anger, resentment and/or aggression (and lacks interpersonal/social skills) chooses to displace their aggression, social dominance and power onto another (the victim). Bullies use tactics, such as criticism, manipulation, ridicule, exclusion, isolation and teasing to ridicule or incite the victim (Masheder, 1998).

Bullying can occur in any setting where individuals interact together (such as school, home and workplace). It can also extend to affect social groups, social classes and between countries, this is known as military bullying (Connor, 1990).

Within the school environment, bullying usually occurs in areas with minimal or no adult, teacher supervision. It can occur in or around the school buildings, though it more often occurs in outside classes like sports, at lunch breaks, in toilets, the playground, in and waiting for buses, and/or during after-school activities (Elliott, 1991).

Victims of childhood bullying who have had no treatment or intervention often remain passive, detached and lacking social competence and skills needed to have healthy, functional interactions with others as an adult. As a counsellor, are you aware of the strategies children can use to cope with bullying? How about as a parent, friend or carer? In this article, we will explore some of these strategies.

Strategies Against Bullying

There is a range of counselling skills and strategies which can enhance a victim of bullying’s ability to cope and stop the cycle of bullying. They include teaching a child how to build a healthy self esteem, teaching a victim who generally has a passive communication style how to become more assertive and stand up for their own rights without violating others.

Conflict resolution skills are one of the more effective counselling techniques and interventions a counsellor can apply in an effort to reduce victimisation. Conflict resolution aims to create a win-win situation for everyone involved. By shifting attention away from those involved and onto the problem, creative problem solving can happen (Morrison, 2002).

Teaching a child early on the skills of conflict resolution will empower, prepare and support students to deal successfully with conflict situations at school, at home and in later life. The range of conflict resolution skills also includes effective listening, negotiation skills, assertiveness skills training, problem solving and reflecting skills.

Conflict resolution skills are adaptable as they can be taught on an individual or group basis. More effectively they can be introduced, developed and reinforced as ongoing components of the all-curriculum areas (Morrision, 2002).

Anti-bullying programs or a critically focused curriculum, which is informed by understandings of the role of power in relationships, can expand opportunities for all groups to explore their personal and social needs within a climate of respect and valuing of difference (Morrison, 2002).

How to Teach a Child Conflict Resolution Skills

Discuss and assess their communication style (i.e. passive, assertive or aggressive). Pitch your language according to the child’s age and developmental stage.

Explain the importance to them of being able to stand up for themselves and that conflict resolution skills will assist them in reducing the incidence and effect of the bullying.

Discuss, role-play and teach assertive communication techniques.  Below are the skills relevant to assertive communication. 

  • Stating – When you do ……., When I see you……… I feel.
  • Checking – Can you tell me what you think I said?
  • Insisting – Yes, I understand that you are angry at me.
  • Compromise – Can’t we just be friends?
  • Goal setting – What if we decided to play with other kids and not together?
  • Goal inviting – What do you think we can do to make this situation better?
  • Reflecting – Do you feel ……. when I……? I can see that you are angry.
  • Accepting – Now I understand why you think that..
  • Inquiring – Were you upset by………………….?

It is important that to assist a child’s understanding by utilising other therapy techniques such as play therapy, sand tray, role play and drawing to facilitate self-expression. The use of I statements can be positive and powerful.  Teaching a child to be able to say “I don’t like it when..” can be useful.

Check the level of a child’s self esteem by asking them questions about “how they see themselves”, what’s good and not so good about themselves?”

It is important that children have a positive self-concept and self-worth in order to confidently apply conflict resolution skills. Confidence building strategies may, therefore, form part of the intervention package for developing conflict resolution skills in children.

Encourage children to speak about their feelings openly and not to withdraw or retreat as this may exacerbate feelings of sadness and isolation. Below are a series of questions you can use to teach a child how to effectively manage their feelings:

Questions to Ask When You Are Angry, Hurt, or Frightened

  1. Why am I feeling this way?
  2. What do I want to change?
  3. What do I need to do to let go of this feeling?
  4. Whose problem is this really? How much is mine? How much is theirs?
  5. What is the unspoken “message” I interpret from this situation? E.g. they don’t like me, they don’t respect me.

Goals in Communicating Emotions

  1. To communicate your feelings of anger, hurt, or fear.
  2. To change the situation
  3. To prevent the recurrence of the same anger, hurt, or fear.
  4. To improve the relationship and increase communication

More Strategies to Reduce the Effect of Bullying

Researchers, (Ross, 1998 & Morrison, 2002) provide several strategies which address ways in which counsellors could further assist their clients to reduce the impact of bullying behaviours, these include:

  • Encourage children to make adults aware of the situation and involve them. This could be a parent, friend or teacher.
  • Make it clear that bullying is never acceptable or deserved.
  • Liaise and interact with the children’s school- case conference with them.
  • Speak to the school about getting more monitoring in the playground, toilets etc.
  • Emphasise caring, respect and safety.
  • Emphasise the consequences of being hurt and of hurting others.
  • Check with the school to see what process is in place for ensuring consistent and immediate follow up and consequences for aggressive, bullying behaviours.
  • Teach your client positive behaviours and encourage them to seek out people they can trust.
  • Teach co-operative learning activities.
  • Help and teach bully children to control their anger through anger management training and the development of empathy skills.Encourage positive peer relations.

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