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Bullying: Techniques for Dealing with Taunting, Teasing, & Tormenting - 10 hrs
Bullying: Techniques for Dealing with Taunting, Teasing, & Tormenting - 10 CEUs

Section 18
Five Strategies for Intervening with a Bully

Question 18 | Test | Table of Contents | Bullying
Social Worker CEU, Psychologist CE, Counselor CEU, & MFT CEU

Huesmann et al. (1984) make it clear why initiatives must be taken to intervene on behalf of the bully. Children who are provided with no alternatives to violent and aggressive behaviors have no reason to change such behaviors and, left unattended, will likely fall victim to some sort of juvenile justice jurisdiction (Sprott & Doob, 1998). Furthermore, adults contribute to the promotion of bullying when they do nothing to counteract such behaviors. Such lack of perceived concern by adults toward incidents of bullying are likely to be perceived by those with aggressive tendencies to be tacit acceptance of bullying behaviors.

Five specific approaches are advocated in dealing with the child or adolescent engaged in bullying behaviors. These include (1) making nonthreatening contact with bullies, (2) intensive listening to what the bully is saying at both the surface and metacommunicative levels, (3) laying the groundwork for the bully to begin to learn about self and creating opportunities for change, (4) giving individual attention and support, and (5) providing long-term follow up and care.

Approaching the Agents of Bullying
Bullies must be confronted by adults about their behaviors. Such confrontation and education is best handled in a calm and rational manner between episodes of bullying incidents, not in the immediate aftermath of an incident at which time emotions among all parties may be less cognitive and more affective. Examples of possible opening dialogue by the professional school counselor and individuals identified as bullies include:

I understand that you and Joe have been involved in some fights lately. Help me understand what is happening between the two of you.

Ms. Principal shared with me that she had to place you into in-school suspension because of what happened between John and you yesterday. I'm certain all of this is upsetting. What is your opinion about what is happening between John and you?

Joanne, I noticed that you and Anne exchanged words in the cafeteria again today. I've also noticed that the behavior occurs quite often. I'm afraid that if the relationship between the two of you doesn't improve, someone is going to get into trouble. What can the three of us--Anne, you, and I--do to improve the situation?

Those who implement variations of the above examples must modify the language so as to make it most age-appropriate and situational for the parties involved. It is important to note that in all of the examples, at no time does the counselor accuse the student of being in the wrong so as to open the exchange by putting the bully on the defensive.

All probes in these instances are designed to start a dialogue from the bully's perspective as to what is occurring. Seldom, if ever, do bullies receive the opportunity to explain their actions. More specifically, young people who exhibit defiant and aggressive behaviors often receive little, if any, empathetic attention from adults (Hanna, Hanna, & Keys, 1999). Children need to be given every opportunity to justify the reasons for their actions as a mechanism toward acquiring accountability and accepting responsibility for their actions.

Listening for Surface vs. Metacommunicational Themes
Evidence exists that bullies are quite sad and unhappy individuals who mask their true emotions behind a mask of bravado and aggression (Sprott & Doob, 1998). It is important to listen to both the surface details and the deeper metacommunications contained in the responses of the bully.

What precisely does the individual say about an incident of bullying? Is there an effort to justify purely aggressive behaviors? Is there ownership to any of the actions undertaken during an incident of bullying? How much affect is attached to both the description of the incident and the attempts to attach ownership to the action? While assessing the answers to these questions, it is important to determine what the surface details reveal about the cognitive, affective, and behavioral processes as they relate to the overall experiences of the individual.

Are there cues contained within the information which reveal salient features about the individual's home life, parental disciplining styles, or degree of perceived concern from the parents? What does the individual say about feelings of alienation, self-esteem, fear, or anger? This information is vital in laying the ground-work for future therapeutic interventions with both the child and the family.

Beginning Self-Awareness and Opportunities to Change
Bullies must learn two important facts about interactions with others. First, they must learn that aggression as a means of normal interaction with peers is not acceptable and that alternative means do exist for dealing with everyday frustrations. They must be given the opportunity to learn what these alternative means are and, more importantly, be given the chance to actively practice and experience success in these alternative-to-violence activities and programs.

Anger management programs such as those advocated by McLain and Lewis (1994), Phillips-Hershey and Kanagy (1996), and Studer (1996) provide an important opportunity for agents to explore the root causes of their behaviors. Craig et al. (1998) also advocate the creation of programs to assist parents in developing better prosocial skills and methods of dealing with life's stressors. Second, bullies must understand the concept of personal boundaries and limitations.

Too often, the aggressive individual has learned that trespass into and intimidation in another's personal physical comfort zone is the way one obtains objects of desire. The only limitations which exist are the speed and efficiency in which the bully obtains the object or goal of desire from the target.

Behavioral contracts and social skills-training intervention are advised to help focus the bully on achievable and concrete behavioral changes to alter existing negative conduct (Elliott & Gresham, 1991; Morrison & Sandowicz, 1995; Smith, 1990). Parental and teacher inclusion in the formulation of such contracts is essential to create a supportive atmosphere for the bully both in the school and home environments. Parental support of the behavioral contract is extremely important, particularly among those parents who, as Ross (1996) indicated, are prone to be "clearly [approving] of their children's [bullying] actions" and who "resent the school's involvement as `interference'" (p. 73).

Additionally; a parent-teacher team approach to the problematic behaviors of the bully sends a message to the individual that the school and the home are willing to act in concert to stop the negative actions of the child. Dubow, Huesmann, and Eron (1987), Lochman, Coie, Underwood, and Terry (1993), and Lochman and Curry (1986) provide additional strategies for prosocial behavior programs with aggressive children.

Bullies must be made aware that responsible adults such as the school counselor are concerned about aggressive behaviors and that they will act when necessary to correct misbehavior. Professional school counselors should not, however, be placed in a position of having to administer school discipline. As previously noted, adult neglect of bully aggression breeds cynicism and self-defeat within the school environment (Asidao et al., 1999; Hazler, Hoover, & Oliver, 1992; Olweus, 1992; Wayne & Rubel, 1982).

Bullies must be firmly educated as to the rules of the school relating to aggressive behaviors, and they must be held accountable whenever they violate those rules. Likewise, schools must have clearly delineated policies responding to bullying-type behaviors, and all school personnel must practice active intervention strategies to eliminate such behaviors when observed (Clarke & Kiselica, 1997; Craig et al., 1998). Such policies and practices, however, must not merely punish the agents of bullying behaviors, but be designed to provide comprehensive and long-term therapeutic interventions to all parties involved in such interactions.

Central to these policies should be efforts to explore and understand the cognitive, affective, and behavioral reasonings behind bullying behaviors. Interventions which occur to the exclusion of seeking the reasons behind such behaviors are less likely to be effective than those in which the motives of the aggressor are fully known.

Providing Individual Attention and Support
It is wise to work individually with aggressive individuals in seeking to understand the causes underlying bullying behaviors, provided that such individuals are not currently in an agitated or dangerous state. Instances will arise in which a group of individuals bully a victim. Interventions with all the perpetrators in a group setting are likely to recreate the original group logic that occurred at the time of the original attack. The individual reasons for and degree of commitment to an act of group bullying need to be explored (Ballard, Argus, & Remley, Jr., 1999; Paulk et al., 1999; Pellegrini & Bartini, 1999).

Often individuals involved in such instances, when given the opportunity to speak for themselves, cannot identify the reasons behind their actions except that they felt "a need to follow the [main] teaser's lead" (Shapiro et al., 1991, p. 465). More importantly, individuals may need the chance to express their personal displeasure over the group's bullying behaviors and may only be able to do so in the absence of the remaining group members.

Bullies need to be supported in efforts to alter their negative behaviors. Change at the age of intervention may be extremely difficult for the individual, considering for the moment that the aggressive behavior might have been learned in the family by aggressive role models and that the bully may have had years of successful practice engaging in such activities prior to the onset of the first meaningful intervention. Positive adult role modeling and self-esteem enhancing approaches are essential in counteracting years of negative and aggressive imitative learning models in the life of the bully.

Furthermore, individuals who are attempting to break away as a participant in a group of bullies need additional support as they move outside the peer group and against the group's negative norms toward more positive behaviors. These individuals are more likely to encounter strong efforts by the group to realign themselves within it and may, at some point in the moving-out process, become the target of bullying actions themselves.

Ensuring Long-Term Follow Up and Care
Two of the most critical components of working with bullies, like their victims, comes in the ability to provide long-term counseling services and provide the long-term support necessary for change (Roberts & Coursol, 1996). Abandonment of and providing reduced services to clientele are a common occurrence in the school setting as the result of understaffing, outrageous student-to-counselor ratios, and misunderstandings by school administration as to the ability of the school counselor to provide the type of service necessary for successfully intervening in the bully-victim dyad.

The change required of individuals making the effort to move from firmly entrenched highly aggressive toward less aggressive, more socially acceptable behaviors takes great time and patience on the part of both the bully and the counselor. Schools must be committed to allowing the school counselor to do the job one is trained to do. This includes providing the appropriate time and educational resources for long-term behavioral change initiatives among specific populations within the school setting.

Without such support from the school allowing the school counselor to engage in long-term behavior change programs with clientele in need of such changes, even more bullies willing to accept the challenge of aggression-reducing programs will likely be abandoned by school counselors forced to move from one crisis to another within the school setting.

Implications for Professional School Counselors
School counselors are critical links in stopping and changing the aggressive behaviors exhibited by bullies. It is critical to view the bully as involved in a symbiotic relationship with the victim. Remediation of victim wounds without addressing the source of those cognitive, affective, or physical injuries will likely be ineffective in preventing the reoccurrence of bullying incidents within the school. School counselors must view the bully as the product of aggressive imitative learning. The origin of such behaviors likely began in the home and are reinforced within the peer group and vicariously in the media.

Options do exist to successfully intervene on behalf of the bully. Such options begin with viewing the aggressor as a vital and equal component in the conflict resolution process. Bullies must be educated about school and societal rules toward aggressive behaviors as well as held accountable for their actions. However, true accountability can only come when bullies understand the full ramifications of their behaviors on both their futures and those of their victims.  

It is essential to give the perpetrators of bullying behaviors the opportunity to explain their actions from their points of view. Bullies have their own logic for acting as they do. School personnel must become actively involved in providing alternatives for the behaviors which emerge in the bully-victim dyad so as to send a strong message to all students in the school that adults do care about student well-being and will be actively involved in the process of safeguarding all students. Bullies need strong support and must not be abandoned for their efforts to learn alternative methods of nonviolent behaviors, particularly those attempting to break away from an aggressive peer group.

- Roberts, W. B., Jr., & Morotti, A. A. (2000). The Bully as Victim: Understanding Bully Behaviors to Increase the Effectiveness of Interventions in the Bully-Victim Dad. Professional School Counseling, 4(2), 148-155. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/42732181?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
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