On the last track, we discussed helping students deal with verbal bullying by expressing feelings in a calm and constructive manner.
On this track... we will discuss three additional techniques for helping students deal with verbal bullying. These three techniques are feeding back, understanding, and name that feeling.
My client Charlie, age 13, had been experiencing trouble with another boy in gym class. Charlie stated, "This big kid, Nick, is always shoving me around. If I’m on his team and we lose, he shoves me into the lockers. If I’m on the other team and my team wins, he’s even worse. I don’t get it! Just yesterday, we had this great game of softball in class, and my team won by one run. Then Nick comes up to me and just says, ‘You know, I could beat you to a pulp any time I wanted!’ It was pretty scary, because he seemed really mad."
1. Technique: Feeding Back
I stated to Charlie, "Sometimes when a bully seems very angry, it is possible that he might be mad at himself. I find that if I listen closely, I can usually tell if a bully is just trying to be mean, or if he is trying to cover up that he is feeling angry and hurt. If you can tell that a bully like Nick is actually mad at himself, you can use a technique called "Feeding Back".
Let’s try working through the Feeding Back technique, starting with what Nick said to you yesterday."
--Charlie stated, "You know I could beat you to a pulp any time I wanted!"
--I replied, "I don’t blame you for being angry. Your team played really well, and it must not seem fair that my team won."
--Charlie stated, "Just shut up! I don’t want to hear about your team!"
--I replied, "Do you know how well you played?"
--Charlie answered, "If we had played well, we would have won, stupid!"
--I stated, "You sound even angrier at yourself than you do at me. I know you always try your hardest and you usually do well. You’re not used to making mistakes like I am."
--Charlie stated, "I can’t stand losing!"
I stated, "Now you can invite Nick to talk about why he can’t stand losing with you. It’s really important to remember not to tell Nick how he should feel. Try to focus on ignoring Nick’s words and on feeding back the feelings behind his comments. If you can’t pick out how Nick is feeling, try using another technique that we have talked about instead. Maybe Agreeing with Nick would also help him calm down."
2. Technique: Understanding and Sympathy
A second technique for helping students deal with verbal bullying is understanding and sympathy. Charlie stated, "Last month, I accidentally bumped into Nick on my way out of the locker room, and he got real mad and punched me in the stomach. I don’t think ‘Feeding Back’ would work in a situation like that."
I stated, "You’re probably right. That sounds like a different kind of anger. In a situation like that, you might want to try Understanding and Sympathy with Nick. Remember, when Nick is angry, he’s not really thinking. By showing that you understand, you give him some time to calm down and think before he acts. Let’s try role playing understanding a sympathy. Pretend that you’re Nick, and that I’ve just accidentally bumped into you."
--Charlie stated, "You stupid idiot! Why don’t you watch where you’re going?"
--I replied, "That really was quite a crash. I must have startled you."
--Charlie stated, "You certainly did! How can you be so clumsy?!"
-- I replied, "I know it’s awfully upsetting when someone bumps into you…"
I explained to Charlie that even the angriest person usually has difficulty staying angry when another person is using Understanding and Sympathy. I also encouraged Charlie to pay attention to how using understanding could help himself feel more powerful in his interactions with Nick.
3. Technique: Name that Feeling
In addition to feeding back and understanding, a third technique that can help students deal with verbal bullying is Name that Feeling. I stated to Charlie, "Sometimes, a bully can get stuck in a habit or feeling angry. These bullies start expecting that everyone is trying to use them, get the best of them, or make them look silly. In these cases, you can use a special kind of understanding called Naming that Feeling.
"By using a question to point out habitual feelings of suspicion, disappointment, distrust, or dissatisfaction, you can bring the bully’s attention to his habit, and give him time to reflect. It may be that he or she has been so caught up in the habit of feeling angry that he or she has not allowed him or herself to receive caring from other people. Let’s try another role play to see how this technique works."
Charlie stated, "Well, one thing I hear a lot from Nick is when I have to walk by his locker, he says, ‘Hey, get away from my stuff! What are you trying to do, rip me off!?’"
I stated, "To name that feeling, you could say to Nick, ‘What happened to make you have such a hard time trusting people? I’d like to hear about it.’ By saying this, you’re both giving Nick permission to be upset with you, and pointing out that he is displaying feelings of distrust."
As you know, it is important to discuss with students the risks involved in using techniques such as "Name that Feeling." Clearly, there are times when a usually verbal bully can become dangerous and physically threatening. I stated to Charlie, "It can be important to learn to recognize when a bully is most dangerous. Two things I look for are whether the bully has been drinking alcohol, or if he or she is showing off for a group of friends. I find that it is best to try to avoid a bully who is acting in these ways as much as possible. If you cannot get away, say very little. Keep concentrating on what the bully is saying. If a question, agreement, or understanding comes to your mind, saying it might help calm the situation. However, don’t push yourself to speak. If you can’t think of anything to say, stay quiet and try to remain calm."
Think of your Charlie. Would discussing feeding back, understanding, and naming that feeling help him or her deal with a verbally aggressive bully?
On this track, we have discussed three additional techniques for helping students deal with verbal bullying. These three techniques are feeding back, understanding, and name that feeling.
On the next track... will discuss four advanced techniques that students can use to deal with verbal bullying. These four techniques are Tone Twisters, Disconnected Comments, Blocks, and Pushes.
- 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
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article Reference:
Farrell, A. H., & Dane, A. V. (2020). Bullying, victimization, and prosocial resource control strategies: Differential relations with dominance and alliance formation. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 14(3), 270–283.
What are three additional techniques for helping students deal with verbal bullying?
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