Who’s Supporting the Bully?

Bullying is still prevalent – research carried out by the NSPCC at the start of 2013 states that:

  • Of the children surveyed 46% of children have been bullied in school.
  • Of all the children who called Childline in 2011/12, the predominant reason that boys called was for bullying.
  • 16,493 young people (aged between 11– 15) were frequently absent from school due to bullying.

Imagine an 11 year old boy, Adam, he’s of average height, average weight and comes from a middle class home.  Last week, he was walking from the train station to his Bracknell school, when a random boy from another school shouted over that he looked “gay”.  Adam’s not the type of boy to hurl insults back or to challenge the behaviour of others, so although very embarrassed, he put his head down and continued his walk to school, albeit at a slightly faster pace.   Mark and David, from Adam’s school were walking a few paces behind and heard the insult.  They’re not friends with Adam; in fact they don’t know him very well at all.  However at noticing his embarrassment they found the incident very funny.

Two days later Adam is in the school playground cornered.  David is at the front of the group, shouting abuse at Adam.   He’s instigating a vicious and unyielding attack of insults.  Mark and another friend are actively encouraging and egging on the aggressor.  More of the group are passive bystanders, not willing to participate but they’re so scared of David they carry out ‘active’ non participation.    Adam is getting verbal abuse, today; tomorrow it may turn physical.

A teacher breaks up the incident.  Adam is anxious, unsure if that was the last assault of the day or if there is more to come.  Although the teacher ushers Adam away from the situation and provides him with immediate emotional support, Adam is still concerned about what will happen later, tomorrow, next week when the teacher isn’t there to ‘save’ him.  Those who have ostracised Adam through active non participation, probably leave the situation with self-induced waves of guilt, shame and anger; (as observed by Nicole Legate and colleagues, in their study “Hurting You Hurts Me Too”, 2013).

So, who is supporting the bully in this scenario?

Bullies are not born, they are created through circumstance.  Whether this is lack of effective social development or damaging/negative social development, it is clear that the bullies have learnt that it is easier to bully than to learn acceptable social skills. To become adept at socialisation starts at a very early age, as studied by Messinger and Colleagues in 1997 & 2007.

“We believe that through interacting, babies learn early social rules, such as when to take turns with their vocalisations, when to smile at the same time,” says Messinger. “It’s by smiling at the same time as their mothers, that babies develop a sense of shared social emotion.”

This development continues through childhood and adolescence as we model parents, siblings, teachers and our peers.  We learn how to read social cues, empathise and negotiate what we want and need.  So it is not surprising that if not actively encouraged in these skills some kids realise that the easy route to gaining what they want is through intimidation and force.  These negative skills are then validated as they get exactly what they want, both from the other child and from within in the form of guilt and shame.

The good news is, if bullying is brought about by lack of effective social stimulation and direction, this can be negated. By working with those children who display bullying behaviours we can mitigate instances of playtime abuse.  We need to support the bullies!

Here’s how:

1. Spend time with the child reviewing and experimenting with social situations. 

Review situations in life or on television.  Review how each situation came about and what it must be like to be each of the characters in the scenario.

2. Review how the child really sees a situation. 

How much are they distorting the truth for their own gains?  Work with them on noticing the information they are expertly deleting in their favour.

3. Help the child build their self-esteem. 

Help them understand how they can feel good about themselves by doing something worthwhile.

4. Implement accountability for everything they do and say. 

You will need to practice what you preach, be accountable for your own actions and be clear on the implications they have on others.

5. Help the child realise the choices they have.

We all have choices for all of our actions, even in difficult situations.  Help the child understand the implications for each action available.

6. Help the child to set goals. 

Goals provide a focus of attention and help build the child’s self-esteem as they are completed.

7. Work together on problem solving activities. 

Generate the understanding that putting effort into something generates a greater reward.  Working with you on playful activities will create the understanding that they can count on you to help them solve difficult problems.

Cutting back to our scenario, what we didn’t see was that David’s brother is concerned about inconsistencies regarding his sexuality.  His parents have oscillated through a variety of emotions since they found out.  They have not discussed this with David; he has just heard the conversations through the wall.  The random incident with Adam was enough to trigger the chain reaction of emotions that David has no idea how to deal with.   Thankfully David’s school put him in touch with NLP4Kids Berkshire before his bullying behaviour got out of hand.  Through our therapy sessions, we gave him the tools he needed to understand the social situation at home, take accountability for his actions and manage his feelings effectively.

NLP4Kids Berkshire provides “Bully SOS” – Individual therapy for children, designed to improve social skills, develop self-esteem and support goal setting.

Call 07747 090871 or email DebbieK@NLP4Kids.org for a free initial consultation.  Or visit http://www.childtherapyberkshire.nlp4kids.org/workshops/ for more information on our “Buddies not Bullies” school workshops.

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