Dealing with Bullying in a different Way

Parent Coaching: Dealing with Bullying in a different Way

Johannes Ott
My younger son came home from school one day and terrorized the whole house. At first, I ignored it as an isolated case. However, I was soon to find out that this would become the standard. The next 3 weeks were unpleasant to say the least. In the just gone past summer holiday he was helpful, lovely and a participating family member. It was clear that this change had to do with something that was going on in school that we weren’t aware of. We found out quickly and it wasn’t a question of what but whom. A newcomer, was terrorising the class, exhibited the exact same behaviour patterns we saw in our son. When we spoke to other parents we found they had encountered the same difficulties.
Having worked in the parenting and education sector, I decided to handle this rather than leaving it to the “officials” who themselves admitted, when approached, that they didn’t really know what to do. “They would speak to the parents” or “Keep an eye on him” were their responses. We spoke to other parents about their viewpoints and experiences. This was very interesting and formed the basis of the below method.

While every school has an anti-bullying policy, which clearly states it will not condone, in any way, such behaviour, has it actually worked and has there been a real tangible benefit to the bullied victim?- Based on the feedback we weren’t so sure. Bullies weren’t getting handled. To get the child expelled takes some time, assuming we got the correct culprit, and we weren’t prepared to live with it until then.

How is bullying defined?

“Bullying is an act of repeated aggressive behavior in order to intentionally hurt another person, physically or mentally. Bullying is characterized by an individual behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person.”[1]

Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus defines bullying as when a person is “exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons.” He defines negative action as “when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person, through physical contact, through words or in other ways”[2]

These definitions are worthy of note as we find that aggressive behaviour, in order to intentionally hurt another, can be found at work, at a party or at a bus stop. It happens to a person who is 6 and it happens to a person who is 76. In short, failing to handle it effectively in school may even empower bullies to continue their behaviour undiscovered and unchecked.

So, we are looking at something that is common in our society but clearly starts at an early age.

Our main solution, whether in schools or workplace, has been to make it sufficiently compelling to discourage a potential perpetrator from going ahead. However, it doesn’t work very well:

  1. There has to be victim first before we can take action and
  2. the culprits become cleverer in their disguise and methods.

Further there is – luckily – a limit to the harshness we are willing to inflict on such people. There is also to consider:

  1. We usually only catch the obvious ones, what about the others missed
  2. How do we know that we have got it really right

In fact, this is one of the reasons why today’s Anti-bullying policies have failed, it isn’t workable. The mere fact of passing a law or making a school policy, as right as it is, doesn’t necessarily change the situation. I as many other had or have assumed that schools knew how to isolate and deal with bullying but evidence seems to indicate they are at a loss too. It is so easy to say, find the bully and deal with him or her. In a school buzzing with 100s of kids, getting the often incoherent partial stories of what happened and who’s donnit, it makes isolating the right one a very difficult job. Furthermore, who wants to get it wrong and upbraid the wrong child!?

The answer may lay in empowering the victim(s)!

When I spoke to the other parents some very interesting points were raised. We could get the child expelled, eventually, but this didn’t really help us in dealing with the situation now. In addition we agreed in this case the parent to be more of a problem than the child himself; we weren’t really surprised after seeing how the parent “parented” her child. The best solution soon became clear to me, empowering our children in how to deal with bullies so they don’t come home and act out being bullies on us; ‘Empowering the bullied victim’ became our slogan. Instead of focusing on weeding out the bully, we focused on empowering the victims.

Some of the examples of how bullies can and do operate: a bully works often on singling out, lying about people to others behind the victims back. Further, it is has been noted that bullies use others to do their deeds. It is this particular method that made us consider to focus on empowering the victim.

To deal with the situation it is required to illustrate what bullying is and how it works. Role play, examples illustrating the different forms and methods used.

The second step is to get the group to see that working together stops bullies from being effective. There are various communication and group exercises that were done to bring the group together and get them to “become a team”. Regular group exercises about experiences and personal issues brought into the open can’t be used by a bully easily.

The bully is the hidden enemy to the class and teacher and the above exercises helped to bring this is home to the children and teenagers.


[1] Besag, V. E. (1989) Bullies and Victims in Schools. Milton Keynes, England: Open University Press
[2]Olweus, D Olweus.org