Bullies Lack the Skill, not the Will

Young boy appears to feel left out as if bullied. - 10/01/2021

No one likes a bully. Studies indicate that about 20% of all school-aged children experience bullying. There are a different ways to diffuse a bully. Buckle your seatbelt. These two recommendations may not be your initial reaction.

Research shows that bullies are doing the best they can with the skills they have. When someone is aggressive, intimidating and hurtful to another person, they are vying for the same social attention we all want. They just don’t know how to go about it in a considerate way.

Let Compassion Lead the Way

A knee-jerk reaction might be to punish the bully, but that lets a valuable lesson skip by, and he will likely do it again.  Direct the bully to helpful resources. If they aren’t willing to talk to you, seek out a parent, teacher, pastor or other person whom the bully will listen to. Try to find out what is bugging him or her. 

“Ironically, it is only by having compassion and understanding for the bullies that we best help future students avoid being victims,” said J. Stuart Ablon, Ph.D., Chair in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Read Dr. Ablon’s full article.

Understanding Albon’s premise is also good for victims and bystanders. Ablon’s take can set the stage for your child to feel empowered when confronted by a bully. Compassion might not be the most popular way to stop bullying, but it can provide a level of inner peace and control. Knowing that a bully may not be making a conscious choice to be hurtful, puts things in a different perspective.

Be an Upstander not a Bystander

Another good defense against bullying is to activate bystanders. Contrary to a bystander, an “upstander” is someone who takes action. Sure a personcan take steps to break up the crowd, but if there is no audience to begin with, a bully is less likely to perpetuate an attack. One child, or adult,at a time can change this. Simply walk away and report the behavior. Standing in the crowd only empowers a bully by giving him, or her, what they want – attention. 

This same bystander behavior applies to online platforms. While witnessing bullying is upsetting to the bystander too, at least they have an opportunity to make a positive difference. Children who are bullied in a crowd where no one steps up to help, feel even more isolated. 

How to be an upstander instead of a bystander:

  • Change the subject or shift the focus.
  • Use humor to redirect a conversation.
  • Enlist a group to intervene saying you don’t agree with this behavior.
  • Walk alongside the victim to diffuse potential bullying actions.
  • Reach out to the victim to let them know you care.

The goal is to make sure the victims of bullying receive the empathy and attention they deserve, while trying to change the harmful behaviors on part of the bullies. Working with a mental health counselor on evidence-based approaches can help a child bully learn how to self-regulate and build positive social thinking skills to counter social aggression. A parent, school counselor or other caring adult can help locate this service. If you suspect the situation will escalate into a violent act, seek assistance from a parent, teacher, law enforcement or other adult nearby. In any instance where bullying has escalated into full-blown violence, call 911 immediately.