Bullies typically continue their bullying behaviour when they are psychologically rewarded by seeing the fear and anguish in their victims. When these rewards stop, often so does the bullying.
Bullies feed off the targets' defensive responses. If the bully throws verbal 'mud' and it does not stick, they generally move on to an easier target.
The third step is that, in addition to dealing with the bullies' behaviour, there is also great benefit in helping targets of bullies understand what they can do to prevent themselves from being victims.
Immediately after reading that last sentence, some will protest: "You are blaming the victim" or "But targets shouldn't have to do anything; it's the responsibility of the bully to change his or her behaviour."
The reality is, however, that bullies are generally not responsible people, and due to their own insecurities, are on the lookout for targets to tease and torment, even when there are laws that say they should not.
I am definitely not blaming the targets of bullies.
I merely wish to empower them so that they no longer need to be fearful in the face of verbal attacks and taunts.
It would help kids if they better understood what motivates bullying behaviour and the best way to respond. (Pic: iStock)
What I am suggesting is teaching children some psychological defence skills that will make them psychologically 'Teflon coated' and immune to the kind of verbal abuse that often leads on to physical abuse by the bully or even suicide for the bullied.
There are many non-defensive responses that the bully will certainly not find reinforcing. For example, when being teased, a simple and calm response such as, "Oh, why are you telling me that?" or, my personal favourite counter to an insult intended to upset me, "Thanks for that feedback, I'll give it some thought" can turn the attention back on the bully.
These responses are much like the classic response of, "Is that all you've got?" to a flasher: He is quickly deflated.
I must emphasise that my assertion that children can benefit from learning effective skills to prevent themselves from being targets of bullying is in no way meant to replace the much-needed adult interventions aimed at stopping bullies through social and legal avenues, or to lessen the culpability of the bully.
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