Bullies and the Bullied

What about the Bully?  The OT’s role in facilitating a sense of self—

So much has been written about the impact that being bullied has on children, but what about the bully?

No doubt that bullying is a huge issue. The National Association of School Psychologists report that about one in seven school children (about 5 million children) have either been a bully or has been bullied! The report goes on to state …“children who experience persistent bullying may become depressed or fearful.  They may even loose interest in going to school or other activities.”

Adults rush to the aid of the child being bullied and punish the child doing the bullying.

At first glace this seems right, but is it?  Particularly when it comes to children, shouldn’t both children –the bully and bullied—be helped?

David Nelson and Clyde Robinson of BYU in an article from the Journal of Early Education and Development conducted a study linking relational aggression and social status in preschoolers.  Previously thought to be a condition seen primarily in adolescents, relational aggression, meanness, bullying, etc. is now being observed in very young children.  Between 17 and 20 percent of preschool girls, according to Nelson and Robinson, display such behaviors with the numbers being less with boys.

What is bullying all about?  It is about POWER.

Someone having to make someone else less so they can feel bigger.

So if someone needs to make others smaller, what are they really feeling themselves? And what are some crucial issues that should be noted in formulating an effective program for helping both the perpetrator and the victim?

Some important factors to note are:

  1. Non-physical bullies should be confronted
  2. Girls are often more verbally abusive than boys (with boys being more phsycial)
  3. Bullying has long term negative repercussions
  4. Girls as young as 3 or 4 years of age have mastered manipulation and peer pressure to get what they want
  5. There are many “warning signs” of children who may become bullies:
  • Temper and mood swings
  • Loner
  • Poor socialization skills
  • Tend to single out children who appear passive, anxious, sensitive, quiet or stand out in some way
  • Poor school performances
  1. Bullying is an aggressive behavior.
  2. Teasing is a form of bullying—there is not such thing as “just in fun”
  3. Bullied children are more likely to suffer depression, use drugs and alcohol
  4. Bullying is more than “kids being kids”
  5. Classroom activities that let the children “perform as usual” and then having the teacher and/or facilitator confront and point out the positive and negative behaviors (sometimes through role-playing or puppet shows, etc.) is an excellent way to help the children recognize and then practice alternative response patterns.
  6. When organizing groups, do not allow children to choose their “partners” or groups, let them be assigned at random and/or with protagonists and antagonists combined.
  7. Teachers, facilitators, etc., need to be very observant as to the body language of the children in the various groups. (It will be easy to detect who is comfortable, and who is not.)
  8. A carefully orchestrated peer review of behaviors allows for the whole class to decide on what is acceptable behaviors and what is not.

The following happened as I was conducting  a P.O.P.™  Social Skills Program (Personal Options and Preferences™ a registered trademark program of Children’s Special Services, LLC) the following happened—

Matty* is a six-year old boy who is large for his age.  His parents come from the near East, and he “looks different” from his more “American” classmates. Although born here, he has not transitioned well from his small nurturing preschool setting to the larger arena of Kindergarten at the neighborhood elementary school.

During the first session Matty was busy telling everyone where to sit, when to listen and was the self-appointed “watchman” ready to tell the OT or the teacher when someone was not following directions.  He clearly had a problem with personal space, often getting in someone’s face to talk to them, etc.  He also was ready to take offense if anyone said anything to him, even asking if they were asking him to stop what he was doing. His reaction was to hit and/or (or both) talk sharply and point out something negative about the other child.

These behaviors led to hurt feelings and the OTR having to talk to Matty away from the group to talk about behavior that hurts others.  This did not help.

Later on during the program (of several sessions), Matty confided that “no one likes him”, “everyone says he is dumb” and “he has no friends”.  Clearly Matty lives in a “strike or be struck” mode of action and reaction.  And as much as we needed to be mindful of the feelings of all the group members (8 children), there was a marked shift in the group from “he thinks he’s better than us” to “poor Matty” and this opened for both Matty and the group, discussions about how all of us have felt dumb and unaccepted at various times.  The group helped make of list of what to do and it wasn’t just for Matty, but with him, and everyone was benefiting.

*Matty not his real name

So while we are teaching the art of daily living, and social skills is an art,  occupational therapists need to keep in mind that treating the group can be as powerful as treating the individual, and often when it comes to re-channeling bullying behavior that may be the most effective route.

When formulating a social skills group occupational therapists should consider the following topics to be discussed:

  1. Teaching of self-respect
  2. Expression of anger or dissatisfaction—blowing off steam appropriately can be a life ling skill
  3. Stress the importance of body language
  4. Encourage friendships
  5. Teach children to express themselves clearly, yet diplomatically
  6. Judge when and when not to assert themselves
  7. Teach humor as a way to deflect a verbal “attack”  (examples: teasing, swearing, put downs, gossiping, twisting your words around, judging gone unfairly, passing blame, bossing, embarrassing one in front of others, making someone cry, confusing you on purpose, etc.)
  8. Avoid bullies whenever possible—suggest ways to do this
  9. Do NOT be ashamed to ask for help
  10. Help the bully feel successful for who he/she is
  11. Have the bully “walk in the other child’s shoes” (role playing)
  12. Make it clear to all that bullying will not be tolerated and has negative consequences for ALL

Former President Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite expression was “Bully” which he used for noting his approval.  Maybe that is what today’s bullies are lacking—approval, self-esteem and a strong healthy sense of self.

For additional reading “Taking the Bully By the Horns” is a children’s book by Kathy Noll (available from the author directly $12.95 plus $2 S/H to Kathy Noll 3300 Chestnut Street, Reading PA 19605).

And one last thought:

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your

ambitions. Small people always do that, but the

really great make you feel that you, too, can

become great.”

Mark Twain

Susan N. Schriber Orloff, OTR/L, is the author of Learning Re-enabled, a guide for parents, teachers and therapists. The book is featured by the National Education Association. She also writes “Ask the Therapist,” a column inExceptional Parent magazine, and is CEO and executive director of Children’s Special Services, LLC, an occupational therapy service for children with developmental and learning delays in Atlanta, GA. WIN™ Write Incredibly NOW™ is a US Trademarked handwriting program for children pre-K through teen. She can be reached on the Web at www.childrens-services.com or at sorloffotr@aol.com.