Dealing with the Victim of Bullying
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Just as the bully warrants your attention, so too does the victim. Unfortunately in many cases the bully gets more support from school staff than the child he bullied. Yet the victim often needs counseling help. Your success in counseling the victims of bullying will depend on your ability to establish trust with them in light of their likely embarrassment and reluctance to talk about what happened.
Ask what happened and listen sympathetically to his response. The victim needs a chance to tell the story of what happened to him. Acknowledge his distress and let him know you are sorry for what he experienced. Reassure him that he is not to blame for the bullying and praise him for his willingness to speak with you about it. Encourage the student to tell you or another school staff member of future bullying incidents as soon as possible and reassure him that the school will make every effort to stop them. Also make sure to inform his parents about the incident and let him know you are going to do this.
You may also want to help victims of bullying develop more effective coping skills although you want to make sure not to place responsibility on them for dealing with the bullying. In coaching the student how to respond, consider his age and the nature of the bullying. In some cases, you may want to teach him how to assert himself with the bully. If so, try role-playing with him, suggesting what he might say or do to deflect the taunting as well as project a greater air of confidence, but make sure he knows not to respond physically.
He does not need to respond with an elaborate or clever retort. Often the best response of a student who is being taunted is to make a brief comment such as “I don’t like what you’re saying so stop it” and then walk away. Bullies are often looking for targets who are likely to dissolve in tears or passively accept the harassment. A child who does not respond in a way that gives the bully what he wants is less likely to be targeted in the future.
In some cases you may conclude that the victim was engaging in provocative behavior. While you want to make sure that the bully understands that these behaviors do not justify his mistreatment of the student, nonetheless you may want to help the victim eliminate these actions from his behavioral repertoire. In doing this, consider what emotional need his behaviors were trying to satisfy (often peer status and acceptance) and then help him find more appropriate behaviors to meet those needs.
If the teacher does not already know about the bullying incident, let her know and also inform school staff involved with the student so they can monitor the situation. Also check with the student after a couple of days to find out if the bullying has stopped and then periodically after that. Even if the bullying has stopped, you may still want to provide him with guidance, particularly if he is isolated from his peers. For example, you may want to help him expand his friendships and develop his social skills.
In dealing with a bullying situation, one step you should rarely take is to treat the incident as a peer conflict and try to mediate a solution by getting the bully and victim together. If this is a true bullying situation, then there is an imbalance of power between the two students and probably no conflict to resolve. Getting them together is likely to be intimidating for the victim and may unfairly signal to him that he has done something wrong that needs to be resolved. Rather the message to the victim should be that the bully has acted inappropriately and school staff will take responsibility for resolving the problem. Conflict resolution procedures are more appropriate where there is parity between the students or fault on both sides.