Bullying - Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones

Podcast 7 - Sticks and Stones

ABA technical concepts covered in this podcast: Social reinforcers; negative reinforcement; response prompts; response cost; positive and negative punishment; group contingencies; manipulating motivating operations; function vs topography.

Presenters - Bobbi Hoadley, Cathy Knights.

Bobbi visits Cathy to chat about bullying behaviour and particularly how girls and women act, interact and react to it.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt me. An old proverb, that doesn't really hold true.

It's a superficial way of looking at children's interactions when they are normalized, or abusive in nature. Boys are more likely to wrestle and have physical altercations. It can be healthy, as play wrestling. But bullying doesn't stop. People used to think it was just a kid thing.

There are places where bullies feel more comfortable, or workplaces where bullies are reinforced. It's a serious issue to address. With adults, we can teach the different ways females bully vs males. As girls get older, it becomes harder to detect, because she can set up a whole system, and make it look as a "personality conflict" and the other person is somehow deficient. The more upset the person becomes at being a target, the more they look and sometimes act like an undesirable person. Any aggression that isn't overt, is passive-aggressive. Important to discriminate when it turns into bullying.

Male bullying does tend to be more overt – physical or verbal. As boys get older, it is more verbal. For women, it often includes a withholding behaviour, which is subversive, e.g. withholding information to do one's job. Males can do it too.

With female bullying is interactional alignment, trying to exclude a targeted person and trying to create a group. Over time, people in those groups, take on roles. One true bully still, but supporters who take part in it. Then a large amount of observers who feel helpless and do nothing, but they align with the bully to be accepted. Allies and observers fear becoming a target. With empathy for the target, they are more likely to align with the bully to prevent becoming the target.

The target will be in a situation where they can't do anything right – confidence is undermined. People go on stress-leave for bullying. We are starting to be more aware of that and ‘out' those behaviours. The target is usually a person who's always been bullied, right from the start.

With kids, I talk to them, "does anyone deserve to be treated that way?" Often the group blames the target for being treated that way.

Look at the reasons why the bully is targeting. For everyone to look to the target for a solution, is a completing wrong way of supporting that person. Some bullying programs in school are still biased. Telling shy and undermined kids to confront your bully is impossible. How well does that work? The other school option of brining the bully and target together, is also problematic. Bully is unscrupulous, they will do whatever they have to do or say to look good. Duplicitous behaviours go along with what they have to do to survive as a bully. So to bringing them together with a person who is conflict aversive is horrible, they are scared and defenseless. The bully can actually make that person look bad in the meeting, e.g. cause them to not speak up for themselves, cry, etc.

As a kid, it is the responsibility of the adults to help kids. The bully should not be reinforced with too much sympathy. Agree that the bully is a damaged person, where in their reality the bear eats you or you eat the bear, so they control the situation to avoid being the target. They don't have good trust or self-esteem, the confidence they show is bravado. They've been punished or hurt. It's possible they've also been influenced or modeled by bullying parents.

When teaching adults, its important to note that it is typical behaviour for kids to learn resilience through cliques, or harsh interactions, etc. That's part of social behaviour. You don't want to misjudge typical behaviour. Bullying behaviour is a pattern of behaviour that occurs over time, over people, over settings.

A lot of girls play at bullying to see how it feels. We don't teach girls how to manage conflict. All the female role models, starting with Disney, are conflict-aversive females. Only be kind, and only be forgiving. We all want to live in that world, but it doesn't help us learn how to deal with a bully. For kids, it's difficult because they require adult facilitation.

We don't need to raise girls to be aggressive, but we do want them to know how to defend themselves against people who want to victimize them. We don't tend to reinforce assertiveness in a woman. Single-minded determination isn't often appreciated in a woman.

The beginning of all behaviour change is increasing awareness. As a society we understand this, but we haven't yet settled on the formula. I teach what the kids have told me, in terms of girls. Don't blame the victim. Seek your allies – just like your bully is doing. There is safety in numbers. Find people you know you can trust and who care about you. Even one. Maybe some girls have been told you have to tough it out alone. We have to be cognizant of the fact that if someone can't reach out for help, they are headed down a path of mental health challenges.

Girls/women need to accept their role as observer, and say "that wasn't fair; she didn't deserve that" to point out the obvious, it will stop reinforcing the bullying behaviour. Most bullies have alternate behaviours but they aren't using them as primary social behaviour. That's how bullies turn around.

I've learned how to speak to behaviour without it being personal. Don't use the techniques of the bully- use common interest of creating a calmer environment.

Many of us have believed that getting along with people is a way to success. However, how many bullies do we see at the top?

One of the most heartwarming things to see is fathers who look after their children. Fathers nurturing their kids – for so many years fathers had strict roles preventing them from doing so.

Instead of giving attention to bully, give attention to the target and say "you didn't deserve that". Having that strength to not even look at the bully, but attend to the target. More often than not, it causes them to back off. If we could systematically do this as a society, we could get rid of bullies over time.