BY MITCHELL ROSEN
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPIST
There is a whole other side to bullying that is difficult to write about without seeming to blame the victim.
There are some children who are what experts refer to as "provocative victims." Meaning they taunt, annoy or act in a manner that deliberately frustrates their peers.
Often the response of the other children is to bully, ostracize or otherwise hurt the feelings of the provocative victim. I am not excusing, justifying or in any way suggesting that bullying a child, even if provoked, should be condoned or tolerated. What I am trying to say is when parents are told their child provokes the other kids, it should not automatically be dismissed or seen as blaming the victim.
There are a lot of constructive actions parents and educators can employ to minimize bullying. Giving the provocative victim the social skills they lack is an important part of any solution. It is also essential that any child who bullies is immediately given consequences that utilize the involvement of their parents.
Teaching a child who has a propensity for annoying other kids how to enter a room, wait their turn at recess or not make irritating comments are all achievable goals. Social skills training can be done either individually or in a group; the important point is to recognize that bullying is a complicated dynamic and any solution involves working with both parties.
It is not a good idea to get the parents of the bullying child and the victimized student together in the same room to "hash things out." Usually this well intentioned meeting winds up like an outtake from "The Jerry Springer Show." Even with an even-handed principal skilled in conflict mediation, things can get out of hand and a summit is not necessary to affect a solution.
If you are an educator or therapist trying to provide students who lack social skills with an awareness of the feelings of others, your work is cut out for you. Some children for a variety of reasons seem oblivious about how their behavior affects others.
Role playing is one of the more effective techniques, assisting children in understanding interactions ranging from waiting your turn to not responding aggressively when they are teased. Often children who provoke other kids lack may lack the ability to empathize or understand the feelings of others. Sure, it's possible the victimized child may have none of the above issues and is simply a child who has reached their limit. If this is the case, parents usually don't hear phrases like, "seems to escalate the other kids" or "fights back in a manner that makes things worse."
I realize by this point half of the readers are angry for suggesting bullying may be a shared dynamic; usually it is not. Most often, sweet, nice, well behaved children who may look different, have acne, or are thin or heavy may be unmercifully teased and bullied for no reason other than they look different than others think they should. In these situations the emphasis needs to be directed at the tormentor. However, speaking with any child who is bullied is time well spent.