De-escalation is an important skill in many situations, but since October is Bullying Awareness Month, we are going to talk about it as it relates to bullying.
When a child is bullied, they can take three paths:
- Return the aggression
- Respond passively
- Respond assertively
There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. First, when we talk about bullying we mean a pattern of behavior between individuals where a power imbalance exists and the person perptrating has the intention to cause harm.
Secondly, as adults we should NEVER expect a child to handle bullying on their own. For more information about how leaving kids to work it out themselves actually reinforces this power dynamic, see the below link.
Beyond this, however, there is a body of research that suggests that when we teach children to be assertive, not aggressive that this reduces their risk of long-term bullying. Sometimes we encourage aggression in our children with the best of intentions. We prefer them to return aggression with aggression, rather than become the victim. Children who respond with aggression, however, run the risk of escalating the situation. They become at risk for physical harm or disciplinary action. Some kids simply won’t respond with aggression because they perceive the real fear that they will be harmed (people who bully often seek out those they perceive to be physically weaker).
Passivity is also problematic. The same body of research suggests that it rewards the bullying behavior, which sets up a pattern. That is not to say that the person who is bullied is to blame. There is no excuse for bullying.
One of the best defenses may be to teach our child to be assertive before bullying ever occurs. Walk through options with your child. Role-playing is often a more effective way to learn a skill than simply being told what to do. With younger children, you can use dolls or stuffed animals to role play. Older children can act out different scenarios informally with you. Act out the different possible outcomes and discuss options by weighing potential consequences
Once again, these techniques are not a substitute for adult intervention and they also to not take the place of properly reporting an incident. Due to the seriousness of bullying, it’s important to not only equip the child, but also for adults and systems to do their part.
For more information on reporting refer to our previous post:
Check out this video for a brief explanation of assertiveness:
For a lot more information on teaching assertiveness:
For a deep dive into bullying dynamics and suggestions for kids and parents (the tips are ALL the way at the end of the article):