People bully because it can be an effective way of getting what they want. They may also bully because they lack the skills to communicate their needs in an effective way. Most people experience bullying at some point, so the following skills are offered for your anti-bullying toolbox. These may help you respond when you find yourself, your child, or a loved one being bullied.
A common plan of action is used through the acronym, S.A.F.E.:
Say something- Speak up for your or your loved one’s well being using a firm tone of voice. Create and practice a script that helps the victim feel safe.
Ask for help- Tell someone who can intervene like a teacher, guardian, or supervisor.
Find a friend- Find a person or group who can stick up for you or your loved one, or who can protect against the bully. It can be more difficult to attack someone who is not alone. Connect with a community that you enjoy, and that builds you up.
Exit the Area- Make distance between you and the bully, perhaps by walking away or taking a bathroom break.
Another similar, commonly suggested acronym is DEBUG: https://www.sightwordsgame.com/bullying/debuggig-tools-young-children/
When someone shares with you that they are being bullied, this is a sign they feel safe with you and trust you. Thank them for their courage and validate their experience by reflecting their words. If they are having trouble naming their feelings, help them to label them. You can also express empathy and compassion for yourself if you are being bullied by labeling and allowing your own emotions to flow. For example, you might think: “It’s okay for me to feel mad.” “I’m allowed to feel hurt and cry.” “Of course I feel this way, given the way I was treated.”
We cannot control what other people do, but we can control our own actions and words. In some cases, setting clear and firm boundaries may help. Instead of telling the bully what to do, which you cannot control, you can state something safe and actionable that you will do. For example: “If you do that again, I’m telling the teacher.” “If you continue raising your voice, I will join a different group project.”
Often, the advice given to a bullying victim is “Just ignore them,” but this is much easier said than done at any age. Instead, it may be helpful to write and practice a phrase in your own words that you can use when bullied. You might consider speaking in a tone that is calm, firm, and unemotional. This way, you are not giving the bully the response they may be hoping for, while still standing up for yourself: “I didn’t ask for your opinion.” “I’m not interested in what you have to say.” “Cool story, bro.”
It can be healing to use affirmations to combat hurtful things that have been said. Typically an affirmation is an encouraging statement, often beginning with “I am.” It may be most effective for a person to come up with their own affirmation, though it is perfectly fine to help a loved one with this. Even if the statement is hard to believe in the moment, continue repeating it until you start to feel some self-compassion. Examples might include: “I am who I say I am.” “I am strong.” “I choose to love myself.” “I am enough.” “I’m not responsible for the version of me that others have created in their minds.”
Sometimes something like having a playdate between the bully and the victim, or having the victim simply express their feelings is enough to resolve the bullying. However, there are cases in which involving someone like a teacher, supervisor, superintendent or Human Resources person might be necessary. When advocacy is needed, it is very important to follow the individual’s lead and to prioritize their wishes, as much as possible. It is also important to recognize that sometimes multiple advocates are needed, and that sometimes talking to more than one person may be necessary for action to be taken.
There are many bullying resources available, and many different techniques to try to diffuse bullying. There are also resources for helping people feel less alone when they are bullied, including books for kids and adults, videos on YouTube, spoken word poems, and songs. These can be cathartic for people who have been harmed by bullying, and thought-provoking for those who have engaged in bullying. Still, these resources are not always effective, and different resources may be necessary in different situations. Sometimes more help is also needed. If common anti-bullying tools do not help, please reach out for help. We are here to provide support and guidance.
Join us for a virtual coffee chat about bullying on November 11th at 9:30 am. Sign up here.
Emily “Max” Lamm, MA, LRIC
Licensed Resident in Counseling