Don’t bully the bully if you want it to stop, says parenting psychologist

in Press Releases

Media Release - Friday 22 July, 2016

A paradox of efforts to stop bullying often sees the perpetrator being bullied in response, and the result can be harmful for all, says parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson.

Dr Coulson will address the National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB) Conference in Melbourne on July 28 and 29, focusing on the theme Bullying Solutions for Parents, The Bully and The Bullied.

“The automatic response for parents whose child is bullied is that the bully must be punished,” Dr Coulson said. “But the definition of bullying is persistent and repeated negative behaviour, with the intent to cause harm.

“It’s tremendously ironic that we often respond to bullies by treating them with persistent and negative behaviour. And research shows that the more controlling we become, the more counterproductive our efforts are.”

Dr Coulson said that when a child is bullied, the challenge is how to address the bullying behaviour without bullying the perpetrator.

He said part of stopping bullying is to understand that a perpetrator may be dealing with tremendous challenges. Children who bully do so because they feel badly.

“This doesn’t excuse bullying behaviour, but it does help us to approach bullies in a more thoughtful way. We target the behaviour, instead of the root of the problem,” Dr Coulson said.

“Some interventions are getting surprising benefits, most involve working with children to find solutions rather than doing things to kids as solutions; collaborative rather than punitive.”

Dr Coulson said better interventions than punishment involved dealing with emotional issues on all sides. He said the parents of bullies were critical to this approach.

“They need to ask ‘where and how might I be contributing to this inadvertently’?” Dr Coulson said. “I sit down with parents first. We try to turn it into a problem solving exercise.

“A massive amount of research shows that practicing these collaborative, problem solving principles can achieve genuine change in bullying behaviour. It slows down bullying and makes children feel safer and behave better.”

Dr Coulson said he recently spoke with the grandmother of a 15-year-old girl who punched another girl in the nose in the middle of the street, unprovoked.

“She had been bullying this girl and this was the climax,” Dr Coulson said.

“The grandmother wanted to do all sorts of horrible things to teach her granddaughter not to be a bully. We spoke, and she adopted a different approach. She sat with her granddaughter and asked why she was feeling so horrible.

“They talked about the girl’s parents not being in touch for months, how the girl was sleeping with three people a week because she wanted to be loved. She understood she punched that girl because she hated everything the other girl had that she didn’t. It was a beginning of a journey.”

The Alannah & Madeline Foundation CEO Lesley Podesta said Dr Coulson’s hands-on experience provides a wonderful perspective on the way parents and teachers can deal with bullying.

“We know that parents are very worried to hear that their child may be involved in bullying behaviours. And we know that many parents struggle to find the right way to approach this issue with their child,” Ms Podesta said.

“Justin’s engaging strategies will almost certainly draw crowds at the NCAB Conference because he provides proven, positive and practical ideas that they can implement in everyday life,” Ms Podesta said.

The NCAB Conference will be held at Melbourne’s Crown Conference Centre on July 28 and 29.

For more information go to ncab.org.au.

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Media inquiries contact Adrian Bernecich: 03 9697 0683, 0416 045 701 or adrian.bernecich@amf.org.au.

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