Monday, April 5, 2010

Changing the Bully-Victim Paradigm

Over the weekend I listened to the archive of author Pamela Dunn’s recent radio program Can the Bully Be Magnificent? Can the Victim be Powerful? Pam is the president of Your Infinite Life Training and Coaching Company, and she is writing a book on shifting the bully-victim paradigm. If you haven’t listened to the program, please do. In writing about the topic and the program before it aired, I wrote that “Pam will explore how our language often limits our ability to cooperate and be creative in seeing the magnificence in others, no matter the way they are acting.” This program was so much more than that.

I loved the discussion – rich in the principles from Redirecting Children’s Behavior™ (RCB) – between Pam and Leilani Long, a high school teacher in San Antonio who is successfully applying the RCB concepts in the classroom. Their conversation was about children, individual children with needs. Listening to Pam and Leilana, I realized that much of the time when we discuss bullying, it is talked about at the level of an epidemic. We forget the individual child and how children are drawn together in this dynamic.

When a child gets hurt – when a child dies – fear escalates our sadness to outrage. We label a child as either a “bully” or a “victim”, criminalizing one and disempowering the other. When we wage an assault on bullying – a war on aggression – we may raise awareness of issues; however, we fail to raise the self-awareness and self-acceptance of individual children. To do that, we can take Pamela Dunn’s suggestion and look inside.

Slow down and look inside. Teach children to slow down and look inside. Deal with individual children with unique faces, feelings, relationships and lives. Bring it down from an epidemic to a single face. That takes a different energy.

Know that when a child’s needs are met – he belongs, feels valuable, powerful, special, and loved – he is a contributing part of a team, family and classroom. He is neither aggressive nor compliant. When he belongs, he steps into who he really is, and that IS the solution. Look for the magnificent leader and the powerful individual. That is who they really are.

The war on bullying is our outrage, and outrage does not model solutions for children. If you slow down and look inside, your vision of a child’s magnificence – beyond any behaviors – will be what changes a child’s perception of himself. That is not outrage. It is love. And that is who YOU really are.


  1. We oftentimes end up victimizing the bully so we can defend or protect the victim- it does not seem to be a very effective solution to ending a dynamic that escalates over time. The question is- what are we doing as a culture that at some level is fostering this type of dynamic?
    Thanks for the info Maggie- this is great!!

  2. As we interact with children we need to be mindful of what lessons we teach. We best serve our children when we “parent” with the end in mind.

    “Saving” the victims is a natural impulse for most of us. However, what lesson…what skills and abilities do we want the victim to develop as they grow up?

    Do we want them to grow up to believe that they must depend on others to protect them? Do we want them to grow into adulthood with the belief that they cannot stand up for themselves, or that they are inferior to those who are physically stronger?

    Is it not far better to change the way the victims see themselves and to empower them to stand up for themselves?

    By building a strong self image, confidence and faith in their own self worth and abilities…we do far more to help them to become self reliant, independent and powerful adults.

    Teaching a bully that there are those who are even more powerful who can "bully" to FORCE compliance to their external “rules” only more deeply ingrains the principles that the bully already believes in.

    Is it not far better to teach the bully a new way of looking at life and their role within it? We can teach the “bully” how he/she can be and feel powerful and at the same time useful in society by channeling their strengths into positive actions that are constructive, instead of destructive.

    It is only through a paradigm shift that we can hope to change the mistaken beliefs that "the bully" and “the victim” have adopted in their view of life and their place in it. Elton Reynolds, Certified Parenting Educator (CPE), Sensible Parenting, Pflugerville, TX.