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Monday, September 12, 2011

Applying the Scriptures Can Help When There is Bullying at School, Home, Work or in Cyberspace

How we respond to or treat a bully may determine whether bullying behavior ceases or escalates. I learned this insight and have had my understanding of bullying enlarged as I have been taking an online course by Israel “Izzy” Kalman called, Bullying: The Golden Rule Solution. What I liked about the course is that it seemed to care about both the victim and the perpetrator of bullying. Kalman is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and Director of Bullies to Buddies, Inc. His website,, has free manuals that teach kids and schools to prevent bullying. In addition to creating/authoring books, materials and programs for dealing with bullying psychologically, he gives seminars to mental health professionals and educators throughout the nation under the auspices of Cross Country Education. (see web site)

The prevailing theme of the course–treating a bully as you would want to be treated–may seem the thoughts of some wishful thinker who believes in a Utopian society that can never exist. However, Kalman is forthright in stating that ours is an imperfect world. He is not a man with rose-colored glasses but someone who understands the suffering of victims of bullying and is dedicated to providing them with the tools that have a successful track record in stopping bullying.

Izzy Kalman (at right) leading a Bullies to Buddies Session
In the aftermath of Columbine schools have been implementing anti-bullying programs in the effort to prevent future tragedies. Kalman questioned the popular anti-bullying programs as they are contrary to what he had learned in the fields of psychology, counseling, and science. While he acknowledges that these programs are all motivated by good intentions, they have unintended negative consequences. He claims, for instance, that instructing students to inform the authorities on bullies, and punishing bullies, are actions that are likely to cause more harm than good.

When schools punish students for bullying, they are likely to become resentful and vengeful towards their victims. They will also be angry with their teachers and administrators. Thus, they are likely to engage in more aggressive behavior and to recruit friends against the victims, not only in school but also in Cyberspace. Behaviors that cause objective harm to bodies or property should be considered criminal and should be punished. However, most bullying acts do not fall into the category of criminal behavior. According to Kalman, only a small percentage of alleged bullies are dangerous and past behavior is a good predictor of how dangerous they are likely to be in the future. He claims that his approach, while it is based on psychological principles taught by all major schools of psychology, gains its effectiveness through the use of role-playing techniques that make the problem and the solution obvious to the client.

Kalman knows that many bullied students become depressed and even suicidal. Several months ago, he informed me, a school nurse contacted him about a 10 year-old bullied boy who was suicidal. The boy was to be hospitalized for a week’s observation in a psychiatric ward. Kalman warned the nurse that this would add insult to injury: not only was the boy suffering humiliation at the hands of other students, he would feel even worse to then be treated like a psychiatric case. He offered free therapy by phone if the parents would consent. The following day, Kalman had a session with the boy and he quickly succeeding in stopping the other students from bullying him. He returned to being a happy and successful student again and there have been no relapses. On the website, I read a lengthy testimonial by a mother whose teen aged son was suicidal, and all the efforts by the school and by private therapists to help him failed. She shared the free materials on the site with her son and, to her amazement, the bullying instantly ceased.

Kalman worked with a fourth grader who had stopped attending school because the “Queen Bee” in the class had turned the rest of the students against her. He taught her techniques and she in turn taught others in the class. The “Queen B” lost her power and the class atmosphere dramatically improved.

The practices in this program can also help in the home and workplace. As I watched filmed roleplays of family members fighting, it brought back memories of fighting with my siblings. I have heard my mom say that there are times when she would see us fighting and would stay out of it because she believed that we needed to work it out. On an intuitive level, she seemed to grasp how important it is for children to gain the types of emotional intelligence and social skills that the Bullies to Buddies program espouses.

Except when there is danger of real physical harm, Kalman advises against teachers or parent intervention other than to remind students that fighting is not allowed on school grounds, or to help them resolve the problem directly with each other. He discourages taking sides and being the judge and jury, as this escalates hostilities. In responding to children who report being called names, or being hit or pushed without being hurt, Kalman instructs adults to use two “magic responses” that quickly defuse the situation and simultaneously teach the kids that the incident is nothing to get upset about. Children gain self-esteem and self-confidence when they can work out their problems without teacher intervention.

While Kalman does not claim that his approach will turn everyone’s bully into a close friend, the important thing is for kids to stop suffering at the hands of other children and to become more respected among their peers. If the bullies go on to become true buddies to their former victims, that is an added bonus. Furthermore, the skills learned in the program can enhance relationships throughout life and build the foundation of real friendship.
– population-we™ blog post by Barb Bohan
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  1. No topic is taboo for population-we. Those of you who are not aware that bullying is an epidemic in our U.S. schools -- we hope Barb’s article opens your eyes to that fact. Over the last couple of months I’ve had a couple friends whose children & teenagers have been bullied. The youngest a second grader, who like Izzy alluded to was also threatening suicide, because of the taunting she endured at school. The other had to change high schools because the cyber bullying got so out of hand. The last friend’s kid (a junior high student) wound up in the hospital because of an attack by the bully. Thanks to Izzy for allowing our readers with a glimpse into tools parents and teachers on both sides of the equation can use to fight this unwanted behavior.

  2. Thank you, Becky for sharing how very real and personal bullying is to those who are living through it. I try to never minimize the pain that someone is feeling. I also want to thank Izzy for letting me interview him and any assistance he gave me in writing the post.