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|
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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