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Student Responses to Frequent Bullying
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In the last section, we discussed ‘Turning Insults into Compliments’ for helping students cope with bullies.
In this section... we will discuss five advanced techniques that students can use to deal with verbal bullying. These five techniques are Tone Twisters, Disconnected Comments, Playing the Game, Blocks, and Pushes. As you listen consider if you have a client that might be interested in hearing the content in your next session.
Brandy, age 12... experienced ongoing verbal bullying from Stephanie, another 12 year old in her class. Brandy had had some success with using techniques such as feeding back and understanding, which we discussed in the last section, with other bullies, and had recently begun to feel more confident about her ability to deal with Stephanie. Since Brandy had some experience with dealing with bullies, I suggested she might try using some more advanced techniques to defuse Stephanie’s bullying.
Brandy stated in a recent session, "My Mom always told me I should just ignore bullies, and I hear that from my teachers, too. Some of the other techniques, like asking questions, have worked for me, but isn’t ignoring Stephanie the best idea?"
I stated to Brandy, "It can certainly be a good idea to ignore bullies and just walk away. However, sometimes bullies can mistake your lack of response for hurt silence. This may not dissuade them from their bullying. I have some additional techniques you might use if ignoring Stephanie does not seem appropriate at the time."
♦ Technique #1: Tone Twisters
The first technique I recommended to Brandy is the Tone Twister technique. I stated, "In this technique, you keep the tone of voice that the bully has used with you, and use it to say something nice. Usually, this confuses a bully, and sometimes it might even make him or her crack a smile.
For example, if someone yelled at me, ‘You can just go to hell!’ I could yell back, ‘Well, you can just go to Disney World!’ in the same tone they used. One of the nice things about the Tone Twister technique is that using the bully’s tone of voice can help you get some of your frustration out, while you are stopping the bully at the same time."
♦ Technique #2: Disconnected Comments
A second advanced technique I recommended to Brandy is the Disconnected Comments technique. I stated, "Disconnected Comments can actually be kind of fun. Disconnected Comments follow the same principle as the Tone Twister. You reply in the bully’s tone of voice, but instead of saying something nice, you say something completely disconnected from the mean remark. Here’s an example. When I was in grade school, sometimes girls would get mad at each other and yell, ‘I’m not your friend!’ Using the disconnected comments technique, you could yell back, ‘Well, I’m not your elbow!’"
I invited Brandy to try out the Disconnected Comments technique using an example of Stephanie’s verbal bullying.
Brandy stated, "One thing Stephanie tries to do is spread nasty rumors about me. The other day, she said, ‘Everyone says you fool around with all the boys in our class!’"
---I stated, "Using the Disconnected Comments technique, you could respond by saying, ‘Well, I heard that you like pickles on your hamburgers!’
"You might get a funny look from Stephanie for using this technique, or she might call you weird, but by using disconnected comments, you are showing Stephanie that you are not going to take her nonsense and meanness seriously."
♦ Technique #3: Playing the Game
In addition to the Tone Twister and Disconnected Comments, a third technique I suggested to Brandy is Playing the Game. I stated to Brandy, "Playing the Game allows you to defuse meanness by playing with an insult that Stephanie shoots at you. Let’s try this one out. What’s an insult you regularly hear from Stephanie?"
Brandy stated, "Well, I don’t watch much TV at home, so I don’t know a lot about what’s ‘cool’. So almost every day, I say something she thinks is dumb, and says "You’re so ignorant! What’s wrong with you?’"
I put a confused expression on my face and responded to Brandy in a very puzzled voice, "Ignorant? What does that word mean?" I explained to Brandy that by using the "Playing the Game" technique, she could give Stephanie just the right dose of confusion to get some of Stephanie’s meanness shoved to the side.
And without using words, Brandy could send Stephanie the message that she can handle being called ignorant. I stated, "Besides, it can be really fun to act out the insults. I think it would be pretty fun to act crazy, or like a snob. Don’t worry if you can’t bring yourself to act out the insult the first time. The next time Stephanie calls you ignorant, you might just say your response in your head. You’ll get the hang of it quickly."
♦ Technique #4: Blocks
A fourth technique I suggested to Brandy is the Blocks technique. I stated to Brandy, "Some words naturally have the opposite effects on people. One of these words is the word ‘try’. I’ve found that a lot of times, using the word ‘try’ tends to block bullies from continuing to do what they are doing. For example, if you say to Stephanie, ‘you can try to keep bothering me,’ you put up a block that can actively discourage her from continuing to bother you."
♦ Technique #5: Pushes
A fifth technique that I recommended to Brandy is the Push technique, which is closely related to the Blocks technique. I stated to Brandy, "In the same way that the word ‘try’ can block bullies from continuing a certain behavior, the word ‘dare’ has the opposite effect. The word ‘dare’ can push people to reverse their behavior, or try a new behavior instead. For example, you could say to Stephanie, ‘I dare you to be nice to me!’
"Daring Stephanie to be nice to you pushes her towards behaving nicely to you. It may not actually make Stephanie be nice to you, but it may make her feel confused. If you use blocking and pushing together in the same conversation, you might make Stephanie feel like her brain is being fried! How this would sound would be to say, ‘you can try to keep bothering me. I dare you to be nice to me!’ If Stephanie is distracted by your blocking and pushing, she probably won’t be able to concentrate as much on being mean to you, and she might be more receptive to the sensible things you have to say to her."
Think of your Brandy. Would an advanced technique like blocking and pushing be helpful to him or her in dealing with a verbal bully at his or her school?
In this section... we have discussed five advanced techniques that students can use to deal with verbal bullying. These five techniques are Tone Twisters, Disconnected Comments, Playing the Game, Blocks, and Pushes.
In the next section... we will discuss helping students fight bullying as a group by using the Anti - Meanness Chart.
- Cooper, L., & Nickerson, (May 2013). A. Parent Retrospective Recollections of Bullying and Current Views, Concerns, and Strategies to Cope with Children's Bullying. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 22(4), 526-540.
- Morrison, C. T. (April 2009). "What Would You Do, What If It’s You?" Strategies to Deal With a Bully. Journal of School Health, 79(4), 201.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Casey, E. A., Storer, H. L., & Herrenkohl, T. I. (2018). Mapping a continuum of adolescent helping and bystander behavior within the context of dating violence and bullying. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 88(3), 335–345.
Grant, N. J., Merrin, G. J., King, M. T., & Espelage, D. L. (2019). Examining within-person and between-person associations of family violence and peer deviance on bullying perpetration among middle school students. Psychology of Violence, 9(1), 18–27.
Guo, S. (2021). Moderating effects of delinquent peer association, social control, and negative emotion on cyberbullying and delinquency: Gender differences. School Psychology, 36(6), 445–454.
Lindstrom Johnson, S., Waasdorp, T. E., Gaias, L. M., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2019). Parental responses to bullying: Understanding the role of school policies and practices. Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(3), 475–487.
Waasdorp, T. E., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2011). Examining student responses to frequent bullying: A latent class approach. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(2), 336–352.
Waasdorp, T. E., Bradshaw, C. P., & Duong, J. (2011). The link between parents' perceptions of the school and their responses to school bullying: Variation by child characteristics and the forms of victimization. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(2), 324–335.
What are the advanced techniques that students can use to deal with verbal bulling?
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