What did you live through as a child?

It’s no secret that each year hundreds of children in the United States are involved in some sort of family violence- either as victims or observers. As teachers you know that these experiences effects children’s ability to function at school. What you may not know is that domestic – violence increases children’s risk of being involved in a bullying relationship – as victim, perpetrator, or both.

Bullies + Victims = Magnets

Bullies use violence and intimidation to get their own way.  Victims are often not surprised when peers are aggressive or demeaning toward them.  They are used to this kind of treatment. Both bullies and victims are re-enacting familiar roles. Their shared history of victimization perpetuates itself as they engage in a seemingly endless repetition of destructive, negative behavior.

The re-enactment of victimization has long been considered a major cause of violence [van der Kolk, 1996]. Both bullies and those who are bullied have a greater than expected chance of past victimization.  Traumatized by past experiences, they are drawn into situations that replicate the original victimization. As one author puts it, child victims “are drawn to each other like magnets on the playground” [Levine & Klein, 2007]. To end to bullying behavior, teachers need strategies that break the cycle of repetitive re-enactment.

The magic word is De-Escalate!

Knowing how to de-escalate children’s behavior helps break trauma’s grip on bullies and their victims. It starts with giving the bully a chance to describe the conflict with peers from his or her point of view.  The child is encouraged to establish a timeline for the disturbing incident, listing the steps that led up to the problem. Our job is to listen and accept the child’s interpretation, while at the same time introducing alternatives to his or her point of view. Encourage the child to identify how he or she was feeling at the time of the incident. As the child calms down, talk about the outcomes of the behavior. Together decide on how to prevent future conflicts. Support the child’s efforts to repair any damage that was done.