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Change the language when dealing with bullies

By Frank Flegel


ANAHEIM, Calif. — Frank A. DiLallo used his own experience as a self-described bully when describing how to work with parents after an incident of bullying.

“Definitions are landmines,” he said, speaking to a workshop at the annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress held March 11 - 15 at the Anaheim Convention Centre. “Labelling is a problem. Why would you stick a kid with a label for the rest of their lives?” He suggested “person who mistreats” as better language.

DiLallo is the Prevention/Intervention Schools Consultant for the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio. All complaints come to him, he said, and he has learned how language can be harmful in many situations. He presented different strategies that he suggested work better than those usually offered.

He gave two presentations: the morning session described workable procedures and language dealing with parents, administrators, adults and student peers; a second session the following day was titled Bullying Prevention: Catholic is Evidence Based and referred to several what he called connecting scriptures in which Christ or others are being mistreated and asked who is doing the mistreating and who is a witness.

DiLallo described three basic principles in both sessions: some actions of peer mistreatment are likely to cause harm and should be reduced as much as possible; a person who mistreats should not be labelled a bully but should be held accountable; and if mistreatment rises to the level of assault, harassment, or other criminally defined category it should proceed with applicable laws. In other words, involve law enforcement agencies.

Peers, instead of ignoring a situation, getting involved or asking it to stop, should spend time with the mistreated, talk with him or her, help to tell an adult. Adult landmines include talking to the whole class about an incident or bringing in a speaker to talk about behaviour.

“All that does is make the student vulnerable.”

Administrator landmines include telling parents that their child is a bully or being bullied; or your child has a history of this; or kids will be kids.

There is usually something going on underneath when bullying occurs, he suggested, and that should be explored. He offered four steps in what he referred to as Principled Negotiation to deal with incidents: separate the person from the problem; focus on core interests, not positions; invent multiple options for mutual gains; and base it on some objective standard.

He also suggested action steps for the mistreated child, the mistreating child and witness mistreatment: counselling, empathy building, writing a reflection paper for a mistreating child; counselling, a safety plan, coping strategies, self-esteem building for the mistreated child and listening, spending time with the mistreated child, help the individual tell an adult and recognize positive outcomes for all three.

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