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How does the Bully/Victim Relationship Emerge?
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For Teachers

How does the Bully/Victim Relationship Emerge?

Bullying, Cassie, age 14


Perhaps one of the most important things for teachers to remember is that bullies and victims do not necessarily enter the classroom with the destiny of becoming a bully or victim. Once the bully/victim relationship is set in place, however, it is hard to change. The two children may enter into complementary roles, in that the bully and victim react almost simultaneously to what each other are doing (Pepler, Craig & O'Connell, 1999). Often, these complementary actions can create positive feedback that helps to maintain the relationship. As time goes on, this interaction becomes more and more stable and harder to stop, especially if it is encouraged and supported by peers, a lack of empathy for the victim, and a lack of intervention on behalf of the teacher and/or school (Pepler et al., 1999). The entire classroom is in fact a part of the bullying dynamic: the children who gather to encourage the bully, the children who stand on the sidelines as passive bystanders, the children who run away the minute they see a confrontation, all tend to repeat these role over time (Craig & Pepler, 1995). Everybody eventually "knows" their position in the pattern. Teachers and administrators can alter the dynamic by taking a united stand against bullying behaviors, realizing that it can be a problem in any school, and that it is not just a "part of growing up," and by making sure that the entire class knows what to do if they witness the emergence of a bully/victim relationship.

It is easiest for teachers to prevent bullying when they know the warning signs, but sometimes it is hard to see the dynamic in action. The bully may assume a certain posture and stand by the victim's locker. Only the victim knows that this means: "give me your lunch money-or else!" Often the interactions occur far too quickly or are too subtle for a teacher who is preoccupied with twenty-eight other students to notice. Thus, considering the growing populations in our schools, it is important for the administration to make sure that its classrooms are adequately staffed with teachers and aides who understand the "symptoms" of the bully/victim relationship.

Also, at times, bullying behavior appears simply because children do not understand the full impact of their actions, and so it is important to make sure that kids know the rules at the beginning of the year. A successful preventative measure is to clearly explain the different kinds of bullying behavior and state that it will not be tolerated in this classroom. It is also important to tell children what to do if they are being bullied, if they see other children being bullied, or if they realize that they are bullying others: As every group of children is different, each teacher knows what procedure might be best for each class. It helps if teachers explain how "telling teachers about something important that they should know" is not always the same as "tattling." It is critical for teachers to be open and sensitive to the needs of potential victims. Remember, a school that takes a firm and unified stand against this behavior is far more likely to prevent it! (Olweus, 1992; 1993).

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