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  • Writer's pictureMonica Jones

Managing bullies for children, teens, and adults

Updated: Apr 4

Unfortunately, bullies persist from childhood through adulthood for many of us. Learning how to deal with them at school and the workplace is important, and as OTs we can guide our patients in ways to improve social skills and reciprocity to discourage a bullies' unwanted attention and behavior. For most bullying victims, they have tried walking away, fighting back, telling a teacher or superior, or telling a parent with very limited success in solving the problem. Here are some strategies to help manage them.

Strategies for children and teens:

  • Work with them to identify something they like about the bully. Maybe they dress well, wear nice shoes, are good at drawing, or excel at a sport.

  • Role play approaching and praising the bully for the identified trait.

  • Schedule a time to approach the bully before they see you next.

  • Report back the next week how it went and journal their strategy and success in their "credit" journal.

Strategies for adults:

  • To manage a bullying boss, figure out what they want from you as a worker and what makes them feel good about themselves.

  • Set-up one-on-one meetings to compliment work they've done for your practice or hospital and ask them what they need from you as an employee.

  • To manage a bullying coworker, find something they are good at and compliment them on this or ask for their help with a task or do both. Email works great for this as well as one-on-one time with them.

Let me give you some personal examples:

I had a coworker at one of my jobs as an OT that was a fellow therapist bully. Eventually, I got so fed up, that I wrote a fairly aggressive email with numbered reasons why her behavior was unacceptable. My boss discovered the email and was forced to submit it to HR. This did not do me or my file any favors. I realized I needed a new strategy, because the last strategy was an obvious failure and it only hurt me, doing nothing to solve the bullying problem. The next month, I sent this coworker an email, seeking her advice on a difficult patient we shared and praised her expertise. She was flattered that I would seek her advice and wrote me an email back with ideas. Our relationship immediately started to improve. The week after that, I went up to her personally to tell her that one of her patients that I worked with had praised her as a therapist. I continued with this approach for the next couple of years. By the time she left the hospital, I was one of only two people in the department she would talk to.

This may sound counterintuitive, but fighting, arguing, or passive aggressive moves will never work in the favor of the bullying victim and it's worth the peace the victim gets to have the bully leave them alone. This is a positive, cognitive behavioral-inspired strategy that can only help. There is no harm in trying it, only an opportunity to solve a problem.

Remember, you catch more flies with honey!

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