Bullies and Victims

There was a news story out of Florida yesterday about a man, James Jones, who stormed a bus of children and threatened the bullies who were terrorizing his daughter who has cerebral palsy.  Classmates had put an open condom on his daughter’s head, taunted her, and hurt her by twisting her ear.  This father is now in a heap of trouble.  When school officials did nothing in response to Mr. Jones’s complaints, he took matters into his own hands.

Who wouldn’t understand a father’s or mother’s anguish, pain, and wish to retaliate?  What can be done about this growing problem?

As a leading child and family psychotherapist and author I find problems exist for both the bully and the victim.

BULLIES generally hold the shameful secret that within their own family they are the target of mistreatment, mishandling, or bullying.  Usually the aggressor is their father, mother, or older sibling.  When a child is mistreated their anger must go somewhere.  Either it gets directed inward and the child sinks into depression and even sometimes hopelessness, or the anger gets displaced onto a weaker person - the victim.

VICTIMS have often not fully separated from their mothers and fathers and have been overprotected.  They lack self-reliance and self-advocating skills.  They are seen as defenseless targets within their peer group.


  • Take a hard honest look at the way your family functions.  Raise each family member’s awareness to the impact of their behavior on others.
  • Nurture a family environment that facilitates open communication and dialogue and encourages expression of feelings.
  • Create a Family Pact of zero-tolerance of hurtful words or behavior.
  • Teach self-advocating skills.  Encourage talking about feelings.  Practice taking turns “listening” and “talking” without interruptions, judgments, blaming, taking sides, or stating opinions.  Teach kids how to ask for help.
  • Enforce clear boundaries.  When someone says, “Please stop, that hurts my feelings”, make sure it is respected.
  • Teach appropriate ways to build one’s self-esteem.  Advocate that the way to feel better about ourselves is in the kind way we treat others.  Offer that building ourselves up does not come out of putting others down.
  • Implement swift, stinging consequences for bullying behavior.  Make sure the stinging consequences are for short periods of time in order to keep your child motivated to try harder and regain privileges.
  • Get help.  If your spouse/companion sees this differently enlist the help of an objective, non-judgmental third party (minister, counselor, or therapist).

Frances Walfish, Psy.D., MFT, is a leading child and family therapist in private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. She is a consultant for Parenting Teens Resource Network, Parents magazine, Little Soul Productions, Los Angeles City Crisis Intervention Counselors, Momlogic.com and chairs the Governing Board of the Early Childhood Parenting Center, founded at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She has also authored the book, The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond with Your Child. More information on Dr. Fran can be found online at DrFranWalfish.com.

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