Escalating and De-escalating Bullying

When faced with a bullying situation, witnesses and students who are bullied may respond in several ways. They may choose to respond passively, avoiding or ignoring the situation and trying to “wish it away”. This may have the effect of entrenching or even escalating the bullying, as the student who bullies believes she or he is gaining power and control over the other person. They may act aggressively, in an attempt to frighten or overpower the other so she or he will stop the bullying. This may also escalate the bullying, as the student doing the bullying may become even more aggressive as a way to maintain control. And finally, they may seek revenge, hoping to “get even” and feel more powerful. This too may escalate the situation as the student who initiated the bullying responds with more aggression to the act of revenge.

Response Definitions

  • Passive: Sending a message that you have no rights, and no power. The person who is bullying may think she or he is “in charge”.
  • Aggressive: Acting so that other people’s rights are taken away and you keep all the power. The child who is bullying may think she or he has to fight even harder to keep power.
  • Assertive: Sending the message that your rights are important. You keep your power and you respect the rights of others. The person who is bullying may find it difficult to keep all the power for herself or himself.
  • Escalating the bullying: Being aggressive often makes the problem worse, so there’s more or worse bullying. It “escalates” the bullying.
  • De-escalating the bullying: Being assertive often changes the situation so there’s less bullying. It de-escalates the bullying. De-escalating makes the problem better because you keep your own rights and power without taking away someone else’s.

Witnesses and students who are bullied need to learn assertive ways of responding to bullying which help de-escalate the situation while ensuring that all involved keep their rights. It is essential that adults acknowledge that all efforts to end bullying on the part of a student are courageous and creative, whether they are successful or not.