Dr Karyn Healy on bullying and how to address it (#32)

In one of my previous roles I was working in a small, open plan office. Occasionally I would hear one of the people in the office speak to a particular colleague in a tone that came across as rude and condescending. This would happen every few weeks or months. 

On one occasion the person was so forceful and disrespectful that I could see everyone else in the office sneaking looks at each other and squirming in discomfort. The person on the receiving end took it with grace, did not retaliate in any way. But we all knew that it was not the right way to treat a colleague at work. We all knew it wasn’t right but none of us said anything. 

I still look back on that moment, ashamed that I did not have the courage to say something. 

Bullying can happen anywhere.  It can take us by surprise and often we can feel ill-equipped to address it. 

Maybe if I had known a bit more about bullying I might have had the confidence to do something in that moment. 

My hope for this episode is that we are all better equipped to understand bullying and how we could respond when it occurs. 

Today we’re talking to Dr Karyn Healy about bullying. And even though the conversation focuses on bullying at school, there are lessons to learn in any context where bullying occurs.  

Dr Karyn Healy is a psychologist and researcher with extensive experience supporting schools, parents and children in preventing and addressing bullying, and resolving conflict. She has a research appointment at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, an Honorary appointment with The University of Queensland and is Associate Editor of the Journal of Child and Family Studies

We hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Dr Karyn Healy. 

You can listen on Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher or Simplecast.

Show Notes

2:19 – what drew Dr Healy to study bullying?
4:18 – the difference between bullying and teasing.
6:30 – hurtful comments can be innocent or intentional.
8:40 – teasing can actually be relationship building.
10:32 – is bullying more prevalent now?
11:23 – is bullying getting worse or are we more sensitive now?
12:41 – effects of bullying.
15:46 – the risk factors that perpetuates bullying.
17:56 – how should we respond to bullying?
21:47 – standing up to the bully.
27:59 – effective strategies for responding to bullies.
31:44 – how can parents help when their child is bullied?
34:22 – empathy for the bully.
42:01 – what causes people to bully?
45:48 – what if my child is the bully?
46:54 – saying “no” to your child.
48:16 – how home life impacts bullying.
49:38 – does teaching empathy improve bullying?
54:41 – do buddy benches work?
56:04 – how to make friends?
58:50 – choosing the right school.
59:57 – importance of teaching kids to be independent.
1:01:51 – programs that address bullying.
1:05:38 – how to intervene when you notice bullying.
1:09:05 – connect with Dr Karyn Healy.

Links to References 

Klassens Tid 

Helicopter Parent 

Effectual and ineffectual aggression and hitting back 

School Antibully Programs Success 

Buddy Bench 

Resilience Triple P 

Key Quotes

“It’s hard to put a handle on a situation as to whether something is bullying or not.” 

“A sign of a strong relationship is to be able to have that dig.” 

“The person offering the comment needs to have good communication and interpersonal skills.” 

“We know a lot more about bullying that we did 20 years ago.” 

“Viscous cycle between being targeted for bullying and reacting to it….downward spiral.” 

“If a child has friends it helps put the bullying into context.” 

“If you feel that you are connected and have friend you can use it as a reference point.” 

“Kids who bully will pick someone who is by themselves…. Makes them easy targets.”

“An emotional response to the bullying will likely cause it to continue…. best to respond calmly.” 

“There is something about non-verbal confidence that stops the bullying.”  

“Some kids are more likely to be targeted for bullying than others.” 

“The response of the victim can encourage the bullying… the victim has some power in their response.” 

“Everyone school in Australia will say you don’t hit back…” 

“If schools are going to tell kids they cannot hit back than schools need to protect kids from bullying.”  

“It’s good to have a wide range of responses and use the ones that are least restrictive and least dangerous.”  

“Comedians say they learned to be funny by joking about themselves.” 

“Learning the skills to handle verbal situations is really important.”

“When kids learn they can handle situations by themselves it makes the more confident.” 

“Parents know part of the story the school know another part of the story.”

“Kids who bully and are victims have a lot of trouble.”

“It doesn’t make it okay to bully even if the child has a history of victimisation.”

“Sometimes kids are left to be aggressive for a very long time.”

“There is a certain amount of aggressive behaviour that just happens as part of a child’s development.” 

“Birds attack other birds when they know they are sick…something in biology about attacking the weak.”

“If things that are distressing us in life, we tend to take things out on the people around us.”

“It is fashionable to think that consequences are not appropriate .”

“Whatever happens immediately after a behaviour is going to encourage future behaviour.”

“Sometimes schools do things in advocating for the victim can makes things much worse for the victim.”  

“Is it necessary a good thing to encourage kids to talk about their bullying experience in front of the whole class?” 

“Whenever we make it a public context we make the stakes much bigger for the victim.”

“Parents can give kids plenty of practice at losing and knowing it’s okay.” 

“Kids relationships are so important to their well-being, not only for bullying but for mental health.” 

“It’s really important that your child is comfortable and accepted in the school and have people with similar interests.” 

“Kids who are more capable and more independent are less likely to be bullied.” 

“Most school antibullying programs have lots of strategies targeting different things.” 

About the author

Divan and Mark are co-hosts of the Candour Communication Podcast where we discuss interpersonal communication and all the human stuff that gets in the way.