Beyond Bullying workshop explores conflict resolution

Matt Gardner
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The “Free From Fear” -- Standing Up To Bullying conference wrapped up on Thursday with a workshop on conflict resolution and mediation strategies.

Entitled Beyond Bullying -- Practical Approaches to Help, the adult-oriented workshop took place in the Tee Room at Cooke Municipal Golf Course and offered attendees a range of idea on how to constructively deal with cases of bullying.

The Compassionate Community Response Team (CCRT), which helped organize the three-day conference with other groups as part of Victims of Crime Awareness Week, asked CCRT member Dwayne Cameron to lead the workshop.

Currently director of support programs and services at the Co-operative Health Centre (which allowed him to deliver his presentation on company time in support), Cameron is also a mental health and addictions counsellor with extensive experience dealing with bullying, much of which he shared with attendees.

“From actually working in a K to 12 school, being the counselor that was working with these kinds of situations along with the teachers and the administration staff … that was my primary role to do the life skills and the counselling … with youth that were getting into conflict or struggling with behaviour,” he said.

Cameron noted that his audience on Thursday -- which included police officers, teachers, CCRT members, social workers and Victim Services employees -- already had many of the basic skills for intervening and showing kids how to deal with bullying.

One of his main themes was how adults can respond in a wise way to bullying, particularly when a child comes to them for help.

“The key components are make sure you are listening to your own triggers so that you’re not reacting … making sure there’s safety first, calming yourself down so that you’re finding out all the facts -- both from … the person who’s receiving the bullying and the perpetrator,” Cameron said.

“One of those things I spend a lot of time on is often bullies … have some past hurts, traumas or whatever that you need to get to the root cause of to help change the behaviour,” he added.

Being a good listener is a key element for helping the victims of bullying as well as changing the behaviour of bullies, he noted.

Describing such conversations as a “mini-debrief process,” Cameron stressed the importance of asking what had happened and how each party experienced it.

“Often the person who’s received the bullying has a loss of self-esteem in some ways,” he said. “So we want to spend some time reassuring them, bolstering that with solutions at the end.

“The bully is often a little bit more defensive because they’ve been the perpetrator of the behaviour. But again, part of what you need to do with them is really go in with a neutral approach to the bully -- ‘What happened?’ -- finding out the facts. That helps to disarm their defensiveness around their behaviour first, and then you can start wading in until you get to the heart of the matter.”

One of the key foundations is increasing the level of caring and empathy. Dwayne Cameron

Persistence is indispensable, since it often takes a while for bullies to open up.

“In the school system when I worked … eight times out of 10, the bully ended up really having an emotional moment because they weren’t feeling like they were being challenged on their behaviour right away,” Cameron said.

“Often they were hurt from something that happened to them and once they felt validated and appreciated in the emotional sense, then they were more able to look at their behaviour that wasn’t OK and start to make some changes.

“Eight times out of 10, the bullies were wounded people that were acting inappropriately.”

During the presentation, he also touched on how to prevent bullying in the first place by de-escalating situations quickly.

If appropriate, adults might bring together the bully and victim and mediate the conflict resolution process.

“One of the key foundations is increasing the level of caring and empathy,” Cameron said.

“You may not always understand Johnny who’s beat up on you … (and he) may never ever be your friend. But as you get to listen and understand each other, there’s a level of respect and empathy that starts to grow -- and when that’s happening, the bullying starts to become less and less.”

To provide workshop attendees with a positive experience, Cameron ended the event with a light-hearted wrap-up exercise that involved standing in a circle and patting each other on the back in different ways, such as emulating rain or spelling out friendly messages.

While the techniques discussed at the workshop primarily involved adults talking to children involved in bullying, Cameron noted that the conflict resolution strategies could also extend to adults experiencing forms of bullying, such as workplace harassment.

With his own presentation capping three days of anti-bullying activities, he suggested that the conference had helped raise awareness of bullying within the community as well as ways to tackle the issue.

“If we all are a little bit more aware and are willing to not be an innocent bystander, but to speak up for what we know is right in a respectful way with each other and then use some of these skills, we can really make a difference,” Cameron said.

“It’s a sad occasion when a young person doesn’t feel validated enough and gets to the point where they’re depressed, discouraged and/or takes their life … It’s a problem that doesn’t need to stay a problem. There are lots of creative ways we can work together to find solutions and support each other.”

Organizations: Victim Services

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