Identify & Remove Reward

I was a speaker at the recent World Anti-Bullying Forum. My subject was “Integrating behavioral psychology into reactive strategies to end bullying.” I want to share with you some of the questions during the Q&A. But first, the video.

Question: You were talking about removing the reward and the first step is to identify the reward. Do you have any example of how you could identify the reward?

Answer: Yes. Often what a bully is looking for is to get a reaction – maybe fear or anger. If you respond in a way that is emotionless, you can remove that reward for them by not giving them the emotional response.

Another example is if they are getting rewards from bystanders. If you respond to them and put them in a defensive position, it can remove the social reward they are getting.

When I teach this to kids, I have them come up with a response phrase and then I have them physically practice saying it in an emotionaly neutral way.

Another common reward for bullies is creating social exclusion. If they are in control of who is in the in group and out group they have a LOT of social power. The way to counteract that is through active social inclusion. Don’t allow a bully to exclude. This is something bystanders have to do. Or a target just needs to create a new in group.

Question: So does that mean that the adults need to work with the bystanders and give them tools so they know how to create this active social inclusion?

Answer: Yes. Think systems approach. Everyone has a role to play to remove rewards consistently.

Bullies usually aren’t getting a single reward. Behaviors are messy, and how they are rewarded is messy. It makes it very difficult.

A target can take behavior that makes them less likely to be a target, but that doesn’t retrain a bully to no longer bully. It just changes who they bully.

Administrators really need to act as coaches to help kids (bystanders and targets) understand the process and keep them using the tools through the process even when it looks like it isn’t working. The escalation of behavior proves it’s working. What normally happens, though is kids give up too soon because they think it isn’t working

Question: Is it possible to say how long the period of escalation can go on?

Answer: The period of escalation – depends on how established the behavior is and how consistent or variable the response is. If it’s new, you can shut it down within a few moments. If it is established it can take a few days to a few weeks or longer. The problem? Humans have a super hard time being consistent.

Different humans have different levels of aggression. So some bullies may be pathologically not in control of their behavior. Those will really escalate and – blowout. The key is to manage that and look for it. In a workplace I tell people to not be afraid of the escalation because you can make something covert – overt and it’s easier for management to deal with when it is overt.

The problem with kids is if it escalates to violence or is already violent, an escalation can be REALLY violent. And that has to be planned for in advance before you remove reward so that they target is safe. The person to isolate is the bully.

If you are interested in collaborating with me or integrating a behavioral approach into your work – let me knw and message me. I’m happy to be of help.