What can be done about elder care bullying?

Bullying doesn’t just occur at schools. It is reported in every level of society including in nursing homes. So how can we best protect the elderly from peer abuse?

 How to stop bullying in an elder care facilitiyHere is my advice for administrators of elder care facilities who are looking for ways to stop bullying.

 Bullying is not descriptive of specific behavior. How you handle it depends on what exactly is happening. If it is teasing, name calling or social ostracizing, you handle that differently than if someone is hitting, punching, kicking or stealing (more physically violent forms of bullying). Most forms of bullying are emotional. They should be handled in a multi-pronged way.

Here are 4 things an administrator can do to help prevent bullying in their facilities.

 1)          The victim needs to be taught how to take control of bullying interactions so that the bully doesn’t get their way. This may include body language, training on what to say and who to report it to. They also need to be educated on extinction bursts so that they are prepared and understand why and how bullies become more aggressive when their rewards are taken away so that these escalations of behavior by a bully are planned and handled appropriately

2)          Witnesses need to be empowered to speak up to make sure the bully knows their behavior is unacceptable.  They also need to know who to report it to.

3)          Administrators in charge need to step up and actually act upon reports. Most bullying isn’t reported. The stuff that is tends to be pretty egregious.  If bullying is physically aggressive, then yes, the violator should be isolated to prevent them from hurting anyone else. Also, there is NEVER just a single victim of a bully. Bullies have lots of victims. Just because only one person is speaking out doesn’t mean no one else is affected. Isolating the victim from the bully compounds the victim’s problem and gives the bully continued access to their other victims.

4)          Administrators need to set up a system where victims feel comfortable asking for and seeking help and that they feel confident that action is being taken. This is all about reporting and communication. Often victims are told that the administrator will look into it and that’s the last anyone hears about it. In the meantime, things keep happening.

How administrators intervene depends entirely on what sort of bullying they are dealing with. Adaptive, maladaptive and mental illness related aggression. 

If the bullying is adaptive it means the bully is doing it because they are being rewarded for it. They are getting social status or access to resources they want by way of aggression.  To stop this, administrators need to create consequences so that a) the adaptive bully doesn’t get their way through aggression and b) the cost of bullying is raised so high the bully chooses other methods to acquire what they want.

If the bullying is maladaptive, it means the bully is doing this to express anger, frustration, fear or other emotions that they aren’t capable of expressing other ways and these emotions are manifesting as aggressive behavior towards others. If this is the case then administrators need to spend some time dealing with the mental health of the bully to help them better adapt to what is happening to them and the loss of control that accompanies being in an elder care situation.

Administrators should also use the techniques and strategies for adaptive bullying to help reinforce the lessons and to encourage maladaptive bullies to give up their aggressive behavior towards others.

If the bullying is a result of mental illness – that has to be treated as a medical condition and it should be taken seriously.

For more information, contact me to arrange for staff training. I cover how to use operant conditioning to eliminate the problem of bullying. This will impact not just the individuals in your care, but will also help you deal with the problem of workplace bullying as well.


Leave a Reply