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  • Writer's pictureLisa Dixon-Wells, M.Ed.

These targets of bullying are often overlooked.

Society often portrays the targets of bullying as meek and passive, and many are, but there are two groups of children who are frequently misunderstood, mislabeled and overlooked as targets of bullying. Reactive (quick to anger) and provocative children may be disruptive, and they may exasperate both children and adults, but they’re much more likely to be targets of bullying than to engage in bullying behavior. The good news is that the right strategies/interventions can help these children thrive in a social world and help educators achieve calmer classrooms.

Does this seem familiar?

Provocative children - Often bright but lacking social skills - Can irritate others because they don’t know when to stop - May fight back when bullied, but lose with great distress

Reactive children - Unpredictable - Easily slip in to fight, flight or freeze - Remorseful after an outburst

Are you using the most effective interventions?

Tactics that help reactive children self-soothe involve breathing exercises and utilizing tactical and oral stimuli. For example, “hot chocolate breathing,” pretending to hold a cup of hot cocoa, then breathing the smell in and breathing out to cool down the beverage, is a simple breathing exercise that can help reactive children self-regulate. Our program details five sequential steps to help move reactive children from escalating distress back to calm.

Provocative children miss social cues like changes in tone of voice and body language. They can be loud and lack sensitivity to personal space. Strategies to help provocative children learn social cues often include a strong visual component, as these children are typically very visual learners. Behavior charts, role plays and recording videos of their interactions and reviewing them together, will likely be much more effective tools than conversations and lecturing.

Dare to Care’s professional development and parent education modules, which are included in our school-wide comprehensive bullying prevention programs, both devote a module to provocative and reactive children. We include more tips to recognize them, along with a more comprehensive look at evidence-backed strategies to help them learn social cues and self-regulate their emotions.

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