On the last track, we discussed explaining a definition of bullying to students. We have also discussed explaining three reasons a child might become a bully.
On this track, we will discuss ‘Turning Insults into Compliments’ for helping students cope with bullies.
Jeremy, age 14, was frequently bullied during recess by another boy, Vick, age 15. Jeremy stated, "It’s not like he pushes me around or anything. But he’s always got something mean to say. He calls me ‘shrimp’ and ‘stick’ a lot. Yesterday he said, ‘it’s awful windy today, stick-boy. Be careful you don’t blow away!’ It really hurts. I don’t like going out for recess any more, because Vick is always there, and he’s always got something mean to say."
5 Techniques: Turning Insults into Compliments
I stated to Jeremy, "A lot of the time, when bullies insult someone, they expect to hear something insulting back. There’s a technique you might try to deal with Vick’s insults called ‘Turning Insults into Compliments’."
1. Saying, "Thank You"
I explained to Jeremy that any insult can be handled as a compliment. I stated, "When Vick says something mean, ignore his words and pretend he is saying something nice to you. If you can’t think of anything specific to say, you can always just say ‘thank you’. Let’s try a little bit of role playing. Pretend that you’re Vick, and I’ll be you. Say something to me Vick might use to hurt your feelings."
Jeremy stated, "Ok… well, one time Vick said ‘Hey Jeremy, you have huge braces!’"
I stated calmly, "Thank you, it’s nice of you to notice that I have braces!".
Jeremy stated, "You know, that doesn’t make much sense, saying thank you to something like that."
I explained to Jeremy that while responding with ‘thank you’ may not make much logical sense, it might confuse Vick enough to allow Vick a chance to think about his actions. I also explained to Jeremy that it is important for him to be persistent in using this technique.
I invited Jeremy to participate in another role play.
--Jeremy stated, "Hey Jeremy! You have lice!"
--I responded with, "I didn’t know you cared!"
--Jeremy continued by stating, "I don’t like you, I can’t stand you!"
--I stated, "You can’t fool me. If you didn’t like me, you wouldn’t always bother me!"
2. "Speaking Things as you Want Them."
I explained to Jeremy that telling Vick "if you didn’t like me, you wouldn’t always bother me" is called "Speaking Things as you Want Them." As you have experienced, sometimes the use of this technique can help shape the bully’s behavior into the desired behavior. I have found that at the very least, if a child persists in taking the bully’s insults as compliments, the bully is likely to lose interest.
I stated to Jeremy, "Another use of Turning Insults into Compliments is to return Vick’s insults with a compliment to him. Vick may not be used to receiving compliments, and so if you compliment him, you may really confuse him. Let’s try another role play."
Jeremy stated, "I must be a lot smarter than you, ‘cause you’re in that class for dummies!"
I stated, "That’s good. The world needs all the smart people it can get!"
Have you found, as I have, that it can be difficult for bullies to keep insulting someone who persists in flattering them?
I have found that there are two additional uses of the Turning Insults into Compliments technique that can help students dealing with bullies. The first of these is using the Turning Insults into Compliments technique against nonverbal meanness.
4. Against nonverbal meanness
Becky, age 12, had trouble with a bully named Mark. Becky stated, "Mark follows me all the time, and just pokes me in the arm! It makes me so mad! It doesn’t matter if I yell, or end up crying… he keeps doing it!"
I suggested to Becky that she might try turning Mark’s nonverbal bullying into a compliment. I stated, "The next time Mark pokes you, you might try saying something like, ‘Gee, Mark, you must really like me if you can’t keep your hands off of me. I must be irresistible!’ This puts you into a no-lose position. If Mark keeps poking you, he’s admitting to everyone that you really are irresistible. If he leaves you alone, then you’ve succeeded in your goal!"
Becky stated, "Ok, I can definitely try that. But what about some of the other things Mark does. Like, sometimes at lunch he’ll come up and burps right in my face! It’s sooo gross!"
I explained to Becky that a second use of the Turning Insults into Compliments technique is the ‘Reverser’. As you know, the term reverser is a nickname for ‘reverse psychology’. I suggested to Becky that the next time Mark burped in her face, she might say, "Wow, Mark, that was a terrific burp. Do that again!"
I stated, "Keep asking Mark to burp over and over again. Eventually, he’ll be the one who wants it to stop."
I also suggested Reversers to Jeremy, since they can be effective in dealing with verbal insults as well. I stated, "You can use a reverser when Vick says something mean, by saying ‘That was a great insult, Vick. You’re really sharp. I want to hear what else you can come up with.’"
Think of your Jeremy or your Becky. Would using the Turning Insults into Compliments help him or her deal with their bully?
On this track, we have discussed ‘Turning Insults into Compliments’ for helping students cope with bullies.
On the next track... we will discuss two techniques that can help students deal with verbal bullying. These two techniques are Asking Questions and Agreeing.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bradshaw, C. P. (2015). Translating research to practice in bullying prevention. American Psychologist, 70(4), 322–332.
Espelage, D. L. (2016). Leveraging school-based research to inform bullying prevention and policy. American Psychologist, 71(8), 768–775.
Olweus, D., & Limber, S. P. (2010). Bullying in school: Evaluation and dissemination of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80(1), 124–134.
What are two additional uses of the Turning Insults into Compliments technique? To select and enter your answer go to .