The Role of Emotional Regulation in Addressing Bullying and Victimization

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This essay focuses specifically on the role that emotional regulation plays in managing maladaptive reactions by children towards their peers and others. In the ‘Anti-bullying Plan for Schools’, produced by the NSW Department of Education and Training (NSW DET, 2007), bullying is defined as, “intentional, repeated behaviour by an individual or group of individuals that causes distress, hurt or undue pressure” (p. 6). The victims of bullying are the recipients of this repeated behaviour. In a report on ‘Emotions in Social Information Processing and Their Relations with Reactive and Proactive Aggression in Referred Aggressive Boys’, Orobio de Castro, Merk, Koops, Veerman and Bosch (2005) define emotion regulation as, “…attempts to control, modify, and manage the experience and expression of emotions” (p. 106). This essay explores the role of emotional regulation in addressing bullying and victimisation, the need to resolve any external contributing factors to the development of maladaptive emotional regulation, the importance of educating both parents or caregivers and teachers to effectively support and teach adaptive, emotion regulation strategies to children, and the need for early, united intervention programs for children experiencing behavioural difficulties. This essay argues that breaking the cycle of bullying and victimisation requires a joint effort from parents or caregivers, teachers and children to support, teach and implement adaptive emotional regulation techniques.

Bullying can be verbal, physical, social or psychological (NSW DET, 2007). Often bullies exhibit tendencies towards aggressive, domineering behaviour aimed at exerting power over others (Shields & Cicchetti, 2001). Orobio de Castro, et al. (2005) argue that in self-report questionnaires dealing with hypothetical situations, aggressive boys are more inclined than non-aggressive boys to attribute hostile intent to the actions of others. On the other hand, victims of bullies tend to exhibit more anxious, fearful, withdrawn and submissive behaviour with a lack of assertiveness (Shields & Cicchetti, 2001). Among the methods used in previous research (Kelly, Schwartz, Gorman & Nakamoto, 2007; Orobio de Casro, et al., 2005; Sheilds & Cicchetti, 2001) to assess the bully-victim status of children are observational methods, self-report questionnaires, and teacher and peer-report questionnaires. Shields and Cicchetti (2001) argue that assessment methods in this area of research still remain fairly broad, as emotions research is a relatively young discipline. They highlight the importance of further research in this area to isolate more specific regulatory deficits that contribute to inappropriate and ineffective responses from bullies and victims.

While emotional regulation plays a significant role in peer relations, external factors may confound the problem and interfere with the development of adaptive emotional regulation. For example, if a child is experiencing maltreatment at home or in the community this may affect the expectations that child has for peer relations and interactions with others, which in turn, may lead to contextually inappropriate responses (Shields & Cicchetti, 2001). The role of encouraging more adaptive emotion regulation techniques is for children to learn more effective ways to interact with peers in both school and social settings.

The implications of findings from research into ‘Parental Maltreatment and Emotional Dysregulation as Risk Factors for Bullying and Victimization in Middle Childhood’, of the heightened risk for maltreated children to become bullies or victims (Shields & Cicchetti, 2001), and research by Kelly, Schwartz, Gorman and Nakamoto (2007) on the effect of community violence on children, highlights the need to explore if there are any external contributing factors influencing children’s maladaptive behaviour. The first step, depending on the severity of contributing factors, is to address any...
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