Today’s blog post is the fourth in a biweekly series on senior bullying, bringing research into practice. On Tuesday, 3/27, I’ll be recording an interview with Dr. Bonifas on the specifics of reducing senior bullying at the organizational level. If you have questions you’d like me to ask her, please email me via the Contact page, or leave your question in the comments section below. If your question gets asked during the interview, you’ll receive a FREE download of the recording, which will be available at the end of the Senior Bullying series. ~ Dr. El
By Robin Bonifas, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ and Marsha Frankel, LICSW, Clinical Director of Senior Services, Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Boston, MA
Up until this point, our blogs have focused on the dynamics of bullying among older adults and the characteristics of individuals who bully and of those who are the targets of bullying. Now we would like to center our attention on promising strategies to minimize bullying behavior.
In keeping with the social work value of “beginning where the client is,” it’s useful to first consider what seniors themselves have to say about how to reduce bullying. Assisted living residents made the following recommendations to decrease bullying and other problematic behaviors (Bonifas, 2011):
- Offer anger management classes
- Set limits with people who bully or “pick on” others
- Hold regular meetings to promote resident communication
- Develop rules and expectations for resident behavior
- Foster partnerships between residents and facility management
These recommendations reflect an important concept, namely that preventing and minimizing bullying requires multiple interventions targeted at each component of the bullying equation. Indeed there are three targeted intervention levels to consider, these include the organizational level, the bully level, and the victim level. Of these three, organizational intervention is the most crucial! This blog will focus on organizational approaches to minimize bullying; our next blog will address individual interventions for bullies and victims of bullying.
In approaching bullying prevention from an organizational level, the goal is to create a caring and empathetic community for residents and staff. Caring refers to feeling and exhibiting concern for others; empathetic refers to the presence of empathy – the capacity to recognize and share another’s feelings. Nurturing empathy is actually the best antidote to bullying! In an environment that promotes empathy, there is a pervasive culture of respect and trust where residents and staff are held accountable and responsible for their behaviors, which sets the stage for people being willing to take a stand in defense of themselves and others – a key intervention in putting a stop to bullying behaviors.
Of course, the primary question is “So how do we create a caring and empathetic environment?” The answer is to first strive to develop a culture of zero tolerance toward bullying. This mindset needs to be wholeheartedly embraced by the entire organization. Everyone – residents, staff, and management – must make a commitment to promoting and living by the tenets of equality and respect for all organizational community members. While overall efforts will vary across organizations, a universal component for creating a caring community is ongoing training and communication for both residents and staff.
To emphasize zero tolerance for bullying, we would suggest including the following elements:
- Develop clear rules and expectations for resident and staff behavior; invite everyone to be involved in determining what these rules and expectations should be.
- Hold regular group discussions about the challenges of communal living and possible solutions to those challenges.
- Provide regular training around recognizing and responding to bullying and other difficult behaviors; include activities that promote the development of empathy.
- Review policies for potential revisions that may reduce opportunities for bullying, for example, institute a “no saving seats” policy for group events and activities.
- Encourage staff and residents to report incidents of bullying and take complaints seriously; staff must feel supported in making reports and in setting limits on inappropriate behavior.
To facilitate the development of caring and empathy, consider implementing strategies that promote such qualities. For example:
- Acknowledge members of your community that go out of their way to welcome new residents and those who are perceived as “different.”
- Institute a “Caring Squad” whose job it is to notice acts of kindness and reward them.
- Nominate “Kings and Queens of Empathy” each month to recognize residents who have been especially caring.
Such activities send the message that caring and empathy are effective ways to achieve positive recognition, which is important for bullies who may seek attention through negative behavior.
It is important to recognize that developing a caring community is a process and organizational change is slow; improvements will not happen overnight, but gains can be made over time. A full description of these organizational interventions is not possible in the space of a blog, so Dr. El will be interviewing Dr. Bonifas regarding intervention details and will make the audio recording available for purchase to readers who would like more information. Readers are encouraged to list specific questions they have about organizational-level interventions that can then be addressed during the interview. As Dr. El mentioned, if your question is asked during the interview, you’ll receive the audio recording for free.
Our next blog will address interventions to address bullies and victims directly.
The Senior Bullying Series:
Reducing Senior Bullying: Conversation with Bullying Expert Robin Bonifas, PhD, MSW
This 50-minute audio addresses how organizations can implement programs to reduce senior bullying, discussing in detail issues touched upon in Dr. Bonifas’ blog series on Senior Bullying. Listeners will learn:
How to discover the extent of senior bullying in your facility
Who should be involved in a task force to reduce senior bullying
How to distinguish between bullying and the problematic behavior of residents with dementia
Ways to create a positive environment that encourages caring behavior and thus reduces bullying