‘How to Spot a Bully’ deck helps kids, parents identify and fight bullying behavior

Portland psychologist Elsbeth Martindale’s first invention was a deck of cards with questions meant to guide teens as they think about taking the leap into a physical relationship. Her success with that product led her to create a similar deck, this time aiming to help kids and adults discern whether they’re being bullied — or perhaps acting like a bully themselves.

The “How to Spot a Bully” deck uses the same format as the “Things to Know Before You Say ‘Go,’ ” an oversized playing card style. The largest of the four sections is the Bully Deck; it helps you think about behavior you’re seeing and discern whether it constitutes bullying.

The front of each card has a broad statement, such as, “Does this person get angry when they don’t get their way?” On the back, several more-detailed sentences give specific examples of the behavior, such as, “Does this person act like they have the ‘right’ to demand that life go their way all the time?”

Step 1 is to read and think about each of the Bully Deck cards and sort them into “yes,” “no” and “maybe” pile. By totaling the yes and maybe cards, you’ll have a good idea of whether it’s bullying. But, Martindale notes, sometimes it takes only one yes card to trigger action: If someone is being physically harmed, act immediately even it that was the lone “yes.”

The remainder of the deck are three types of Solution Cards: one offers help if you are being bullied, one offers ways to intervene if you see someone else being bullied and the third has ways to alter your behavior if you are the bully.

Running through the deck takes a bit of time, maybe a half-hour to assess the situation by sorting the Bully Deck. The cards’ writing level is pitched to teens or older, so younger children will need a grownup guiding them and explaining terms. That’s not a bad thing, though. It gives parents an easy way to start the conversation if they think their child’s in a bullying situation.

The detailed nature of the cards may tax the patience of younger kids, so parents would be wise to pre-sort and use only the cards that seem likeliest to match the situation at hand (for instance, I could omit the card about social media for my youngest, who has no Facebook or other social media account). The solutions tend to reiterate things adults already know: seek an authority’s help, don’t react to the bully, etc. But when working with kids, it’s valuable to have all the talking points organized so you don’t forget a key suggestion in the flow of conversation. And the formal, physical product also lends an air of authority to the suggestions: It’s not just Mom or Dad suggesting a solution, it’s a professional.

You might even consider giving your child a solution card to throw in their school backpack to use as a crib sheet, so they can remember and rehearse what to do when they cross paths with a bully.

By including the concept of “you may be the bully,” Martindale widens the deck’s usefulness. Too often parents are primed to watch out for their child being the victim — but the bully is also someone’s kid. It’s a good reminder that we need to watch for phases when our own kids might be tempted to be the mean girl or the domineering boy.

And, as Martindale notes in the instructions, “It is probably more fair to say that someone is ‘acting like a bully’ than that they ‘are a bully,’ since bullying behavior can be changed. … Bullying is a behavior, not a permanent state of being.”

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