Responding to Bullying

Bullying affects everyone, including those who engage in bullying behaviour, those who experience bullying, and bystanders who witness the bullying.

For educators:

Research shows that adult intervention is the single most effective way to stop bullying behaviour. Adult visibility within the school has also shown to be effective. Ensure that school staff members are visible in and around the school, particularly during unstructured times such as before class, breaks and over the lunch hour. Encourage students to report bullying and harassment and provide them with a clear and easy-to-access process to do this.

Advice such as “just ignore it” or “walk away” is not helpful and sends a message that adults will not help. Ensure students know that you will respond to inappropriate behaviours and that they can turn to you for help. Take each reported incident seriously and act on it.

Teach awareness and anti-bullying strategies directly. Teach students the difference between bullying and normal conflicts, and the difference between tattling and reporting bullying. When students tattle they are trying to get another student into trouble. When students report bullying behaviour they are trying to help themselves or other students to be safe.

Use anonymous surveys to find out if bullying is a problem. Key information includes:

  • gender / grade level of person responding to the survey
  • areas on / around the school where students feel safe / unsafe / somewhat safe
  • staff responses when help is requested (helpful / somewhat helpful / not helpful)
  • type and frequency of bullying behaviour

Do not use anonymous surveys to find out names of students who engage in bullying behaviour.

With student participation and involvement, establish codes of conduct that include expectations around reporting and not participating in bullying behaviour. Stress that breaking the code of silence surrounding bullying is an act of courage and strength.

To support a student who is bullied:

  • Understand that a student may struggle with talking about the bullying.
  • Talk to the student alone and offer support. Assure the student that bullying is not their fault and reporting bullying is always the most appropriate action. Affirm their courage in reporting the incident.
  • Let the student know that you care and that you want to help. Focus on the student and listen to what they are saying.
  • Get the facts. Learn what the situation is and what has happened to date.
  • Give advice about what to do. This may involve role-playing and thinking through how the student might react if the bullying occurs again. Encourage the student to be assertive, to look people in the eye. If appropriate, coach the student on how to confidently say that bullying is not OK to the student who is bullying.
  • Consider referring the student to a school counselor, psychologist or other mental health service. Ensure that the students’ parents are contacted and that you explain what action the school is taking to support their child and ensure the bullying will stop.
  • Work together to resolve the situation and protect the student. School staff, parents and the student may all have valuable input into the process. Ensure there is a plan in place to monitor the situation and follow up with the student and parents.
  • Encourage the student to participate in activities they enjoy or are good at to help them build self-confidence. Involve the student in groups and situations where he or she can make reliable friends, build confidence and develop social and assertiveness skills.
  • To protect the people involved in bullying incidents, take care to ensure that privacy and confidentiality are respected.

Recognizing the crucial role of bystanders in bullying is essential. Those who witness bullying and harassment have the most power to stop it. On the other hand, students who witness bullying and do nothing to stop it become desensitized to the harm that it causes and the cycle of bullying and harassment continues.

It is therefore essential to create a climate in school where reporting bullying is encouraged. It is also important to always respond to reports of bullying or harassment and follow through.

When an incident occurs or is reported, talk to those involved separately. Acknowledge that reporting bullying takes courage and that it is the right thing to do.

Get the facts, including the names of those involved, the sequence of events, the behaviours, the frequency and the circumstances. Document the incident.

Teach students to use the CARE strategy if they see someone being bullied.

Care about others.

Ask an adult for help.

Reach out.

End it.

Reaffirm that it is everyone’s responsibility to help make the school a safe and caring place for everyone and that school staff are committed to taking appropriate action to stop bullying behaviour.

Click here to download a CARE strategy handout for your classroom…

It is important to understand that students who engage in bullying behaviour need support just as much as those who are bullied. This can sometimes mean moving from a punishment approach to a problem-solving approach. In the problem-solving approach, the student becomes part of the solution. Instead of punishing negative behaviour, the goal is for the student to learn a better way to behave.

The punishment approach focuses on mistakes, while the problem-solving approach focuses on making things right. It helps students take responsibility for their own behaviour while being treated with respect and dignity. It moves from retaliation to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Students who engage in bullying behaviour may have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Hypersensitivity and a tendency to misinterpret actions of others as hostile
  • An inability to empathize with or be compassionate toward others
  • A tendency to use power rather than social skills to get what they need
  • A troubled home life

When intervening with a student who engages in bullying behaviour:

  • Take each reported incident seriously and act on it. When bullying behaviour is reported, talk to the student who is engaging in bullying behaviour alone.
  • Get all the facts – the names of the people involved, the sequence of events, etc. Be sure to document the information, keeping emotional responses and unsupported conclusions out of the documentation.
  • Find out why the bullying behaviour occurred. Look for the underlying reason. What purpose did the bullying behaviour serve? Be aware that it is common for those engaging in bullying behaviour to minimize or deny actions or responsibility for actions.
  • Be firm and set limits. Agree on logical consequences or assign consequences that offer help and alternative behaviours.

A range of logical consequences that could be applied should meet the following criteria.

o   Reasonable: the consequences fit the inappropriate behaviour.

o   Related: the consequences teach a skill or attitude that will prevent future inappropriate behaviour.

o   Respectful: the consequences must respect the dignity of both the student who is bullied and the student who engages in bullying behaviour.

o   Responsible: the consequences ensure that the student who engages in bullying behaviour is the one who is held accountable for his or her actions.

  • Ensure that other school staff members share an understanding of the situation.
  • Build skills – the student who is aggressive toward others needs to learn to recognize and correct negative behaviours.
  • Aid reconciliation – discuss how the student can make amends to those he or she has harmed.
  • Monitor behaviour and follow up with both the student and parents.
  • Students who engage in bullying behaviour need help developing problem-solving skills that don’t involve aggression. Offer to help the student practice positive, productive, alternate behaviours for similar situations.

 

Use a problem-solving mindset

Adults need to respond to students’ inappropriate behaviour with a problem-solving mindset. In the problem-solving approach the student becomes part of the solution. Instead of punishing bad behaviour, the goal is for the student to learn a better way to behave.

To help achieve this goal, teachers can consider the contrast between a punishment approach, which allows students to abdicate responsibility for anti-social behaviour and imposes an external set of rules on them, and the problem-solving approach which, while treating misbehaving students with dignity, seeks to instill a sense of personal responsibility and desire to behave better.

In the problem-solving approach, students are expected to fix the wrongs they commit. A problem-solving approach to dealing with anti-social behaviour is aimed at preventing a recurrence of the violent or harassing behaviour.

However, modelling and teaching pro-social skills are also vital to reducing bullying behaviour. Students need support to practice and learn positive, productive alternate behaviours for similar situations.

Re-examine any philosophy in which the incorporation of one-size-fits-all when it comes to assigned consequences. Unfortunately, zero tolerance has been reframed as a simplistic justification for treating every problem with one solution. Zero tolerance is too often an excuse to punish without thought, to remove students causing the trouble without taking responsibility, or to sound tough without doing the tough work of finding real solutions.

Ensure the school’s code of conduct addresses bullying behaviour directly and clearly describes how the school will respond.

Consider identifying a key person at the school for parents to contact when bullying behaviour is an issue.

Speak to the parents of the student who has been bullied and the student who is engaging in bullying behaviour separately. Use clear and simple language and stick to the facts. Do not debate motivation or whether the incidents were provoked or defensible.

Remind parents that it is the school’s goal to maintain a safe and caring environment for all students. Review the expectations for student behaviour and the consequences of bullying behaviour. Aggression doesn’t solve problems, it creates them. Teach alternatives and provide strategies for home use that reinforce school practices for conflict resolution.

Explain to parents of the student who has been bullied how school personnel will respond to ensure safety and assist in stopping incidents involving bullying. Be prepared to describe specific strategies the school will use to ensure safety and enhance development of coping skills. Explain to parents the consequences of bullying behaviour within the school. Establish ongoing communication and check-ins in the form of regular telephone calls, notes or e-mails.

For parents/guardians:

Be calm

  • Don’t allow your initial response to control your actions.
  • Take action to stay calm so that you can think rationally.

Offer comfort

  • Let your child know you are on his or her side and will do all you can to see that he or she is safe.
  • Tell your child that reporting bullying was the right thing to do.
  • Emphasize that he or she has the right to be safe at school.

Work with the school

  • Contact your child’s teacher immediately to ensure that the situation is being monitored.
  • Ask for advice about contacting the parents of the child who is engaging in the bullying behaviour.
  • Check the school’s discipline plan for information.
  • Ask about specific actions the school will take in this situation.
  • Participate in the school’s action plan.

Make safety arrangements

  • Tell your child not to go places alone and to tell an adult if someone is harassing him or her.

Help your child develop skills and confidence to stay safe and to respond assertively to bullying behaviour.

Practice effective responses.

  • Recognize and validate these responses when you see your child use them.
  • Never encourage a physical response toward harassment and bullying.
  • Get information about effective responses your child can use to deal with bullying.

Affirm your child’s courage in telling you.

  • Congratulate him or her on being willing to deal with harassing behaviour.
  • Talk with your child about their feelings. Make it clear that you believe in your child’s ability to work through the problem.
  • Follow through by periodically checking with the school to ensure the problem is resolved.

Click here to download this information in tip sheet format…

Silence encourages bullying behaviour. Thank your child for having the courage to tell you about it. A warm, non-judgemental manner will set the stage for this discussion. Model caring and concern for others. This will serve your child well in the future.

Stay calm and get the facts.

  • Find out the names of those involved.
  • Get the sequence of events / behaviours / frequency of harassment.
  • Get the circumstances and location.

Stress that it takes courage to report bullying and harassment.

  • Those who witness bullying and harassment have the most power to stop it.

Contact the school.

  • Support your child in reporting incidents of bullying and harassment to responsible adults in the school.

Take responsibility.

  • Reaffirm the expectation that it is your child’s responsibility to help make the school safe and caring for everyone.

 

Stay calm

  • Don’t allow your initial response to control your actions.
  • Take action to calm yourself so that you can think rationally.

Be firm

  • Set limits and give clear messages that you love your child but don’t love his or her behaviour – all harassing and bullying must stop.
  • Talk about how harassment affects others.
  • Impose appropriate, non-violent, logical consequences.

Offer help

  • Let your child know you will work with him or her to help find better ways to solve problems.

Get the full picture

  • Help your child explore the reasons for the bullying behaviour and find different ways to interact with others.
  • Check with school staff to get as much specific information as possible.
  • Help your child identify the circumstances under which he or she becomes aggressive.
  • Work to gain an understanding of the skills your child needs to learn to solve problems effectively. It is paramount to affirm and encourage positive behaviours and constructive, problem-solving skills.
  • Let your child know the risk for legal consequences for bullying behaviour.

Have balance

  • Make sure you spend time affirming the qualities and behaviours you appreciate in your child.
  • Don’t just focus on what isn’t working – also notice and comment on what is working.

Encourage talk about feelings

  • Teach your child ways to express feelings that will help build empathy and problem-solving skills.

Practice alternatives

  • Work out different ways to solve problems that do not involve verbal or physical aggression. Practice new responses.
  • Discuss ways to handle situations that have been problems in the past. Make a plan.

Aid reconciliation

  • Help your child work out a way to make it up to the person he or she has bullied.
  • Help your child look at the situation from the other person’s point of view.
  • Consider what the person who has been bullied would want to happen.

Cooperate with the school

  • Keep in touch with the school staff to find out how your child is doing. Ask for help if you need it.
  • Ask the school to share strategies they teach students for self-control and resolving conflict. Practice and reinforce these strategies with your child.

Monitor TV, violent movies, video games

  • Media violence has been shown to increase aggression in young people.

Reflect

  • Examine your parenting strategies, especially strategies used to discipline.
  • Parenting strategies that are too strict or too lenient have been shown to cause behaviour problems in young people.
  • Remember that you are a powerful role model for your child.

Guidelines for logical consequences

A range of logical consequences that could be applied should meet the following criteria.

  • Reasonable: the consequences fit the inappropriate behaviour.
  • Related: the consequences teach a skill or attitude that will prevent future inappropriate behaviour.
  • Respectful: the consequences must respect the dignity of both the child who is bullied and the child who engages in bullying behaviour.
  • Responsible: the consequences ensure that the child who engages in bullying behaviour is the one who is held accountable for his or her actions.

Click here to download this information in tip sheet format…

For students:

If you are bullied, recognize that it is not your fault, and know that you have the right to be safe.

To be safe, think SAFE:

Stand up for your self

Ask for help

Figure out your choices

End it calmly.

Tips:

  • If you are bullied, stand proud and make eye contact.
  • Use a firm voice and tell the person who is bullying to stop–then walk away.
  • Ask a friend to help you, and tell adults about the problem until someone helps.
  • Think about different ways to handle the situation, but don’t name-call or get into a physical fight.
  • Even though it might be difficult, show respect and treat the person who is bullying you the way you would like to be treated.
  • Don`t believe any negative things the person who is bullying might say about you.
  • Don`t blame yourself for the bullying, and don`t think that it`s “tattling” to ask for help. Not telling anyone will only allow that person to continue to bully you and others.

Click here to download the SAFE strategy tip sheet…

Those who witness bullying have the power to stop it. If you see someone being bullied, show that you CARE.

Care about others

Ask an adult for help

Reach out

End it

Tips:

  • If you see someone being bullied, offer to help.
  • Invite him or her to hang out with you and your friends (people who bully often target someone who spends a lot of time alone).
  • Tell the person being bullied that it’s okay to ask for help, and talk to an adult about the problem.
  • Tell the person who has been bullied that you are willing to help with any future problems.
  • Don’t try to solve the problem by bullying back.
  • Keep your word, once the bullying incident has passed, make sure you don’t ignore the person who has been bullied—he or she needs to know that others are looking out for them.

Click here to download the CARE strategy tip sheet…

If you are always picking on other students, you have a problem. It may be hard to admit you have a problem, but we all have to own up to how we treat other people. It’s not right to want to make others feel badly.

If bullying behaviour makes you feel powerful, you must realize that no one really likes other people who bully. You may scare kids into hanging around with you, but that’s not the same as having friends who respect you. Also, you are harming yourself. When kids who bully become adults, they often have problems. People who can’t control their behaviour have trouble keeping jobs and can even end up in jail.

Figure out why you bully. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you really mean to make other people feel awful? Why? Think about how that must feel.
  • Is something making you unhappy – a problem at home or at school? Is there someone you can talk to about it?
  • Is someone – an adult, a member of your family – bullying or hurting you? Are you taking it out on someone else? Can you talk to that person? Can you get someone else to talk to that person for you? Consider talking to a school counsellor or trusted adult.
  • Is there someone in particular that you pick on? Is there something about that person that bothers you or makes you jealous?
  • Do you hang around with friends that bully others? Why? Do you really want to be around people who like to pick on others? Can you really trust them as friends?
  • Are you a victim of violence? If so, can you break the cycle of violence and make sure no one has to suffer as you did? Talk to a school counsellor.
  • Do you have trouble making friends? Learning to make friends is a skill that takes practice. Watch someone you admire to get ideas about making new friends.

It’s time to make a change

Ask for help. Talk to someone at school about your problem and ask for help as to how you can control your negative feelings.

Changing behaviour takes time. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t change everything you want to change immediately. The fact that you are reading this and want to change is a positive step. Being willing to do something about your behaviour is half the battle.