Preventing bullying in schools

Kids huddled together smiling

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” Bullying is now being seen in children as young as 4 to 5 years old, with 6th grade being the worst year for bullying.

There are three basic types of abuse that fall within the definition of bullying; physical, verbal, and emotional bullying, also referred to as relational bullying.  Bullying can either be direct or indirect. Indirect bullying is more difficult to identify as it typically involves multiple aggressors, victims, and bystanders.

Physical bullying includes:

  • Spitting
  • Tripping/pushing
  • Hitting/kicking/pinching
  • Taking or breaking someone’s things
  • Making mean or rude hand gestures

Verbal bullying includes:

  • Name-calling
  • Teasing
  • Taunting
  • Inappropriate sexual comments
  • Threatening to cause harm

Emotional bullying includes:

  • Leaving someone out on purpose
  • Telling other children to not be friends with someone
  • Spreading rumors about someone
  • Embarrassing someone in public

Possible causes of bullying:

  • Overly permissive OR overly restrictive parents resulting in a lack of social problem-solving skills
  • Lack of high standards for how to treat one another at a primary care center or school
  • Cultures fascinated with winning, power, and violence including video games, contact sports, etc.
  • Social recognition of negative behaviors encourages bullying
  • Personal history of a bully causes one to be more likely to bully others
  • Lack of early intervention when bullying behavior is noticed

Ways to prevent bullying:

  • Assess bullying to find out what’s going on at your school, target efforts, and measure results
  • Engage parents to help maintain a climate of respect and inclusion
  • Establish and enforce school policies and rules about bullying and how to treat each other
  • Build a safe environment by creating a culture of respect
  • Educate students and staff about bullying prevention

School's bullying policy

Forty-nine states have anti-bullying laws that require schools to take appropriate action to address and reduce incidents of bullying. Your private or independent school also needs an updated anti-bullying policy that is administered consistently. Consistency is key.

By consistently enforcing your school's bullying policy, you are preventing potentially costly claims from both the parents of the victim and the parents of the bully. If punishment is not consistent with similar bullying situations, parents may claim unfair discrimination. If the school doesn't do anything to address the issue, the victim's parents may file a lawsuit for no action taken. Clearly defined policies along with consistent application of the policies and documentation are necessary to avoid either of these scenarios.

Ways to respond to bullying and enforce your schools policy:

  • Stop bulling on the stop
    • Respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior
  • Find out what happened
    • Get the story from several sources
    • Keep involved children separated
    • Don’t call it “bullying” while trying to figure out what happened
    • Finally, determine if it was bullying and act according to your school’s policy
  •  Support the kids involved
    • Help the kids who were bullied and the bullies to help prevent future incidents

Kids huddled together smiling

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