Your Guide to Preventing and Responding to School Bullies

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October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a campaign founded by PACER to eradicate bullying across the country. According to school bullying statistics, 37% of children report having been bullied before, but only 31% of this number reported it to an adult.[5] This means that although nearly two-fifths of all children will be bullied at some point, you may not hear about it unless you’re aware and make an effort to stop it.

But as a teacher, you can make a big difference in responding to school bullies. The sooner you address bullying in class, the less likely it will be to spread and seriously affect your students.[1] That’s why this month focuses on prevention. It’s never too late to respond to bullying issues, but if you can prevent it, you can help your students feel safe and wanted at school.

In this article, we’ll explore how you can both prevent bullying in your classroom and handle it when it occurs. Then, we’ll share five anti-bullying activities you can do with your students during this awareness month.

What You Can Do to Prevent Bullying in Your Classroom

Awareness is so important in early education; early interventions can prevent the long-term consequences of bullying. Both bullies and victims of bullying, for example, are more likely to suffer from mental illness later in life.[6]

Additionally, bullying victims often experience the following issues as result of the trauma bullying causes:[2,3,7,19]

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sleep disorders
  • Chronic stress
  • Self-destructive behaviors

In terms of prevention, bullies generally score low on measures of empathy and social-emotional development.[9] Luckily, both of these things can be taught. In addition to academic skills, teach social-emotional learning (SEL) lessons in class. You could, for example, teach students how to recognize different emotions or what to do when they are sad or angry. That way, when they feel overwhelmed, they learn to react in healthy ways instead of bullying.

Reading is connected to empathy, and reading books about bullying can help students understand how to treat their classmates and what to do if they’re being bullied.[13] Here are a few children’s books about bullying to share with your students:

  • Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy
  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
  • I Walk With Vanessa by Kerasocoët
  • You Are Special by Max Lucado
  • Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney

Additionally, bullies are more likely to have had their own traumatic experiences earlier in life that may factor into why they act inappropriately.[4] As an educator, you can address this. Connect children who have experienced trauma to resources like your school’s counseling center so they can find tools to cope with their past experiences. Like teaching SEL in class, providing these students with mental health resources can help them process their pain without lashing out at others.

How to Handle Bullying If You Think It’s Occurring

Here are a few signs of bullying to look out for in your class:[17]

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Student expressing low-self esteem or helplessness
  • Declining grades or quality of school work
  • Student no longer wants to attend school or social situations
  • Other students no longer interact with student, including former friends

Even if you know it’s happening in your school, it can be difficult to find solutions to bullying. In part, this is because it can be difficult to get victims to report that they’ve been bullied at all.[1] A bullied child may feel ashamed or worried that their bully will lash out if they tell someone. It’s important to handle such cases in your class delicately and with respect to the person being bullied.

What can you do if you think a student is being bullied in your elementary school? If they haven’t yet come to you, watch for warning signs and reach out to the student who you think is being targeted in private. Some children may feel uncomfortable going to you for help, but you can still talk with the student and let them know they can come to you.

Once you know that a child is being bullied, the most important thing to do is listen to the child and help immediately.[18] Contact the parents of both the bully and bullied students, as well as any colleagues who need to be involved (such as the school principal). That way, you can help the bullied child find support and determine consequences for the bully.

How to Prevent Cyberbullying in Schools

While students are just as likely to be victims of in-person bullying as ever, they’re increasingly likely to be bullied online as well. Because the consequences of cyberbullying are just as serious as those associated with traditional bullying methods, it’s important to prevent and deal with cyberbullying as soon as possible.

Cyberbullying is defined as any action that targets or harms a student using digital media. A few examples of cyberbullying include:

  • Harassing a student through phone calls, texts, or online messages
  • Impersonating another student to spread rumors online
  • Hacking into a student’s email, social media, or other online accounts

One of the best ways you can help students avoid and respond to cyberbullying is by teaching them how to stay safe online—especially while they use social media.[14] Show them how to keep their accounts and messages private, as well as how to block or report bullies.[15] Let them know that if they’re being bullied in class or online, they can always reach out to you for help.

While children may use technology in schools, most use technology outside the classroom, too. Therefore, they’re just as likely—if not moreso— to be bullied online while using technology at home. That’s why it’s important to get parents involved in teaching digital safety and how to respond to cyberbullyng.[16] You might consider sending out a pamphlet or online newsletter on cyberbullying or even holding a bullying prevention night for parents. The more you can enlist help from parents, the more support your students will have.

5 Class Activities for National Bullying Prevention Month

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and while this anti-bullying month is important, every day is an opportunity to help students swap out bullying for compassion.

Whether it’s a bullying awareness month or not, here are five anti-bullying activities for you to teach your students about kindness:

  • Use PACER’s “Kids Against Bullying” pledge template to have every child in your class promise to treat their peers with compassion and reach out when they or others are bullied.[10]
  • Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a great way to spread empathy and teach students how to respond to bullies. Play this “What If?” game with your students as an interactive way to teach these lessons.[12]
  • Hold an Anti-Bullying Day event in October so you can have a day dedicated to eradicating bullying in your class or school.
  • Cyberbullying is one of the most common ways that students are targeted today. In addition to keyboard and mouse lessons, teach elementary students how to be safe on the Internet.[11]
  • Play a clip from a movie or TV series that shows a student getting bullied. Then have a discussion with your students about what happened and how they would react to seeing a similar situation in school.[11]

Sources:

  1. Englander, E.K., Donnerstein, E., Lin, C.A., Kowalski, R, and Parti, K. Defining Cyberbullying. Pediatrics, November 2017, 140(2), pp. 148-151.
  2. Wolke, D., and Lereya, S.T. Long-term effects of bullying. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 2015, 100, pp. 879-885.
  3. Holt, M.K., Vivolo-Kantor, A.M., Polanin, J.R., Holland, K.M., DeGue, S., Matjasko, J.L., Wolfe, M., and Reid, G. Bullying and Suicidal Ideation and Behaviors: A Meta-Analysis. Pediatrics, February 2015, 135(2), pp. 496-509.
  4. Swearer, S. M., and Hymel, S. Understanding the psychology of bullying: Moving toward a social-ecological diathesis–stress model. American Psychologist, 2015, 70(4), pp. 344-353.
  5. Hicks, J., Jennings, L., Jennings, S., Berry, S., and Green, D. Middle School Bullying: Student Reported Perceptions and Prevalence. Journal of Child and Adolescent Counseling, 2018, 4(3), pp. 195-2018.
  6. Rettrew, D.C., and Pawlowski, S. Bullying. Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics, April 2016, 25(2), pp. 235-242.
  7. Wolke, D., Tippett, N., and Dantchev, S. Bullying in the family: sibling bullying. Psychiatry, October 2015, 2(10), pp. 917-929.
  8. Van Noorden, T.H.J., Haselanger, G.J.T., Cillessen, A.H.N., Bukowski, W.M. Empathy and Involvement in Bullying in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, March 2015, 44(3), pp. 637-657.
  9. Zych, I., Ttofi, M.M., and Farrington, D.P. Empathy and Callous–Unemotional Traits in Different Bullying Roles: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2019, 20(1), pp. 3-21.
  10. PACER Staff. Hold a “Kids Against Bullying” Pledge Signing Event. Retrieved from pacer.org: https://www.pacer.org/bullying/classroom/elementary/activities/take-the-pledge.asp.
  11. American Federation of Teachers. Classroom Activities on Bullying Prevention. Retrieved from aft.org: https://www.aft.org/classroom-activities-bullying-prevention.
  12. Eyes on Bullying Staff. What If? Retrieved from eyesonbullying.org: http://eyesonbullying.org/whatif.html.
  13. Rowe, D.B. The “Novel” Approach: Using Fiction to Increase Empathy. Virginia Libraries, 2018, 63(1).
  14. Stop Bullying Staff. Prevent Cyberbullying. Retrieved from stopbullying.gov: https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/prevention/index.html.
  15. Connect Safely Staff. Tips to Help Stop Cyberbullying. Retrieved from connectsafely.org: https://www.connectsafely.org/tips-to-help-stop-cyberbullying/.
  16. Kevorkian, M. Parents can Prevent Cyberbullying. Retrieved from pta.org: https://www.pta.org/home/family-resources/safety/Digital-Safety/Parents-Can-Prevent-Cyberbullying.
  17. Stop Bullying Staff. Warning Signs for Bullying. Retrieved from stopbullying.gov: https://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/warning-signs/index.html.
  18. Teaching Tolerance Staff. Bullying: Guidelines for Teachers. Retrieved from tolerance.org: https://www.tolerance.org/professional-development/bullying-guidelines-for-teachers.
  19. Stop Bullying Staff. Consequences of Bullying. Retrieved from stopbullying.gov: https://www.stopbullying.gov/research-resources/consequences-of-bullying/index.html.

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