Bullying Prevention - Action for Healthy Kids
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Bullying Prevention

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Download “Connect with Kindness” an activity set to support bullying prevention activities for PreK-12 children!

One in five children between the ages of 12 and 18 have been bullied at school. Nearly one in six between the ages of nine and 12 have been bullied online. The high prevalence of bullying is just one of the many reasons parents, caregivers, teachers and administrators need to join forces in implementing best practices aimed at preventing bullying.

What is bullying?

Bullying is defined as aggressive behavior that is, or can be, repeated, and that involves a power imbalance, either real or perceived. Bullying can take the following forms – (1) social: purposely embarrassing or excluding someone, starting rumors, etc.; (2) verbal: making threatening or sexual comments, teasing, name calling, etc.; and (3) physical: hitting, tripping, breaking someone’s belongings, etc.

Who does bullying impact?

Any child may be the victim of bullying. However, research has shown that females are slightly more likely to report having been bullied than males. Students that are perceived as different and/or nonconforming to peers, including children and youth that identify as LGBTQ+, socially isolated youth, those with a physical disability, neurodiverse children, and more, are also at greater risk of being victims of bullying. Additionally, those in middle school (6th-8th grade) report higher rates of bullying than older students (9th-12th grade), as do children from lower income households. Similarly, although any child may bully another, there are a handful of characteristics that make some children more likely to be a bully. These include children and youth that are overly concerned with social power and dominating or controlling others, those with low self-esteem, depression or anxiety, those that tend to be more aggressive or have difficulty following rules, and those with lower levels of parent/caregiver involvement.

Where does bullying happen?

Bullying can happen anywhere. The two most frequent locations of reported incidents of bullying are the school hallways/stairwells and the classroom. Other common locations include the cafeteria, outside on school grounds, the locker room, the school bus, and online or via cellphone.

How does bullying impact a child?

Victims of bullying may face short- and long-term impacts, but they aren’t the only ones. Children that bully others, as well as those that witness bullying, are all at increased risk of negative outcomes. Those that are victims are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating behaviors, missed school, and decreased academic outcomes like grades. Children and youth that bully others are more likely to engage in other violent and risky behaviors including substance use, are at greater risk of not completing high school, and are more likely to be abusive toward romantic partners or children later in life. Witnesses of bullying are also at increased risk of substance use, missing school, and mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

Implementation Best Practices

Given the high frequency of bullying and its far-reaching impacts, it is critical that best practices for identifying and preventing bullying are implemented. Below are four sets of strategies that can be implemented by safe and nurturing adults in children’s lives, including both school staff and administrators, as well as parents and caregivers.

Strengthen Family-School Partnerships:

In order for bullying prevention efforts to be truly effective, they must involve buy-in from both the school and families. School staff, administrators, parents and caregivers must communicate honestly and respectfully about situations that involve bullying on and off school grounds, and collaborate on developing and enforcing bullying prevention initiatives and responses collectively.

Assess, Establish and Enforce:

Assess the bullying environment at a school by collecting feedback from a variety of school staff, including nurses, teachers, counselors, cafeteria staff, coaches, recess monitors, bus drivers, and more. Encourage students to also provide their input via anonymous surveys and opportunities for them to speak confidentially about bullying that they’ve experienced or witnessed. Establish simple rules that make clear bullying is unacceptable and communicate these rules regularly to students, families and staff. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program recommends adoption of these four rules:

  • We will not bully others.
  • We will try to help students that are bullied.
  • We will make it a point to include students who are easily left out.
  • If we know someone is being bullied, we will tell an adult at school and at home.

Once rules are determined and communicated, enforce them consistently and equitably across the school community.

Create a Safe, Welcoming Environment:

It’s critical that students feel safe at school, and that they feel they have access to safe adults if something is wrong. By ensuring a safe and welcoming environment for children and youth, bullying incidences are likely to decrease. Some effective ways of improving the school environment in this way include:

  • Providing frequent trainings for school staff on bullying and bullying prevention techniques
  • In addition to developing and enforcing an anti-bullying policy, develop and enforce a school or district-wide equity policy
  • Implementing restorative practices and positive discipline techniques to better equip students to identify hurtful actions and develop more positive peer relationships, and to improve student-teacher relationships
  • Increasing the presence of teachers and school staff in bullying “hot spots,” such as hallways, the cafeteria and stairwells
  • Ensuring adults model healthy and respectful behaviors, words and interactions with others
Build Students’ Social-Emotional Skills:

Implement a school-wide social-emotional learning program, such as AFHK’s ConnectEd. This will provide students with the tools and skills needed for increased social-emotional competency, resiliency, problem-solving, and healthy decision making.

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