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Ten steps to building a bully-free school

When schools create a culture where everyone belongs, bullying is less of a problem.

By Stan Davis, Educational Consultant

1. Establish clearly defined schoolwide behavior expectations rather than rules that describe only general principles.

Here is an example of a clearly defined rule: "No teasing. Teasing is name-calling, starting rumors, gestures, or other actions that are likely to make students feel bad about themselves."

2. Use predictable and escalating consequences for aggression rather than creating a unique consequence for each student and each situation.

When there are inconsistent consequences for bullying, young people are likely to continue.

3. Maintain a positive emotional tone between adults and youth rather than treating students with anger and frustration.

When consequences come from a rubric, when they are earned rather than given, and when there are planned next steps if the student continues to choose aggression, there is no need for adults to use anger as a behavior management tool.

4. Acknowledge positive actions rather than ignoring positive behavior or using person-based praise.

When staff point out students' positive behavior using descriptive language, students are more likely to repeat this behavior.

5. Provide structured opportunities for aggressive youth to think about their actions instead of using threats, lectures or anger.

When young people take responsibility for their actions and for hurting others, they strengthen conscience.

6. Work to develop a peer climate in which bystanders discourage bullying and in which peers befriend targets.

When 85 percent of the school population - the bystanders - stop watching silently and start telling bullies to stop, telling adults, and reaching out in friendship, bullying behavior becomes less damaging and less frequent.

7. Protect targets and bystanders from repeated or retaliatory harassment.

Reducing the rate of bullying is the best support we can give targets.

8. Help targets to reverse feelings of self-blame and to feel powerful.

Targets often begin to believe what the bullies say about them: that they are stupid, ugly, or fat. Helping targets to see themselves more positively often takes time.

9. Help targets build friendships.

Social isolation is the most painful part of being bullied. We can encourage peers to reach out in friendship and help targets participate in that friendship.

10. Recognize and build on the strengths and accomplishments of your school community.

When we recognize the positive programs and practices that stop bullying in a school, staff and students are more likely to continue them.

This article is adapted from the book, Schools Where Everyone Belongs, by Stan Davis.

Stan Davis is a school counselor and the author of Schools Where Everyone Belongs.

Comments from readers

"I live in York, PA, where parents and grandparents not only encourage but teach their children to bully and disrespect others. The children are alloweed by their parents, to curse at the adults in the neighborhood. One year olds who are unable to speak clearly are taught by parents and other adult family members to repeat curse words. Reeducation of bullies should be mandatory when bulling is consciously taught rather than picked-up. I think that most teachers are afraid to consider that their students are capable of being mean (to the point most bullies are)to someone who have not done them any wrong; it's hard to think of children of behaving in a way that might be considered evil; it might be a hard thing for a teacher or counselor to consider. Taking a hard look at bullies might be the first real step to a solution. "
" How do I help my 9 year old daughter stop tatteling, stand up for herself and stop pouting because it only invites more teasing? She hasn't experienced anything really mean yet because she's too young to be in unsupervised situations yet, but I'm afraid of how things could change for the worse in middle school. I know she'd have had the opportunity to develop better social skills by now if she weren't an only child."
"Thank you for sending me this email to read and learn. I found it to be most interesting and informativ about the facts and problems that we are definitely trying to deal with within the schools with both the boy and girl students of this era. We need your help."
"I find all these articles helpful. I have a 5 year old son who is experiencing meaness from a group of 5 year old girls. When I asked one of them she says she just does not like my son and her best friend tells her to do mean things to him and she likes bothering him. When I aksed her to simply leave him alone she said that she enjoys making him sad. I brought the matter up to the Teacher and her response was, I noticed her writing on his shirt but she was only joking did he take it the wrong way? This is a very sweet little girl but my son does not want to go to school anymore and he is very hurt because he doesnt yet understand the need to make other people feel bad. How do I deal with this? Help"