For years I’ve been a medical consultant for HealthTeacher.com. Recently they published a very helpful article on “Banishing Bullies.” I thought that this section of the article, on “Rules for Preventing Bullying” was particularly helpful. I hope that readers who are parents, teachers, coaches, pastors, and others who love and care for children will find this information helpful.
Jonathan Cohen, president of the Center for Social and Emotional Education, says more than 160,000 American students stay home from school on any given day because they’re afraid of being bullied.
Understand what bullying is, and isn’t: Despite the prevalence of bullying, Cohen says there’s actually a lot of confusion as to what is and what is not bullying. “Most bullying prevention experts focus on two key critical factors: power and intent,” he says. “Did that person or group with more power intentionally hurt or humiliate a person or group with less power?”
Promote pro-upstander behavior: For every bully and victim, there’s usually a witness – someone who sees it happen and chooses to stand by and say nothing. That’s your typical bystander behavior. But bully prevention experts increasingly are talking about the importance of being an upstander – someone who acts directly or indirectly to stop the act of bullying.
“We need to raise awareness that there’s never a bully and a victim without a witness,” he says, adding that teachers can explicitly support students in learning how to become upstanders:
- By establishing upstander norms for the classroom: Just like having general classroom norms such as raising your hand to ask a question, establish norms about what to do when you see bully behavior.
- By recognizing bullying themes in other subject areas: Like many health topics, finding the time to teach them is a challenge, when requirements like math, science and language arts take precedence. Bullying is a prevalent theme in literature and history, so incorporating the topic is a natural fit.
- By acting as an upstander: Cohen says leading by example is one of the most powerful ways to teach a child. “One of the basic ways children learn is by being copycats,” he says. “Therefore, how individual teachers act is one of the most important ways they teach.”
- Communicate rules clearly and enforce them fairly: It’s the beginning of the school year. Establish rules about bullying behavior in the classroom. Share these with parents and students before school starts and ask for their commitment to helping prevent bullying. BullyBust offers free resources to teachers who sign up for its Partner School Program.
- Involve everyone, from students to community members: As with anything, preventing bullying is bigger than what one teacher can do. In fact, Cohen says, it needs to become a community-wide effort. He cites four critical dimensions that all comprehensive bullying-prevention programs should address: individual, classroom, school and community, including leaders from local businesses and social services, politicians and the faith-based community.
Cohen encourages teachers to talk to their principal and community leaders about creating a committee to study and come up with recommendations for a comprehensive bullying-prevention program. “Every school, like every individual, is unique,” he says. “There will be common themes, but understanding a school’s own history, strengths, needs and goals will make a bullying-prevention strategy more successful.”