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The Angry and Aggressive Child - Bullying

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Bullying is a relationship problem. It is not just a problem with an individual child's aggression. The defining feature of bullying is the imbalance of power that develops over time between children who bully and those who are victimized.

Children who bully learn through many interactions how to use power and aggression to control and distress others.s Children who are repeatedly victimized become trapped in destructive relationships that they find increasingly difficult to escape.

The defining feature of bullying is the imbalance of power that develops over time between children who bully and those who are victimized. The roles of children who bully or are victimized are not necessarily fixed. The victim may become a bully under different circumstances, or vice versa.

Peers play a major role in bullying: they are either part of the problem or part of the solution. We have observed that peers are almost always present when bullying occurs. When peers watch or join in, they reinforce the aggressive behaviour of children who bully, and contribute to the humiliation and exclusion of those being victimized. When peers have the courage to intervene, however, their efforts are highly effective.

Teachers are often not aware that bullying is occurring. It typically happens when children are not being observed by adults, such as during recess or in the classroom while the teacher is focused on other students. In addition, victimized children tend not to tell adults because they fear retaliation by those who bully them, or because they feel shame about being bullied. When children are able to tell a trusted adult, the bullying is most likely to stop. This is the reason it is essential for teachers to bring the issue of bullying into the open and to encourage children not only to discuss these problems, but also to act when they know someone is being bullied.

There are many different forms of bullying behaviour that will be discussed in this chapter:

  • Physical bullying includes behaviours such as: hitting, kicking, shoving, spitting, beating up, stealing, or damaging property.
  • Verbal bullying includes behaviours such as: name-calling, mocking, hurtful teasing, humiliating or threatening someone, racist comments, or sexual harassment.
  • Social bullying includes behaviours such as: eye rolling or turning away from someone, excluding others from the group, gossiping or spreading rumours, setting others up to look foolish and damaging friendships.
  • Cyber bullying includes the use of email, cell phones, text messages, and Internet sites to threaten, harass, embarrass, socially exclude, or damage reputations and friendships.

Please note that we avoid labeling children as "victims" or "bullies". We have learned that these labels get in the way of understanding the complex paths children can take into bullying or victimized roles. Labels also restrict creative thinking about how to help children develop new kinds of relationships that can support everyone involved in bullying: those who bully, those who are victimized, and those who are bystanders. In this chapter, we view children's strengths and challenges not only in terms of their own needs, but also in terms of their important relationships within the family, peer group, school, and broader community.

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Children in the preschool years are just beginning to learn how to control and regulate their emotions. Their social skills and language abilities are slowly developing for effective social problem solving.

As children enter school they have many new social demands. It is natural at this stage for children to solve problems in an unskilled manner, thinking primarily of their own goals. It is not unusual for young children to solve social problems by threatening or physically harming another student.

Bullying during this stage tends to be verbal (e.g., name calling), or physical (e.g., hitting, biting, kicking, scratching).

Girls and boys tend to engage in similar forms of bullying during this stage.

With the guidance of parents, teachers, and other adults, most young children learn to regulate their emotions and behaviours as they mature.


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Because of individual difficulties or inadequate socialization experiences, some children do not acquire the skills they need to control their emotions and behaviours and to begin to understand the impact of their behaviours on others. As a result, these children may engage in bullying when others of their age have been able to identify and use other strategies in relating to peers.

Children's bullying behaviour may become a problem if it begins to occur frequently and across different contexts (e.g., with siblings and other students at school). An increase in the frequency of bullying may signal that children are experiencing complex problems. In this case, extra support from teachers becomes critical to facilitate children's adjustment and improve their coping skills within their daily class and school settings.

At the end of the preschool stage, different forms of aggressive behaviour begin to emerge for boys and girls. Boys continue to engage in more physical bullying behaviours, whereas girls are starting to shift away from physical forms of bullying toward the more sophisticated forms of verbal and social bullying.

Because children typically form same-sex play groups during this stage, the bullying that occurs tends to be directed toward same-sex peers and generally same-grade peers, sometimes even within close friendship groups.


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There is cause for concern when the "yellow light" behaviours of children and adolescents become frequent, severe, pervasive (in many contexts), and have occurred over an extended period of time. For example, if a 13-year-old persistently engages in a pattern of threatening, physically intimidating or hurting another child, this may be considered in the red light region. The concern arises not only from the distress that the child is causing to others, but also from the behaviour patterns that are being laid down for relationships across the lifespan. The use of power and aggression in relationships is a feature of many critical social problems for individuals and society.

The degree of risk for children engaged in bullying depends upon the duration, severity, pervasiveness, and frequency of behaviours.

Duration is the length of time the behaviours have been problematic (for example, if the problem has been present since kindergarten, this is a strong concern).

Severity refers to the nature of the behaviour and the degree of distress caused to the victimized child through serious physical, verbal, and/or social bullying.

Pervasiveness refers to the number of different settings in which the children are bullying. Our research indicates that it is a greater concern if bullying occurs both on the school playground and in class.

Frequency of behaviour indicates how often children are engaging in bullying. The more frequently they use their power aggressively, the more likely this is becoming their way of interacting with others and the greater the concern.

When reaching out to parents of children who bully (which is often a challenge in itself), it may help to explore whether the children are bullying at home. Children who bully at school often bully their siblings and even their parents. Parents who are being bullied may recognize the need for support for their children and the family as a whole. It is also important to identify whether children who bully are being bullied or abused at home, or given messages by parents or caregivers that resolving conflicts through violence, bullying, or fighting back is OK.

Several behaviours stand alone as key indicators at all ages that there may be a serious problem, including:

  • Overt or covert (hidden) acts of cruelty to people, physical fighting, use of a weapon.
  • A group of children working together actively to shun or otherwise victimize another child.
  • Other highly concerning behaviours include: an evident lack of empathy, boasting about bullying, and lack of remorse or moral compass when it comes to the harm caused by bullying.

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Although behaviour in early childhood often includes some bullying, during middle childhood children are more skilled in solving problems in nonaggressive ways.

Middle childhood is a time when children develop social skills and learn how to create and maintain relationships with their peers. Most children learn that bullying is not conducive to developing positive peer relationships.

During this stage, children are starting to develop the ability to take the perspective of others. This enables them to consider what someone else is thinking, and recognize their potential power over another. Most children will explore their power over others through bullying at this stage, but most will also learn the critical lesson that the aggressive use of power is hurtful, and they will not continue bullying.

In middle childhood, it is not unusual for children to have infrequent and minimally severe episodes of verbal or social bullying. It is important to acknowledge and address these aggressive behaviours and help children to understand their impact, but isolated incidents do not signal serious mental health problems.


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By this stage, most children are able to take the perspective of another. They are starting to show empathy, understanding the impact their behaviours have on others.

Children are also learning that some actions are intentional and others are not. The recognition that people may act with intentional and hostile motives may lead to increased anger, and aggression with the purpose of retaliation.

There is remarkable diversity among children who bully in middle childhood. Some have very little self-control, are aggressive, and lack status among classmates; others are socially skilled and perceptive, have high status among some classmates, and use their power aggressively to control others.

Children who have not mastered the regulation (control or emotions and behaviour) and social skills necessary for successful peer interactions and friendships may persist in bullying and may experience other difficulties at school. Because they lack age-appropriate social skills, these children may be rejected by their classmates. Their problems compound if they begin to form friendships with other children who have been rejected for similar difficult behaviours. Children who bully often have friends who bully as well.

When children become attached to others who are also aggressive, their positive social experiences are limited. They will not have opportunities to experience the influence of positive peers using appropriate behaviour, but they will have numerous lessons in and reinforcement for antisocial behaviours. Consequently, their experiences are imbalanced, with many opportunities to learn negative behaviours and few opportunities to learn positive behaviours.

It is important for teachers to recognize that many children who bully have themselves been victims of bullying.

Because children typically interact with same-sex peers during this stage, bullying that occurs tends to be toward same-sex peers. However, as children develop and enter into early adolescence, opposite-sex interactions increase, and bullying begins to occur with the opposite sex.

As children develop social skills, they learn how to use social forms of bullying. Social bullying includes any behaviour aimed at attacking other children's relationships, such as exclusion or shunning others, spreading rumours, and manipulating relationships.

Although levels of verbal bullying do not tend to change much as children grow older, levels of physical bullying tend to decrease during this phase.

During this period, the nature of bullying tends to be different for boys and girls.

Both boys and girls use physical bullying behaviours, but boys tend to use physical bullying significantly more than girls.

Both boys and girls use social bullying, but girls tend to adopt social forms of bullying more quickly than boys and continue to use social bullying significantly more than boys.

Boys and girls tend to use verbal forms of bullying equally.

Hidden or indirect forms of social bullying require social skills and perceptiveness in order to be successful. For example, some children (girls in particular) may attempt to drive someone out of the group without being identified as the instigators. To do this, the children will need to understand the alliances and weaknesses within the peer group, and to hold a position of power so that others will follow their directives for exclusion. Aggression in social settings is difficult for teachers to identify, and it can be even more challenging to identify the ringleader. An excellent educational resource on girls' bullying is the Canadian film, "It's a Girl's World", see It's Girl World

Cyber bullying has become an increasing concern over the past few years. Many children now use the Internet and instant messaging, Facebook, and other modes of online communication from a very young age. The nature of these tools makes it easy for children to engage in bullying behaviours outside of the school. Teasing online takes the form of exclusion and verbal harassment. Occasionally bullying occurs in the form of one child posting embarrassing photos taken of another child (for example photos may be taken on a cell phone in the locker room).

Media Awareness Network has a range of educational materials for children and youth and the media. Their resources for cyber bullying are at: Risk Bullying


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There is cause for concern when the "yellow light" behaviours of children and adolescents become frequent, severe, pervasive (in many contexts), and have occurred over an extended period of time. For example, if a 13-year-old persistently engages in a pattern of threatening, physically intimidating or hurting another child, this may be considered in the red light region. The concern arises not only from the distress that the child is causing to others, but also from the behaviour patterns that are being laid down for relationships across the lifespan. The use of power and aggression in relationships is a feature of many critical social problems for individuals and society.

The degree of risk for children engaged in bullying depends upon the duration, severity, pervasiveness, and frequency of behaviours.

Duration is the length of time the behaviours have been problematic (for example, if the problem has been present since kindergarten, this is a strong concern).

Severity refers to the nature of the behaviour and the degree of distress caused to the victimized child through serious physical, verbal, and/or social bullying.

Pervasiveness refers to the number of different settings in which the children are bullying. Our research indicates that it is a greater concern if bullying occurs both on the school playground and in class.

Frequency of behaviour indicates how often children are engaging in bullying. The more frequently they use their power aggressively, the more likely this is becoming their way of interacting with others and the greater the concern.

When reaching out to parents of children who bully (which is often a challenge in itself), it may help to explore whether the children are bullying at home. Children who bully at school often bully their siblings and even their parents. Parents who are being bullied may recognize the need for support for their children and the family as a whole. It is also important to identify whether children who bully are being bullied or abused at home, or given messages by parents or caregivers that resolving conflicts through violence, bullying, or fighting back is OK.

Several behaviours stand alone as key indicators at all ages that there may be a serious problem, including:

  • Overt or covert (hidden) acts of cruelty to people, physical fighting, use of a weapon.
  • A group of children working together actively to shun or otherwise victimize another child.
  • Other highly concerning behaviours include: an evident lack of empathy, boasting about bullying, and lack of remorse or moral compass when it comes to the harm caused by bullying.

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Early adolescence is a time of many cognitive, emotional, physical, and social changes. Teenagers seek independence from their parents and other adults, as well as acceptance from peers. Conflicts with parents tend to increase during this stage, while at the same time adolescents grow more attached to peers.

There may be negative peer pressure from peers who engage in troubling behaviours, including bullying and delinquency. A strong sense of social responsibility and connectedness to caring adults will help adolescents resist such pressures.

Although most teenagers have learned to regulate their behaviours and emotions, the early adolescent years are a time of significant biological changes. With puberty, both hormonal and brain changes may impact the control that young adolescents can maintain over their behaviours and emotions.

The majority of early adolescents rarely engage in bullying behaviour. As adolescents negotiate relationships within the home, school and peer contexts, even occasional episodes of bullying behaviour jeopardize their social connections. When they do bully others, their actions are more likely to be verbal or social rather than physical.


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As the rates of physical bullying decrease in early adolescence, the rates of verbal and social bullying remain high. These verbal and social forms of bullying cause a great deal of distress during this stage when having friends and belonging in a peer group is of utmost importance.

With the changes of puberty, new forms of bullying and harassment begin to emerge, related to sensitivities around sexual development and emerging romantic interests. The rates of sexual harassment increase steadily over the late elementary and early high school years. Harassment related to homosexuality is of particular concern as it can have devastating consequences for youth who are developing their sexual identities.

Our research shows that both girls and boys who bully are at very high risk for using power and aggression within dating relationships. There is a serious concern that bullying within dating relationships may lay the foundation for abuse in intimate relationships in adulthood.

Bullying may occur over the Internet, cell phone or through text messaging, where it is difficult for teachers and parents to detect. It is imperative to let youth know that they should report any knowledge of cyber bullying. Schools have a responsibility to address cyber bullying if it interferes in any way with the learning environment, even if it has been initiated off school property. The popularity of instant messaging, such as MSN, provides many opportunities for harassment and verbal and social aggression to occur among students. Although it is unlikely that this occurs at school, the impact of aggression occurring in this context is equally damaging to relationships and its effects can damage both academic performance and peer relationships at school.


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There is cause for concern when the "yellow light" behaviours of children and adolescents become frequent, severe, pervasive (in many contexts), and have occurred over an extended period of time. For example, if a 13-year-old persistently engages in a pattern of threatening, physically intimidating or hurting another child, this may be considered in the red light region. The concern arises not only from the distress that the child is causing to others, but also from the behaviour patterns that are being laid down for relationships across the lifespan. The use of power and aggression in relationships is a feature of many critical social problems for individuals and society.

The degree of risk for children engaged in bullying depends upon the duration, severity, pervasiveness, and frequency of behaviours.

Duration is the length of time the behaviours have been problematic (for example, if the problem has been present since kindergarten, this is a strong concern).

Severity refers to the nature of the behaviour and the degree of distress caused to the victimized child through serious physical, verbal, and/or social bullying.

Pervasiveness refers to the number of different settings in which the children are bullying. Our research indicates that it is a greater concern if bullying occurs both on the school playground and in class.

Frequency of behaviour indicates how often children are engaging in bullying. The more frequently they use their power aggressively, the more likely this is becoming their way of interacting with others and the greater the concern.

When reaching out to parents of children who bully (which is often a challenge in itself), it may help to explore whether the children are bullying at home. Children who bully at school often bully their siblings and even their parents. Parents who are being bullied may recognize the need for support for their children and the family as a whole. It is also important to identify whether children who bully are being bullied or abused at home, or given messages by parents or caregivers that resolving conflicts through violence, bullying, or fighting back is OK.

Several behaviours stand alone as key indicators at all ages that there may be a serious problem, including:

  • Overt or covert (hidden) acts of cruelty to people, physical fighting, use of a weapon.
  • A group of children working together actively to shun or otherwise victimize another child.
  • Other highly concerning behaviours include: an evident lack of empathy, boasting about bullying, and lack of remorse or moral compass when it comes to the harm caused by bullying.

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In adolescence the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social changes continue. Fifteen to eighteen year olds also continue their quest for independence and acceptance from peers, while struggling to establish their identities as young adults separate from their parents. Conflicts with parents are common early in this stage, but in most cases this begins to decrease markedly in frequency and intensity by the age of 18.
 
Almost all young people stay in the Green Light Zone throughout adolescence, engaging in bullying behaviour only on rare occasions, usually when part of a group that harasses or teases another student. The majority however would not do so with any frequency, intensity or duration. As well, when they do bully others, their actions are more likely to be verbal or social rather than physical, and they are unlikely to view their own behaviour as bullying.
 
Mild teasing may be quite common, along with some clumsy attempts to manipulate or pressure others, but these rarely escalate into true bullying in the Green Light Zone.
Note that boys and girls will likely differ here in that adolescent boys tend to be less socially mature than girls and also tend to still engage in rough physical play that can degenerate into physical bullying. But again, in this zone such behaviour should be infrequent, not very intense and of short duration.
Adolescent girls, on the other hand, though more socially mature, might still be prone to behaviour that approximates indirect bullying, including:
·         teasing
·         exclusion or shunning
·         spreading rumours
·         manipulating friendships
But again, the frequency, intensity and duration of these behaviours will be mild in the Green Light Zone.
Both boys and girls in this age range will likely spend a good deal of time on-line, engaged with social media. Bullying is common in these circumstances, and difficult to control. However, in this “cyber world” where communication is not enhanced by body language or tone of voice, misunderstanding is a constant risk. With adolescents in the Green Light Zone, instances of internet or “cyberbullying” very often turn out to be such misunderstandings borne of the lack of richness in the communication medium.


When bullying behaviour increases in frequency, intensity and/or duration, it crosses into the Yellow Light Zone. Research suggests that as many as 15% to 20% of adolescents could be classified as being in this zone, engaging in bullying behaviour perhaps as frequently as once or twice per month. The intensity of the bullying also increases, although at this age level it is significantly less likely to be physical in nature. Nonetheless, when measured in terms of the impact on the victim, the intensity is certainly worrisome.
 
With regard to duration, bullying relationships can be surprisingly enduring. When researchers track bully-victim interactions they find that the same individuals can be involved over time frames that vary from as short as a single incident to as long as their entire school careers. There are few guidelines for teachers to determine what constitutes a green, versus yellow versus red zone of duration, but certainly if the same students are involved in bullying incidents over more than a week or so it should be considered worrisome.
 
In the Yellow Light Zone, a wide variety of bullying behaviours might be observed, including:
  1. social bullying, such as:
  • harassment
  • teasing
  • exclusion
  • spreading rumours
     2.   psychological bullying, such as
  • intimidation
  • threats

     3.   physical bullying, such as assaultive behaviour (mainly though not exclusively in boys at this age level)
    
     4.   cyberbullying using e-mail, social media sites, webpages, twitter, etc.

As mentioned above, boys and girls will differ, with adolescent boys being slower to mature socially and more likely to engage in rough physical play that degenerates into physical bullying. Adolescent girls, on the other hand will be more likely to use social and psychological bullying strategies.
 
Both boys and girls in this age range will likely spend a good deal of time on-line, engaged with social media. In the yellow light zone bullying in these circumstances will increase in frequency, intensity and duration, though it will be extremely difficult for school staff to verify this.

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There are many different factors and experiences that can shape a child's tendency to use power aggressively. Genetics, biology and brain chemistry, temperament, environmental factors (at home, in school and in the community), family difficulties (such as marital conflict), or trauma (including abuse or witnessing violence) may all contribute to bullying behaviour.

These biological and social factors all represent risks for the development of bullying. Generally, the more risks that children experience, the greater the likelihood they will experience relationship problems related to the use of power and aggression. But these risks can be buffered by protective factors within the child's environment, and especially by positive, supportive relationships. For example, although attention difficulties, hyperactivity, and difficult temperament put children at risk for aggression, the development of problem behaviour will depend on whether or not children and their families receive support to cope with these risks.

Children's development is strongly influenced by the context, and specifically the relationships, in which they grow up. In early childhood, the family is most influential, and continues to be important throughout childhood and adolescence. When children enter school, their teachers and classmates begin to influence their social-emotional development. In late childhood and early adolescence, the peer group becomes increasingly influential.

These relationships, both at home and school, play a major role in the way children develop, and set the stage for how they will relate to others throughout their life. Healthy relationships are a starting place for healthy development. Conversely, troubled relationships provide a foundation for relationship and developmental difficulties.

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Genes: Patterns of genes are thought to influence characteristics such as impulse control, the need for stimulation, activity level, anxiety processes, and frustration tolerance levels. But this does not lead directly to the behaviours we see. Although genes do influence development, the way this is expressed by any individual child depends on his or her environmental context. Given appropriate behavioural controls and support (both in the home and at school), children with genetic risks can still develop acceptable social skills. Because the interactions of genes (nature) and the environment (nurture) are so complex, and the profiles of children who bully are so diverse, no direct links have been found between genes and bullying behaviour.

Testosterone and sex hormones: Even though sex hormones (especially testosterone) have commonly been assumed to be part of the cause of aggressive behaviours and bullying, there is little evidence of any direct link between sex hormones and bullying. There is some evidence that testosterone levels correspond to boys' dominance in their peer group, but there have been no studies of sex hormones in relation to boys who bully.

Temperament: Difficult temperament (fussiness, difficult to get along with, difficulty adapting, slow to calm, and resistance to control) has long been associated with children's behaviour problems. We now recognize that children both shape and respond to their environments. Children who experience harsh or inconsistent discipline at home or school are at risk of behaviour problems, particularly bullying, because they have daily lessons in the use of power and aggression. Conversely, children with difficult temperaments who experience supportive, consistent and warm guidance from the adults in their lives do not tend to exhibit aggression or bullying.

Abnormalities in brain structure or function (such as brain damage): These are associated with childhood aggression. In adolescence, there is a link between delinquent behaviour and lower intellectual functioning. There are not consistent links to bullying. Some children who bully may have intellectual challenges that interfere with their abilities to understand others' feelings and the impact of their behaviour on others. But other children who bully are highly attuned to others, and their awareness of others' vulnerabilities gives them power.

Attention problems, impulsivity, and hyperactivity: Over activity, attention deficits, and difficulty inhibiting impulses are associated with general aggressive behaviour and, for some children, may underlie bullying problems. Some children have difficulty dealing with frustration and regulating their emotions and behaviours. Their frustration may lead to bullying, and just as important, these children may be victimized by others for their lack of social skills. These behaviours are frequently noted by teachers and school staff. But it is only in the presence of early family difficulties, or failure of the early environment to shape children's behaviour appropriately, that these difficulties lead directly to aggressive outcomes.

Cognitive activities (thinking, reasoning, remembering): Some researchers have proposed that there is a link between physical bullying and children's ability to organize, plan, form goals, and to self regulate (control their emotions and behaviour). These are all skills that are vital to children's sociability and school success. Attention, impulse control and emotional regulation are also influenced by these cognitive activities. Hence deficits in this area have implications for children's academic and social difficulties.


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Having a disability may create a sense of "difference" in the child or about the child by peers. Many children with disabilities are bullied. When the situation is not addressed, these children who are victimized may retaliate by bullying themselves. In addition, disabled children sometimes experience a loss of independence that could create feelings of anger and frustration. The combination of being victimized and experiencing frustration may lead some children to respond by trying to gain and assert power by using aggression.

Some children are slower to acquire the language abilities or social skills necessary for effective problem solving. This lag can result from a developmental delay, learning difficulties, or inadequate socialization experiences. Children with such difficulties are more likely to engage in bullying, particularly if they associate with peers who also bully.

Children with learning difficulties and developmental delays are more easily influenced by others. Peer pressure to engage in bullying may lead to troubling behaviour.


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Bullying and victimization may be related to culture or religion. Because of the lack of understanding or acceptance of differences, hostility can arise toward children with different backgrounds or between different cultural or religious groups within a community. In our research, minority youth report that they have been victimized based on their ethnicity, and this relates to a range of problem behaviours.

It is very important for schools to create safe and accepting environments for all students, with respect for diversity and inclusion for all. There are universal or school-wide programs available that provide strategies for school administrators and teachers to create positive environments. Selected examples of such programs include: social skills training; peer mediation programs; life skills programs; school wide conflict resolution; programs that promote equity and diversity, and human rights programs.

Newly arrived immigrants or refugee children face many changes that may create difficulties in adjusting to their new surroundings. A different language, culture, school, home and environment, as well as family losses, are but a few of the factors they and their families have to cope with on a daily basis. They may also have experienced trauma in their country of origin. It is important to support these children and encourage appropriate behaviour if they are engaging in bullying. In some instances, it may be valuable to include parents in the discussions of bullying and appropriate behaviours; what might be seen as acceptable in one cultural context may not be acceptable within the school setting. Education is the first step towards building understanding and healthy relationships.


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Learning about Aggression through Relationships

Problems in early relationships, either at home or with peers, can lead to an increased risk of bullying. A key element of bullying involves control over another child, so children who lack control in their home lives may gain a sense of satisfaction by controlling another child. Similarly, children who lack control and status in the peer group and are repeatedly victimized sometimes become so frustrated that they turn to bullying others in an effort to gain power and control.

Family relationships

Children's relationships within the family teach them how to relate with peers and adults in the community. Children are vulnerable to the effects of separation or divorce (or other transitions such as multiple moves or the death of a caregiver), single parenthood with few supports, poverty, the use of negative parenting strategies, and poor parent-child relationships. The stress of these difficult living situations increases the likelihood that children will try to gain power and control through bullying others.

It is widely believed (and supported in research) that children living in intact families are less likely to be aggressive. However, it is not always better for children to live with two parents. For example, if a parent models antisocial or abusive behaviour, children are better off living in a single-parent home where power and aggression are not exhibited on a regular basis. The quality of care giving and the parent-child relationship are more important than family structure in the development of healthy relationships in childhood.

Many lessons have been learned from past research that help us understand the harmful effects of witnessing family violence, having family members who are involved in unlawful behaviour, and having negative relationships with family members, peers, and teachers.

Most children are taught and socialized to refrain from bullying.

Behaviour is learned through direct experience or by observing others' behaviours and the consequences of those behaviours.

Children learn how to interact with others to solve social problems by watching and modeling the behaviour of others in their homes, schools, and communities.

If children witness or experience bullying in their homes or within the community they may learn that this is an effective way of problem solving and adopt the strategies for their own social interactions.

Peer relationships

Bullying is a learned pattern of behaviour that is reinforced by the reactions of others, particularly peers. In our observations of bullying, peers were present 85% of the time and they spent 75% of their time watching and joining in the bullying. Therefore, the child who is bullying is the centre of attention and has the potential to increase in status within the peer group.

Children who experience positive consequences (e.g., getting what they want or receiving attention, even if negative) after bullying learn that it is an effective strategy to increase power.

If the child who bullies obtains a desired object or if bystanders do not discourage the behaviour, then the attention the child who bullies receives may also be rewarding. This behaviour is so often inadvertently rewarded by other children who do not stand up to the child who bullies, a pattern may be established.

Gender differences

Girls' bullying differs somewhat from that of boys in both the nature of the aggression and in responses to bullying. Much of this difference can be explained by the fact that girls tend to value and focus on relationships to a greater extent than boys. Hence social bullying is more common in girls and appears earlier in girls than in boys.

The covert or indirect approaches found in social bullying are often an attempt to preserve existing relationships while damaging the social standing of the target of the bullying through exclusion or humiliation. It is more important for girls that their victims, teachers, and even other peers do not know who the instigator of the bullying is, as this could strain relationships. Girls rarely engage in physical bullying. When they do, parents and teachers show more disapproval and negative consequences for their physical bullying behaviours than for boys' physical bullying.

 

Children who come from strained home situations, or who have experienced or witnessed abuse, may not have had the opportunity to learn appropriate behavioural responses or problem solving strategies. If they have experienced trauma, they may be highly sensitive to perceived threats, which can interfere with healthy development and increase the risk of bullying and/or victimization.

Key points about what is behind bullying behaviour

Overall, there is no single risk factor that is sufficient to explain bullying. Rather, there are multiple risk factors, and multiple pathways through which children develop aggressive behaviour problems. There is a cumulative effect. The more risk factors (and the fewer protective factors, such as stable, positive family relationships, friendships with prosocial peers), the more likely it is for children to bully others. There are also many different profiles of children who bully. Therefore, in considering strategies to support children and youth who bully, it is essential to consider their individual strengths and weaknesses and their relationships. We now understand that, although many factors contribute to bullying, it is primarily a relationship problem that requires relationship solutions.

 



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Children who bully others have learned to use their power aggressively to control or distress others. These children require support from adults at home and school to find positive ways of gaining power and status among peers. They also need help in learning the skills, attitudes, and perspectives for healthy relationships.

There are many myths about bullying. Some people believe children "just grow out of it" or it is a "normal part of growing up". However, persistent bullying can lead to troubled relationships in adolescence and adulthood and may signal serious mental health or social problems. If children who bully do not receive supportive interventions, they are at increased risk of engaging in illegal activities (such as delinquency and substance use), sexual harassment, and dating aggression. We are concerned that the lessons of using power and aggression to control and distress others will carry over into workplace harassment, marital abuse, child abuse, and elder abuse across the lifespan. Given the importance of healthy relationships for healthy development, it is essential to catch these problems early in order to prevent future problems.

For the majority (70-80%) of children, bullying problems are minor and short-term. With minor intervention and support (such as the universal programs offered in schools), these children will understand the problems with using their power aggressively and learn to engage positively with peers.

Some (10-15%) children will experience problems with bullying that are of some concern. These children may require additional support and more specialized intervention in order to get them back on the right track. Our research shows that these children respond relatively quickly to whole school bullying prevention programs.

Finally, for a small proportion of children (5-10%), troubling and bullying problems will persist. These children require prolonged and comprehensive intervention to support their development, help them avoid using their power aggressively, and help them find more positive ways of finding their place in the peer group. Since children's peer relationships provide an important context for their social development, it is important to promote positive relationship skills for all children.

It is essential to remember that bullying is a relationship problem that requires a relationship solution

Therefore, every intervention to reduce bullying must enhance children's understanding, skills, attitudes, and motivations essential for healthy relationships.

Another important insight into bullying is the power dimension. Children who bully are attempting to assert and enhance their power. The challenge for adults is to redirect this leadership potential from the negative strategies of bullying to positive leadership skills and opportunities.



All young children need adult support and guidance to help them learn to regulate their behaviour and interact positively with others. Children need consistent messages, support, and guidance across all of the contexts in which they live, work, and play. Therefore, a partnership between schools and parents is important in helping children learn positive relationship skills and refrain from bullying. Children in the green light zone already have a range of social skills and they will benefit from a supportive setting that enables them to practise those skills and learn new skills. There are many effective strategies for creating a classroom environment that promotes positive interactions and minimizes bullying.

Be a positive role model

Teachers set the tone in the classroom, and children are sensitive to the tone and behaviour of their teacher. It is important for teachers to remember to speak the way they want children to speak and to behave in a positive manner as an example for their children. If teachers are supportive and respectful of children's differences and difficulties, the children will adopt that style.

While teaching is a rewarding profession, it is also such a challenging one in which teachers are on stage every moment of the school day. It is natural to become tired and frustrated with difficult children, but there is a danger in letting these feelings show or affect your own behaviour. If teachers make demeaning comments to troubled students (e.g., "Have you got a brain in your head? How many times do I have to tell you things again and again? Why can't you remember anything?"), they provide a vivid model to children, and inadvertently give the other students in the class permission to bully the troubled child at recess.

Work with children to develop clear guidelines for behaviour

Children need clear guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not. At the beginning of the school year, students can participate in creating a few key rules for the classroom. These rules can be posted and serve as a reminder to all.

The beginning of the school year is the best time to put issues of bullying on the table. Help students understand the full range of bullying behaviours, encourage students to generate lists of what they can say and do when they are being bullied or when they see another child being bullied. It is essential to guide students to generate positive strategies and to ensure that they are not suggesting aggressive strategies to address bullying. Our research shows that if a child who is being bullied responds aggressively, the bullying is likely to continue and may accelerate.

Ensure that consequences are appropriate, timely, and consistent

Appropriate consequences for bullying must be educational and should match the severity of the bullying behaviours. Examples of educational consequences might include: having a child help out, read a story about a child who has difficulties with bullying, draw a picture or write a poem of what it feels like to be victimized, find a positive way to apologize or repair the relationship problem. Consequences must be applied immediately and consistently in order to have an impact.

Apply consequences to all children involved in bullying

It is important to recognize that a bullying episode rarely involves just one child. One child may be the instigator or the primary actor, but others may be watching, joining in, and actively encouraging the bullying. Those children who are present during bullying and are not part of the solution, by intervening in some way, are part of the problem. They must be included in the discussion and consequences for bullying. Consequences or interventions must be monitored closely and recorded to ensure aggression does not reoccur.

There are many creative and positive strategies for addressing bullying problems that focus on the group of children involved in a bullying episode. One of these, developed by Anatole Pikas, is the Method of Shared Concern. With this method, the teacher, administrator, or counsellor speaks to each involved student individually to help him/her gain an understanding and show empathy for the victimized child. When all students have shown some recognition that their bullying has caused distressed to another and that this is a problem, the group is brought together for a common agreement that the bullying must stop at the very least for peaceful co-existence. Follow up is essential. A paper on this method is available here.

A similar method is the Support Group Approach (formerly the No Blame Approach) developed by Barbara Maines and George Robinson. They advocate working with the group of students from the start. When students acknowledge that their behaviours might be causing distress, the adult establishes a verbal contract with the students to engage positively with the victimized child and avoid bullying. Follow up with both the victimized child and those who have been involved in bullying is essential. Information on the support group approach is available here.

Continue to monitor the situation and apply further consequences if needed

Follow up is essential with children engaged in bullying, because this pattern of interacting may be difficult to stop if peers continue to reinforce it with their attention. If one consequence for bullying is not sufficient, then the discipline needs to be progressive, and at the same time educational. For example, if a child is engaged in excluding another from the lunch table, and continues to exclude an isolated child in spite of reading a passage about victimization and talking about how hurtful his/her behaviour is, the next step might be to have the child spend lunchtime alone for one or more days or have the child help out with younger children during lunch time.

Help children understand their behaviour

Children learn by making mistakes and they need help in learning from their mistakes. Almost all children explore their power through bullying. Most recognize that they are hurting others and stop; those who continue to bully need help understanding the problems with their behaviours, the impacts on others, and the peer dynamics that may be leading them to bully.

Proceed one step at a time

Effective discipline unfolds in many small steps with increasing consequences, each of which teaches the child something.

Focus on positive behaviour, both yours and the children's

Children thrive on positive reinforcement -- it is the catalyst for positive social development. It has been suggested that children need 10 positives to every negative. Hence it is vital that teachers recognize and encourage children when they are engaging in healthy relationship behaviours, rather than only paying attention when they are bullying or being negative. A positive youth perspective fosters a sense of optimism that children can change their behaviour for the better. When adults invest positively in children and youth, it helps children and youth develop positive relationships with others and promotes their healthy development at home, school, and in the community.

In responding to bullying, it is important that adults model positive problem solving strategies and avoid bullying themselves. If children are disciplined in a harsh way, they take away the message that those who have the power are able to use it aggressively. Children who bully need positive relationships with adults in order to learn how to be positive with their peers. With children who bully, teachers and parents can promote respect and positive engagement in relationships by noting and reinforcing children's small behavioural steps in the right direction.

Be aware that bullying may be occurring when you are not there

Most children are aware that teachers disapprove of bullying; therefore, they bully while the teacher is not looking, or not around, and they use verbal and social forms of bullying that are hard to identify. Our observations show that bullying is most likely to occur in the classroom when the teacher is focused on other children. On the playground, children are more likely to bully in areas that are crowded and not closely monitored by teachers.

With an understanding of the nature and subtle forms of bullying, as well as the peer dynamics in bullying, teachers and other supervising adults may be more equipped to identify when it is occurring. Sometimes children who are being victimized will not speak up in the moment about their distress because of fear or shame. These children may be more open to talk about what happened in a private moment. If they explain that they are being bullied, thank them for their courage and openness and assure them that you will help to keep them safe.

Stay connected to the family

Regular and open communication with parents regarding children's development is essential. Early identification helps parents and teachers work together to offer immediate and early support in the early stages of relationship problems. Parents are important partners for schools in socializing children, and children benefit when the messages and expectations for social behaviours are consistent across home and school.

Messages about the importance of healthy relationships, positive problem solving, and social responsibility are needed both at home and school. Some parents may also need support in understanding the importance of consistently positive relationships.


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Children who are experiencing some problems with bullying behaviours require all of the effective strategies provided to the children in the green light area' and a bit more focused support.

 

Children who repeatedly bully need support to develop a variety of skills. These include: empathy (understanding others' perspectives and feelings), emotional and/or behavioural regulation (learning to control one's emotions and behaviour), how to cope with internalizing problems (feeling sad, worried, fearful), social skills, positive leadership skills, positive ways of problem solving, and social or reasoning skills to withstand peer pressure.

 

The type of support these children require depends on the nature of their bullying behaviour and their areas of difficulties. Support for children who bully can be delivered both through particular programs, but more consistently through moment-to-moment coaching throughout the day.

 

Children who bully need adult support to boost their capacity and motivation for successful relationships. They may benefit from help in recognizing the impact of their behaviours on others and finding positive ways of building status and acceptance in their peer group. In our research, the children who bullied were most susceptible to peer pressure to engage in problem behaviours. Children who bully can be helped to recognize the peer dynamics, such as attention, that lead them to bully, and can learn how to develop strategies to stand up to peer pressure. With focused support, these children's bullying behaviours should improve, so that referral to a professional is not required.

 

 

It is important to speak with the child to find out his or her understanding of the bullying problem. This can help determine what might be motivating him or her to engage in bullying. It is important to consider potential stresses in the child's life that may be underlying the use of power and aggression with peers. Some children who are victimized in one setting turn around and bully in another setting where they can assert power and control.

Observations of children in class, during transitions, and at lunch and recess may also give clues as to the nature of their bullying problems. Do they bully when they are with younger children, with their friends, when they are not engaged in some game or activity? Are other children encouraging the bullying by paying attention and joining in?

Next, it is important to determine the areas of skill that the child needs help to develop, including: empathy, emotional and/or behavioural regulation, how to cope with internalizing problems (feeling sad, worried, fearful), social skills, positive leadership skills, alternative problem solving, and the social-cognitive skills to withstand peer pressure.

Parents are partners. It is important to keep parents informed and also consult with them in creating a plan for school and home to encourage positive social behaviours and reduce bullying. Parents are also helpful in shedding light on the nature of the problem (for example, the age at which problem behaviours started, or whether bullying behaviours occur at home). This knowledge will inform plans put into place to manage children's social behaviours in the school and classroom.

It is imperative to educate the child about what bullying is, why it is not acceptable, and the reasoning behind the consequences for engaging in bullying. This education must occur consistently, and immediately after a bullying problem has been identified. Development unfolds through trial and error: children need positive lessons to learn when they make the mistake of using their power aggressively. Talking with children about what happened, why they reacted that way, and what they could have done differently to avoid bullying may help them think before they bully in the future.

Children are most likely to improve their behaviour when they receive positive support from the adults in their lives. There are many ways to approach supporting these children; consulting with other teachers may help in thinking through the many ways to help these children. Children who experience yellow-light problems may need more attention and more moment-to-moment support than green-light children. The green-light children may be helpful in giving support as well, particularly in labelling bullying when they see it and intervening to stop bullying as soon as they see it unfolding.

A one-time effort to support yellow light children may not be enough to change well-established patterns of using power and aggression. For interventions to be systematic and progressive, it is important to keep records of the bullying problems and the consequences implemented. This record will provide a basis for future interventions and for reporting to the principal and parents.

Children improve in relationship skills and positive behaviours when they receive positive reinforcement. All children have strengths. It is important to identify their strengths, help others see the strengths, and recognize children's progress.

Children's development of relationship skills is enhanced when adults can anticipate their needs and coach them on the spot. Adults need to anticipate when children may experience problems and provide momentary coaching to help them think of others, tune into their moral compass, and remember expectations. This may help children refrain from using power and aggression to control and distress others and may help them find positive ways to achieve power and status.

There are several social skills programs that have been empirically tested, such as the S.N.A.P. program (Stop Now and Plan, see here).

Programs such as SNAP provide teachers with ideas for the types of strategies that they can use to support children who are experiencing problems with bullying. The specific skills that children need support in developing depend on the individual child's strengths and weaknesses. Below are some strategies to use in developing children's skills in specific areas.

  1. Assess the Problem
    • Because children who bully differ so much, it is important to assess a child's specific difficulties and motivations in order to tailor the responses for the child.
    • There are many approaches to assessment.
  2. Talk to the child
  3. Watch what goes on
  4. Identify skills needed
  5. Inform the Parents
  6. Educate the Child
  7. Provide Educational Consequences

    Consequences must support students to learn the skills and acquire the insights they are lacking. In delivering consequences, focus on the bullying behaviour and avoid labelling the child as the problem or as a "bully". In addressing bullying, relationships are key. Children are most eager to work for and please adults whom they value and feel close to. It is important, therefore, to model positive relationships and avoid being hostile in disciplining children. Examples of educational consequences include:

    • Withdraw privileges (recess/lunch) and provide educational replacement activities such as a caring act, role playing being in the victimized child's position with teacher to develop empathy, reading and reporting on a bullying story, with a particular emphasis on understanding the impact of bullying.
    • Ask the child to make amends, for example, letter of apology
    • Have the child help out around the school with younger children, in the library etc. Children who bully need to be recognized for their positive behaviours and for their leadership potential.
  8. Offer Support
  9. Keep Records and Monitor
  10. Build on the positives with positives

Specific strategies for promoting empathy

Goal: Help children label and recognize their own and others' feelings.

Support for identifying children's own feelings can be provided in the moment "I see you look upset, what are you feeling?", but also through more systematic social skills programs.

After children are able to recognize their own feelings, they will be able to learn to read others' feelings. This support is best provided in a "teachable moment", when a child has bullied and can be immediately led through an understanding of the effect of his or her behaviour on others: "How do you think John feels right now, after you called him that name?"

Additional activities to promote empathy include: role plays, discussions, reading stories about victimization, media, opportunities to repair, Support Group (no blame) Approach No Blame Approach), Method of Common Concern (an intervention for bullying, first devised by the Swedish psychologist, Anatol Pikas), Method of Common Concern, Restorative Justice Common concern, and programs designed specifically for this issue, such as the Roots of Empathy (Roots of Empathy).

Specific strategies to help children control their emotions and behaviour

Goal: Help children think about the consequences of bullying by stopping to regulate emotions and by planning an effective problem-solving strategy.

Keep track of children's emotions and behaviours.

Sometimes problems of bullying arise when children are flooded with emotions and act before thinking. It is important to help children recognize what situations trigger a flood of emotions and lead them to take out their frustrations by bullying others. When children put others down, it sometimes helps them to feel better about themselves.

Pick up on "teachable moments"

Picking up the moment-to-moment opportunities for coaching will help children learn what is acceptable and what is not. It can also provide immediate feedback on the impact of bullying on others. When teachers observe even minor bullying in the classroom, in the hallways, and on the playground, it provides a "teachable moment". In this moment, children can identify their own and others' feelings and can learn by "rewinding" the action and replaying the interaction in a way that is not hurtful to others. Although it takes a minute or two to unpack problem situations, the teachable moment provides not only the potential for learning, but also for setting a positive tone for interactions in the school.

Deliver constructive consequences

It is important to provide consequences that teach children something related to the attitudes, skills and controls that children need for healthy relationships.

When consequences are delivered in this constructive manner, they not only provide important education, but also reduce the likelihood that the child will become angrier and retaliate with the victimized child to teach him or her not to tell about bullying

Teach children strategies for controlling their emotions and behaviour

Some children with bullying problems may have missed important early childhood lessons on how to control their emotions and behaviours. These children will need additional support recognizing the signs that they are becoming agitated and frustrated, and then learning strategies to control both their emotions and behaviour.

These lessons can be delivered through systematic anger management programs, but will be more effective if they are offered and rehearsed in the heated moment when children are likely to have difficulties. Teachers and parents can be most instructive if they are tuned into children's experiences and able to recognize when children are becoming agitated. This is an opportune time to stop, ask the children how they feel, how their body feels (e.g., heart pounding, tense), and then enable the children to focus on strategies to calm themselves (e.g., counting to 10, breathing in and out to a count of 8), and think of positive ways to engage others and get what they want.

Specific strategies for supporting children with internalizing problems (e.g. sad, worried, fearful)

Goal: Help child develop coping skills for problems with sadness and worries or fears.

Be aware of the link between bullying and sadness and worries or fears

Some children who bully are also sad and experience excessive worries or fearfulness. These are the children who are most likely to be involved both in bullying others and being victimized. With their social and emotional problems, these children have difficulties establishing friendships with peers. They rely on negative strategies, such as bullying, to get the attention of peers and to gain acceptance among some peers.

Use established programs to help children deal with these feelings

As with other problem areas, some children who are sad, worried or fearful will benefit from established programs. One such program for anxiety, developed by Phillip Kendall, is the Coping Cat program (see Coping Cat). Children who experience excessive worries or fearfulness and/or sadness need help recognizing their feelings and being able to reframe and cope with their emotions that interfere with their ability to have positive peer relationships.

Engage parents

The emotional problems that children experience often emerge from troubled family relationships. It is important, therefore, to engage parents in supporting children with emotional problems.

To engage parents in a sensitive manner, teachers are encouraged to have a supportive discussion, preferably face-to-face, with parents. In this discussion, teachers can describe their observations and concerns regarding the child and inquire as to how the parents see the child and whether they have seen any of these problems at home. Teachers can build supportive strategies collaboratively with parents so that children are receiving the same messages, encouragement and expectations at home and at school.

It is important to keep in touch regarding the child's improvements and challenges. If the home-school coordination is not enough to support children's positive behaviour, then teachers will be in a position to recommend to parents a referral to mental health services either within the school system or within the community.

Pick up on moments for on-the-spot coaching

Coping strategies can also be supported through moment-to-moment coaching. When children appear to be worried, fearful or sad, teachers and parents can stop them and ask them about their feelings and coach them to think of different ways to overcome their feelings or to engage in positive activities.

Be a positive role model

As with other forms of effective relationship skills, adults are constantly on stage as models of children's learning. It is essential, therefore, that teachers and parents model positive coping strategies and speak about their own frustrations or worries and talk about how they manage to solve problems and remain positive, even under stress. Parents may also need support in promoting their children's healthy social-emotional development.

Specific strategies to help children with social skills problems

Goal: Help children develop the social skills, attitudes, and motivation to interact positively with others.

There is a wide range of social abilities among children who bully: some are highly skilled and perceptive, while others are unskilled in social situations and are not able to recognize the impact of their behaviour on others. Observations of and discussions with children and their parents will reveal their level of social skills and provide direction for support.

Social skills that may need developing include:

  • Joining a group of peers
  • Responding to provocation
  • Turn taking
  • Recognizing another's feelings
  • Controlling anger
  • Thinking about right and wrong
  • Getting positive attention

Use existing programs

There are several tested and proven social skills programs, such as the S.N.A.P. program (Stop Now and Plan), at Stop now and plan

Programs such as SNAP provide teachers with ideas for strategies that they can use to support children who are experiencing problems with bullying. Each child will need support in developing particular skills, depending on the individual children's strengths and weaknesses.

Pick up "teachable moments" for coaching

With all of these skills, and many more that children may lack, it is the moment-to-moment coaching that helps children learn how to engage in a positive way with peers and adults. Working with teachable moments to "rewind" and perform a behaviour again in a positive way can be very beneficial. Some children need exactly this type of repeated lesson to develop the skills that they should have started to learn before entering school.

Involve parents in planning strategies and supporting the child.

Consistency from school to home is important, but teachers often report that the parents of children with social skills problems are difficult to engage. These parents may not have had the necessary support to develop their own social and problem-solving skills and may therefore be struggling with the challenges of parenting.

Children who experience social skill problems at school are most likely to experience similar problems at home and in community settings. Teachers can raise concerns regarding the child in a positive and supportive manner and inquire as to how the parents see the child and whether they have seen any of these problems at home. To engage parents in a sensitive manner, teachers are encouraged to have a supportive discussion, preferably face-to-face, with parents. It is important to approach these discussions in a positive, solution-focused manner.

Focus on the strengths

Every child has strengths, and parents will be more receptive if teachers focus first on strengths and then on the challenges that a child is experiencing.

Be concrete

It is important to be concrete in describing observations of difficulties that children have been experiencing and the strategies that have already been used with the child to promote social skill development.

Collaborate on strategies

Once a common goal of helping a child develop the skills for safe and healthy relationships is established, teachers can build supportive strategies collaboratively with parents so that children are receiving the same messages, encouragement, training, expectations, and educational consequences at home and at school.

Stay in touch

It is important to keep in touch with parents regarding the child's improvements and challenges.

Work together to keep track of progress

Keep a communication book that highlights the successes that a child has had during the day at home and at school, as well as the difficulties that the child has experienced. Reports of successes should outnumber the reports of difficulties: remember that children need about 10 positives to every negative and that only positive reinforcement will increase the desired positive social skills.

Suggest external resources if needed

If the home-school communication and coordination are not adequate to support children's development of social skills, then teachers will be in a position to recommend to parents a referral to mental health services either within the school system or within the community.

Specific strategies for positive leadership skills

  • Goal: Help the child find positive ways of achieving power and status.
  • Bullying is about power. Children who bully want to be recognized and powerful within their peer groups and want to feel a sense of control. Power is a wonderful attribute, which we as adults have and value. The important lesson for children is to use their power positively rather than negatively. Bullying is a negative use of power, but children who bully may well have leadership potential, suggested by the fact that they seek status and a sense of control.
  • Following are a few suggestions on how to engage children who bully in positive leadership activities.
  • Children who bully can be taught the effective steps for conflict mediation and engaged in positive leadership by being a peer mediator on the school playground
  • Children who bully may find it rewarding to be a buddy for a younger child who is isolated or experiencing some social difficulties.
  • Children who bully might prepare a presentation for their classmates and other grades on bullying and why it is damaging to relationships.
  • There may be tasks within the school that would enhance a bullying student's reputation in a positive way.
  • Children who bully may have skills in a particular area, such as music, art, or computers. They can be encouraged to help others who are having difficulties with these skills.

In all of these positive leadership activities, it is important to monitor children to ensure that they are in fact using their power positively rather than negatively.

Specific strategies for alternative problem solving

Goal: Help child:

  • recognize a problem to be solved
  • think about solutions other than bullying to solve the problem
  • consider the potential outcomes of the various solutions.

Children's social problems are challenging for them to solve. Not only are the children unskilled, but those with whom they are having the problem are probably their age-mates and similarly unskilled.

  1. Train children in positive approaches

    If children lack emotional and behavioural control, they may consider bullying as one of the first problem-solving strategies that comes to mind. It is important to teach about positive problem solving ; how to do it and why. Bullying does not solve problems in the long term; in fact, it may even create more problems. Training children to stop and think about what else they could say or do to solve their problems is one way to promote effective problem solving.

    Pick up "teachable moments" for coaching

    Moment-to-moment coaching is a good method for supporting alternative problem solving. When children are facing social problems, teachers and parents can stop them immediately and coach them to think of multiple strategies to approach the problem: "I can see you want to join that group for lunch. If what you just said doesn't work, what else could you try?" "What did you try to solve the problem of being left out of the game at recess? ; That didn't seem to work; what else could you try?" For the children who are dealing with social problems, seeking an adult's help is often a solution that can prevent turning their frustration into bullying another.

    Be a positive role model

    As with other forms of effective relationship skills, adults are constantly on stage as models for children's learning. It is essential, therefore, that teachers and parents model positive problem solving and the many ways to solve a problem.

  2. Specific skills to withstand peer pressure

    Goal: Help children to recognize their own sense of right and wrong and to cope with pressure from peers to engage in antisocial behaviours.

    Children who bully are more apt to respond to negative peer pressure than those who do not bully. This makes sense when we understand that bullying can enhance a child's power and status. Children who bully may find that they are the centre of attention when they engage in deviant and risk-taking behaviours. In their desire to be accepted by peers, they may not consider the costs of succumbing to peer pressure.

    Raise awareness about peer pressure

    The first step in responding to peer pressure is awareness that it is happening and self-awareness of how one is responding to it. The teacher can lead this type of discussion with the whole class, or one-to-one with an individual child. Children may readily admit that they went along with others in a group that was bullying because they did not want to become the next child who was victimized.

    If children are able to stop and think about a peer's suggestion for behaviour that doesn't feel quite right, they may be able to tune into their deeper sense of what is right and wrong and decide not to follow the wrong course.

    Explore possible responses to peers

    Children not only need to be able to decide that something is wrong, but they need a ready response to peers who are pressuring them. Talking through what they can say or do when pressured to skip class, not tell a friend about a lunch outing, or not to invite someone to a party, can provide them with a variety of responses to save face when under pressure. These responses can be generated following a situation when a child has been drawn into bullying. "What could you have said or done when your friend pressured you to send a hurtful email to Sara?" "What could you have said or done when you were pressured to write something mean in a workbook?" Children can feel empowered through responses such as: "That doesn't feel right to me" or "That doesn't sound fair."

  3. Beyond the Child's Skills

    This chapter has focused not only on the child's skills and capacities as they relate to the development of bullying problems, but also on the child's social environment. The child's family environment, classroom environment, and peer group have strong influences on the development of positive and negative relationship skills. Therefore, when considering interventions, the focus needs to extend beyond skill development in the children who engage in bullying to reach the social contexts in which the child is living.

  4. Negative influences of peers

    Teachers have the opportunity to shape both the classroom and the peer environments to ensure that they are promoting positive interactions and minimizing opportunities for negative interactions. Negative interactions within the peer group have been called "deviancy training". Research has shown that antisocial youth reinforce each other for deviant behaviours, thereby increasing the likelihood that such behaviours will occur.

    We see this happening when observing children's behaviour; the bystanders to bullying spend most of their time giving positive attention and reinforcement to the child who initiated the bullying. Furthermore, when others join in bullying, the child who initiated the bullying is more likely to become excited and aroused and more aggressive. Peers who are bystanders and reinforce bullying are a critical part of the problem.

  5. Positive influences of peers

    Peers can be involved in positive ways to be a critical part of the solution to bullying. We have observed that peers intervene in more bullying episodes than their teachers ; perhaps because they are more likely than teachers to be there to see the episode. When students intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time. This is a remarkable response rate: imagine children settling down within 10 seconds of a teacher's request.

    Children may be particularly responsive to peer interventions because of issues of power and status. If other children are challenging bullying behaviours, it can signal a potential loss of power and status. It is important, therefore, to create a sense of social responsibility among all children so that they respond when they see someone being bullied. If they do not feel safe intervening directly, they can tell a trusted adult about the problem. Teachers can help children differentiate telling from tattling: telling is to get someone out of trouble and tattling is to get someone into trouble.

  6. Strategies for promoting peer intervention and reporting

    Our research indicates that children are less likely to continue to be victimized if they tell an adult. But there is a challenge in creating a climate that encourages reporting. In some student groups there is a strong peer culture about not ratting on peers to teachers or other adults, regardless of how wrong students may consider a peer's behaviour to be.

    The culture of not telling only serves to reinforce the status and power of those who are bullying; therefore, it is important to have open discussions about bullying and build consensus among the children regarding the importance of safe and healthy relationships. Students need help developing social responsibility and positive strategies for intervening and reporting if they cannot or do not feel safe intervening to stop bullying themselves.

    In a Norwegian program, Dan Olweus recommends that teachers help the students to develop a set of rules regarding positive relationships and against bullying. If students themselves determine that it is important to ensure that all are safe and included and that no one is being victimized, then it sets the stage for intervening to stop bullying and reporting when someone is not safe.

    Since children are more likely to engage when they generate the strategies and responses themselves, it is important to involve them in frequent guided discussions about what they can say or do when they observe bullying. Teachers play a critical role in guiding these discussions to ensure that children are suggesting and endorsing positive, rather than aggressive, problem solving strategies. As children develop a list of possible intervention responses, teachers can push them to think about what they can do if their first, second, and perhaps third attempts to stop bullying are not effective. The final response should be to tell a teacher or other trusted adult.

    Children should also be encouraged to intervene collectively. Intervention strategies can be both verbal (e.g., identifying bullying and saying it is not fair) and physical (e.g., taking the victimized child out of the group by suggesting another activity).

    Children may benefit from role-playing these strategies so that they feel comfortable doing them. Role plays, presentations, and workshops for the school can promote both self confidence in carrying out the intervention strategies and a general understanding within the class and school that stopping bullying and promoting healthy relationships are everyone's responsibility.

    Perhaps the most important factor in engaging students in this form of social responsibility is ensuring that teachers and administrators are supportive and responsive when children come forward to report their concerns. Since bullying is a relationship problem, it requires relationship solutions: schools' responses to bullying must be supportive in providing students with the relationship skills they are lacking.

Social architecture in the classroom

To describe the kinds of interventions required with classrooms and peer groups to reduce bullying behaviours, we have chosen the metaphor of "social architecture". Just as an architect designs a building, teachers are social architects when they design or structure children's experiences with peers. By optimizing the opportunities for positive peer experiences and discouraging negative peer experiences, carefully designed social structures can limit the chances for troubled children to be together and reinforce deviant behaviours.

Teachers can be social architects at many levels to reduce the opportunities for aggressive and other forms of antisocial behaviour.

  1. Seating arrangements

    Something as basic as where students sit makes a difference for children who have a tendency to bully.

    Some students who bully are disruptive and there is a tendency to move these students to the margins of the classroom. This is also where they find themselves in normal peer groupings because peers, like teachers, do not find these disruptive students easy to interact with. When they are at the margins, children tend to find others just like themselves, and that is when the deviancy training begins and trouble starts to erupt for the teacher.

    Our research shows that a significant risk for frequent and serious bullying is having friends who also bully. If students who bully are highly socially skilled and manipulative, it is also important to think about their placement so they cannot create group dynamics that shun and exclude a peer right within the class.

    The strategy for seating arrangement is:

    • Be sure to separate groups of children who bully together to reduce the opportunity for group dynamics that lead to bullying and promote deviancy training
    • Try to ensure that a troubled child has opportunities to be surrounded by children who are friendly and sociable.
  2. Grouping students

    When placing children in groups for an assignment, it is important to be aware of the natural processes that unfold in children's peer groups; children tend to associate with others who are just like themselves. Therefore, when a teacher asks students to get into groups for an assignment, the students who are very strong in the subject will come together, the students who are athletic or artistic might come together, and, of concern, the students who bully or are in a tight clique may come together. Others will naturally be left out and the teacher will have to force one or more groups to include them.

    Many aspects of learning can be enhanced if the groups are diverse or at least random, rather than letting the natural groupings to occur. Therefore, following are two suggested strategies for grouping students:

    Depending on the nature of the assignment, group with one child who excels in the subject, one who is artistic, one who is a strong leader, and one who might have learning or behavioural difficulties. Exceptional students also have strengths. These diverse groupings might help other students see those strengths, especially if teachers point them out.

    Randomly assign students to groups and vary the groupings for many different activities and projects. In this way, you provide an opportunity for students to work with many others with whom they might not generally interact. This situation is not unlike what we expect for adults, who seldom have the opportunity to choose our workmates for a given project or committee.

  3. Forming teams

    There are often times at school when students need to be assigned to teams (e.g., spelling bees, baseball teams). The traditional approach is to pick a couple of students who excel at the task and ask them to pick their respective teams. For the students who are competent and socially accepted, this works well because they are among the first to be picked. For the students who are exceptional, either because of social-emotional problems or for another reason, this process can be devastating as they are seldom picked as desired team members. Their assignment becomes a publicly humiliating process as the two captains debate as to which one has to take the remaining student this time.

    Teachers do not mean to create difficult social situations that provide a context for bullying for the most vulnerable students. But when they do not consider peer dynamics and reputations, the situation can be shameful, painful, and alienating for these students. Suggested strategies are:

    • Form the teams through a random process, such as drawing names from a hat, the colour shoes children are wearing, or birthday months.
    • Form the teams with some designed process whereby there are standard groupings for a given week for all activities, and then the groups change the following week.
  4. Free time

    Social architecture is also an important consideration for children's free time, such as at lunch or recess. Children who bully as a group should be kept apart as much as possible as they tend to spur each other on in bullying behaviour. Our research shows that when one child is bullying, they often coerce others to join in.

    If teachers are aware of groups that have been bullying and have not responded to the strategies listed above, such as the Method of Shared Concern, See Here, and the Support Group Approach (see here), it is important to direct children to play apart to reduce the likelihood of bullying and to protect children who are being victimized. Free time and free range on the playground is a privilege, not a right. This privilege can be taken away and earned back through the educational consequences we discussed earlier.


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All of the strategies suggested for the yellow light area children are suitable for the children in the red light area whose behaviour is of the most concern. It is important to begin with the least intensive strategies and work up until the child begins to show progress in developing positive relationship skills, attitudes, and motivations.

Who are the "red light" children?

A small group of children will not be able to benefit sufficiently from these strategies. They will continue to make mistakes and use their power aggressively, but will not receive enough support to learn from them. The children who continue to engage in repeated, serious bullying may be at great risk for continuing on a pathway with troubled relationships through adolescence and into adulthood.

It is important to recognize that the children in the red light zone are likely to both bully others and be victimized themselves. There are remarkable opportunities to bring in support for these children when their social development pathways are still flexible and they have not become marginalized in the school system and alienated from it.

Seek outside support

For these children with persistent, serious problems with bullying, intervention will need to be intensive and systemic (i.e., including support of parents). In these cases, a referral to a children's mental health centre or school professional will be required to provide additional support for positive development. The child must be referred for discussion at the school's team meeting to involve other professionals in the intervention plan. The School Team should also discuss whether it is necessary to plan on restricting the child's time at school to only a partial school day schedule with a gradual re-introduction of the full day, or any other special accommodations that may be necessary.

Involve the parents

Parents are essential partners in this process. If teachers are having difficulties with the child at school, it is likely that parents are also having difficulties at home. Taking time to explore how the child is at home and whether he or she bullies parents and siblings may open the door to parents' awareness and cooperation.

Teachers need to make sure they find ways to involve parents in the plans to seek additional treatment for their children. The counsellor assigned by the School Team could work with the family to make a referral for appropriate counselling outside of the school, or to reconnect with any counselling or children's services worker who may have had involvement with the family in the past. Raising children in stressful circumstances is most challenging. But keeping communication lines open with parents may lead to small steps that work; parents feeling respected and better able to share information in the long run, ultimately resulting in a better home-school partnership.

Once a child is receiving additional supports at a community clinic, it is essential that the lines of communication between home and school are kept open (with parental consent). To maintain the improvements through interventions for children with serious relationship problems, such as bullying, it is important that the skills are transferred and practiced in many other settings, such as school.

You can make a difference

Children with serious bullying problems pose a particular challenge because they have spent years learning how to use aggression to gain power and control over others. It takes time for them to establish other behavioural patterns and see the rewards of engaging in a prosocial manner with positive leadership. If there is one adult to champion a child and recognize his or her strengths, this support can often be enough to shift a child from a troubled to a healthy pathway. Teachers are often these champions!


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Children who bully others have learned to use their power aggressively to control or distress others. These children require support from adults at home and school to find positive ways of gaining power and status among peers. They also need help in learning the skills, attitudes, and perspectives for healthy relationships.

There are many myths about bullying. Some people believe children "just grow out of it" or it is a "normal part of growing up". However, persistent bullying can lead to troubled relationships in adolescence and adulthood and may signal serious mental health or social problems. If children who bully do not receive supportive interventions, they are at increased risk of engaging in illegal activities (such as delinquency and substance use), sexual harassment, and dating aggression. We are concerned that the lessons of using power and aggression to control and distress others will carry over into workplace harassment, marital abuse, child abuse, and elder abuse across the lifespan. Given the importance of healthy relationships for healthy development, it is essential to catch these problems early in order to prevent future problems.

For the majority (70-80%) of children, bullying problems are minor and short-term. With minor intervention and support (such as the universal programs offered in schools), these children will understand the problems with using their power aggressively and learn to engage positively with peers.

Some (10-15%) children will experience problems with bullying that are of some concern. These children may require additional support and more specialized intervention in order to get them back on the right track. Our research shows that these children respond relatively quickly to whole school bullying prevention programs.

Finally, for a small proportion of children (5-10%), troubling and bullying problems will persist. These children require prolonged and comprehensive intervention to support their development, help them avoid using their power aggressively, and help them find more positive ways of finding their place in the peer group. Since children's peer relationships provide an important context for their social development, it is important to promote positive relationship skills for all children.

It is essential to remember that bullying is a relationship problem that requires a relationship solution

Therefore, every intervention to reduce bullying must enhance children's understanding, skills, attitudes, and motivations essential for healthy relationships.

Another important insight into bullying is the power dimension. Children who bully are attempting to assert and enhance their power. The challenge for adults is to redirect this leadership potential from the negative strategies of bullying to positive leadership skills and opportunities.



All young children need adult support and guidance to help them learn to regulate their behaviour and interact positively with others. Children need consistent messages, support, and guidance across all of the contexts in which they live, work, and play. Therefore, a partnership between schools and parents is important in helping children learn positive relationship skills and refrain from bullying. Children in the green light zone already have a range of social skills and they will benefit from a supportive setting that enables them to practise those skills and learn new skills. There are many effective strategies for creating a classroom environment that promotes positive interactions and minimizes bullying.

Be a positive role model

Teachers set the tone in the classroom, and children are sensitive to the tone and behaviour of their teacher. It is important for teachers to remember to speak the way they want children to speak and to behave in a positive manner as an example for their children. If teachers are supportive and respectful of children's differences and difficulties, the children will adopt that style.

While teaching is a rewarding profession, it is also such a challenging one in which teachers are on stage every moment of the school day. It is natural to become tired and frustrated with difficult children, but there is a danger in letting these feelings show or affect your own behaviour. If teachers make demeaning comments to troubled students (e.g., "Have you got a brain in your head? How many times do I have to tell you things again and again? Why can't you remember anything?"), they provide a vivid model to children, and inadvertently give the other students in the class permission to bully the troubled child at recess.

Work with children to develop clear guidelines for behaviour

Children need clear guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not. At the beginning of the school year, students can participate in creating a few key rules for the classroom. These rules can be posted and serve as a reminder to all.

The beginning of the school year is the best time to put issues of bullying on the table. Help students understand the full range of bullying behaviours, encourage students to generate lists of what they can say and do when they are being bullied or when they see another child being bullied. It is essential to guide students to generate positive strategies and to ensure that they are not suggesting aggressive strategies to address bullying. Our research shows that if a child who is being bullied responds aggressively, the bullying is likely to continue and may accelerate.

Ensure that consequences are appropriate, timely, and consistent

Appropriate consequences for bullying must be educational and should match the severity of the bullying behaviours. Examples of educational consequences might include: having a child help out, read a story about a child who has difficulties with bullying, draw a picture or write a poem of what it feels like to be victimized, find a positive way to apologize or repair the relationship problem. Consequences must be applied immediately and consistently in order to have an impact.

Apply consequences to all children involved in bullying

It is important to recognize that a bullying episode rarely involves just one child. One child may be the instigator or the primary actor, but others may be watching, joining in, and actively encouraging the bullying. Those children who are present during bullying and are not part of the solution, by intervening in some way, are part of the problem. They must be included in the discussion and consequences for bullying. Consequences or interventions must be monitored closely and recorded to ensure aggression does not reoccur.

There are many creative and positive strategies for addressing bullying problems that focus on the group of children involved in a bullying episode. One of these, developed by Anatole Pikas, is the Method of Shared Concern. With this method, the teacher, administrator, or counsellor speaks to each involved student individually to help him/her gain an understanding and show empathy for the victimized child. When all students have shown some recognition that their bullying has caused distressed to another and that this is a problem, the group is brought together for a common agreement that the bullying must stop at the very least for peaceful co-existence. Follow up is essential. A paper on this method is available here.

A similar method is the Support Group Approach (formerly the No Blame Approach) developed by Barbara Maines and George Robinson. They advocate working with the group of students from the start. When students acknowledge that their behaviours might be causing distress, the adult establishes a verbal contract with the students to engage positively with the victimized child and avoid bullying. Follow up with both the victimized child and those who have been involved in bullying is essential. Information on the support group approach is available here.

Continue to monitor the situation and apply further consequences if needed

Follow up is essential with children engaged in bullying, because this pattern of interacting may be difficult to stop if peers continue to reinforce it with their attention. If one consequence for bullying is not sufficient, then the discipline needs to be progressive, and at the same time educational. For example, if a child is engaged in excluding another from the lunch table, and continues to exclude an isolated child in spite of reading a passage about victimization and talking about how hurtful his/her behaviour is, the next step might be to have the child spend lunchtime alone for one or more days or have the child help out with younger children during lunch time.

Help children understand their behaviour

Children learn by making mistakes and they need help in learning from their mistakes. Almost all children explore their power through bullying. Most recognize that they are hurting others and stop; those who continue to bully need help understanding the problems with their behaviours, the impacts on others, and the peer dynamics that may be leading them to bully.

Proceed one step at a time

Effective discipline unfolds in many small steps with increasing consequences, each of which teaches the child something.

Focus on positive behaviour, both yours and the children's

Children thrive on positive reinforcement -- it is the catalyst for positive social development. It has been suggested that children need 10 positives to every negative. Hence it is vital that teachers recognize and encourage children when they are engaging in healthy relationship behaviours, rather than only paying attention when they are bullying or being negative. A positive youth perspective fosters a sense of optimism that children can change their behaviour for the better. When adults invest positively in children and youth, it helps children and youth develop positive relationships with others and promotes their healthy development at home, school, and in the community.

In responding to bullying, it is important that adults model positive problem solving strategies and avoid bullying themselves. If children are disciplined in a harsh way, they take away the message that those who have the power are able to use it aggressively. Children who bully need positive relationships with adults in order to learn how to be positive with their peers. With children who bully, teachers and parents can promote respect and positive engagement in relationships by noting and reinforcing children's small behavioural steps in the right direction.

Be aware that bullying may be occurring when you are not there

Most children are aware that teachers disapprove of bullying; therefore, they bully while the teacher is not looking, or not around, and they use verbal and social forms of bullying that are hard to identify. Our observations show that bullying is most likely to occur in the classroom when the teacher is focused on other children. On the playground, children are more likely to bully in areas that are crowded and not closely monitored by teachers.

With an understanding of the nature and subtle forms of bullying, as well as the peer dynamics in bullying, teachers and other supervising adults may be more equipped to identify when it is occurring. Sometimes children who are being victimized will not speak up in the moment about their distress because of fear or shame. These children may be more open to talk about what happened in a private moment. If they explain that they are being bullied, thank them for their courage and openness and assure them that you will help to keep them safe.

Stay connected to the family

Regular and open communication with parents regarding children's development is essential. Early identification helps parents and teachers work together to offer immediate and early support in the early stages of relationship problems. Parents are important partners for schools in socializing children, and children benefit when the messages and expectations for social behaviours are consistent across home and school.

Messages about the importance of healthy relationships, positive problem solving, and social responsibility are needed both at home and school. Some parents may also need support in understanding the importance of consistently positive relationships.


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Children who are experiencing some problems with bullying behaviours require all of the effective strategies provided to the children in the green light area' and a bit more focused support.

 

Children who repeatedly bully need support to develop a variety of skills. These include: empathy (understanding others' perspectives and feelings), emotional and/or behavioural regulation (learning to control one's emotions and behaviour), how to cope with internalizing problems (feeling sad, worried, fearful), social skills, positive leadership skills, positive ways of problem solving, and social or reasoning skills to withstand peer pressure.

 

The type of support these children require depends on the nature of their bullying behaviour and their areas of difficulties. Support for children who bully can be delivered both through particular programs, but more consistently through moment-to-moment coaching throughout the day.

 

Children who bully need adult support to boost their capacity and motivation for successful relationships. They may benefit from help in recognizing the impact of their behaviours on others and finding positive ways of building status and acceptance in their peer group. In our research, the children who bullied were most susceptible to peer pressure to engage in problem behaviours. Children who bully can be helped to recognize the peer dynamics, such as attention, that lead them to bully, and can learn how to develop strategies to stand up to peer pressure. With focused support, these children's bullying behaviours should improve, so that referral to a professional is not required.

 

 

It is important to speak with the child to find out his or her understanding of the bullying problem. This can help determine what might be motivating him or her to engage in bullying. It is important to consider potential stresses in the child's life that may be underlying the use of power and aggression with peers. Some children who are victimized in one setting turn around and bully in another setting where they can assert power and control.

Observations of children in class, during transitions, and at lunch and recess may also give clues as to the nature of their bullying problems. Do they bully when they are with younger children, with their friends, when they are not engaged in some game or activity? Are other children encouraging the bullying by paying attention and joining in?

Next, it is important to determine the areas of skill that the child needs help to develop, including: empathy, emotional and/or behavioural regulation, how to cope with internalizing problems (feeling sad, worried, fearful), social skills, positive leadership skills, alternative problem solving, and the social-cognitive skills to withstand peer pressure.

Parents are partners. It is important to keep parents informed and also consult with them in creating a plan for school and home to encourage positive social behaviours and reduce bullying. Parents are also helpful in shedding light on the nature of the problem (for example, the age at which problem behaviours started, or whether bullying behaviours occur at home). This knowledge will inform plans put into place to manage children's social behaviours in the school and classroom.

It is imperative to educate the child about what bullying is, why it is not acceptable, and the reasoning behind the consequences for engaging in bullying. This education must occur consistently, and immediately after a bullying problem has been identified. Development unfolds through trial and error: children need positive lessons to learn when they make the mistake of using their power aggressively. Talking with children about what happened, why they reacted that way, and what they could have done differently to avoid bullying may help them think before they bully in the future.

Children are most likely to improve their behaviour when they receive positive support from the adults in their lives. There are many ways to approach supporting these children; consulting with other teachers may help in thinking through the many ways to help these children. Children who experience yellow-light problems may need more attention and more moment-to-moment support than green-light children. The green-light children may be helpful in giving support as well, particularly in labelling bullying when they see it and intervening to stop bullying as soon as they see it unfolding.

A one-time effort to support yellow light children may not be enough to change well-established patterns of using power and aggression. For interventions to be systematic and progressive, it is important to keep records of the bullying problems and the consequences implemented. This record will provide a basis for future interventions and for reporting to the principal and parents.

Children improve in relationship skills and positive behaviours when they receive positive reinforcement. All children have strengths. It is important to identify their strengths, help others see the strengths, and recognize children's progress.

Children's development of relationship skills is enhanced when adults can anticipate their needs and coach them on the spot. Adults need to anticipate when children may experience problems and provide momentary coaching to help them think of others, tune into their moral compass, and remember expectations. This may help children refrain from using power and aggression to control and distress others and may help them find positive ways to achieve power and status.

There are several social skills programs that have been empirically tested, such as the S.N.A.P. program (Stop Now and Plan, see here).

Programs such as SNAP provide teachers with ideas for the types of strategies that they can use to support children who are experiencing problems with bullying. The specific skills that children need support in developing depend on the individual child's strengths and weaknesses. Below are some strategies to use in developing children's skills in specific areas.

  1. Assess the Problem
    • Because children who bully differ so much, it is important to assess a child's specific difficulties and motivations in order to tailor the responses for the child.
    • There are many approaches to assessment.
  2. Talk to the child
  3. Watch what goes on
  4. Identify skills needed
  5. Inform the Parents
  6. Educate the Child
  7. Provide Educational Consequences

    Consequences must support students to learn the skills and acquire the insights they are lacking. In delivering consequences, focus on the bullying behaviour and avoid labelling the child as the problem or as a "bully". In addressing bullying, relationships are key. Children are most eager to work for and please adults whom they value and feel close to. It is important, therefore, to model positive relationships and avoid being hostile in disciplining children. Examples of educational consequences include:

    • Withdraw privileges (recess/lunch) and provide educational replacement activities such as a caring act, role playing being in the victimized child's position with teacher to develop empathy, reading and reporting on a bullying story, with a particular emphasis on understanding the impact of bullying.
    • Ask the child to make amends, for example, letter of apology
    • Have the child help out around the school with younger children, in the library etc. Children who bully need to be recognized for their positive behaviours and for their leadership potential.
  8. Offer Support
  9. Keep Records and Monitor
  10. Build on the positives with positives

Specific strategies for promoting empathy

Goal: Help children label and recognize their own and others' feelings.

Support for identifying children's own feelings can be provided in the moment "I see you look upset, what are you feeling?", but also through more systematic social skills programs.

After children are able to recognize their own feelings, they will be able to learn to read others' feelings. This support is best provided in a "teachable moment", when a child has bullied and can be immediately led through an understanding of the effect of his or her behaviour on others: "How do you think John feels right now, after you called him that name?"

Additional activities to promote empathy include: role plays, discussions, reading stories about victimization, media, opportunities to repair, Support Group (no blame) Approach No Blame Approach), Method of Common Concern (an intervention for bullying, first devised by the Swedish psychologist, Anatol Pikas), Method of Common Concern, Restorative Justice Common concern, and programs designed specifically for this issue, such as the Roots of Empathy (Roots of Empathy).

Specific strategies to help children control their emotions and behaviour

Goal: Help children think about the consequences of bullying by stopping to regulate emotions and by planning an effective problem-solving strategy.

Keep track of children's emotions and behaviours.

Sometimes problems of bullying arise when children are flooded with emotions and act before thinking. It is important to help children recognize what situations trigger a flood of emotions and lead them to take out their frustrations by bullying others. When children put others down, it sometimes helps them to feel better about themselves.

Pick up on "teachable moments"

Picking up the moment-to-moment opportunities for coaching will help children learn what is acceptable and what is not. It can also provide immediate feedback on the impact of bullying on others. When teachers observe even minor bullying in the classroom, in the hallways, and on the playground, it provides a "teachable moment". In this moment, children can identify their own and others' feelings and can learn by "rewinding" the action and replaying the interaction in a way that is not hurtful to others. Although it takes a minute or two to unpack problem situations, the teachable moment provides not only the potential for learning, but also for setting a positive tone for interactions in the school.

Deliver constructive consequences

It is important to provide consequences that teach children something related to the attitudes, skills and controls that children need for healthy relationships.

When consequences are delivered in this constructive manner, they not only provide important education, but also reduce the likelihood that the child will become angrier and retaliate with the victimized child to teach him or her not to tell about bullying

Teach children strategies for controlling their emotions and behaviour

Some children with bullying problems may have missed important early childhood lessons on how to control their emotions and behaviours. These children will need additional support recognizing the signs that they are becoming agitated and frustrated, and then learning strategies to control both their emotions and behaviour.

These lessons can be delivered through systematic anger management programs, but will be more effective if they are offered and rehearsed in the heated moment when children are likely to have difficulties. Teachers and parents can be most instructive if they are tuned into children's experiences and able to recognize when children are becoming agitated. This is an opportune time to stop, ask the children how they feel, how their body feels (e.g., heart pounding, tense), and then enable the children to focus on strategies to calm themselves (e.g., counting to 10, breathing in and out to a count of 8), and think of positive ways to engage others and get what they want.

Specific strategies for supporting children with internalizing problems (e.g. sad, worried, fearful)

Goal: Help child develop coping skills for problems with sadness and worries or fears.

Be aware of the link between bullying and sadness and worries or fears

Some children who bully are also sad and experience excessive worries or fearfulness. These are the children who are most likely to be involved both in bullying others and being victimized. With their social and emotional problems, these children have difficulties establishing friendships with peers. They rely on negative strategies, such as bullying, to get the attention of peers and to gain acceptance among some peers.

Use established programs to help children deal with these feelings

As with other problem areas, some children who are sad, worried or fearful will benefit from established programs. One such program for anxiety, developed by Phillip Kendall, is the Coping Cat program (see Coping Cat). Children who experience excessive worries or fearfulness and/or sadness need help recognizing their feelings and being able to reframe and cope with their emotions that interfere with their ability to have positive peer relationships.

Engage parents

The emotional problems that children experience often emerge from troubled family relationships. It is important, therefore, to engage parents in supporting children with emotional problems.

To engage parents in a sensitive manner, teachers are encouraged to have a supportive discussion, preferably face-to-face, with parents. In this discussion, teachers can describe their observations and concerns regarding the child and inquire as to how the parents see the child and whether they have seen any of these problems at home. Teachers can build supportive strategies collaboratively with parents so that children are receiving the same messages, encouragement and expectations at home and at school.

It is important to keep in touch regarding the child's improvements and challenges. If the home-school coordination is not enough to support children's positive behaviour, then teachers will be in a position to recommend to parents a referral to mental health services either within the school system or within the community.

Pick up on moments for on-the-spot coaching

Coping strategies can also be supported through moment-to-moment coaching. When children appear to be worried, fearful or sad, teachers and parents can stop them and ask them about their feelings and coach them to think of different ways to overcome their feelings or to engage in positive activities.

Be a positive role model

As with other forms of effective relationship skills, adults are constantly on stage as models of children's learning. It is essential, therefore, that teachers and parents model positive coping strategies and speak about their own frustrations or worries and talk about how they manage to solve problems and remain positive, even under stress. Parents may also need support in promoting their children's healthy social-emotional development.

Specific strategies to help children with social skills problems

Goal: Help children develop the social skills, attitudes, and motivation to interact positively with others.

There is a wide range of social abilities among children who bully: some are highly skilled and perceptive, while others are unskilled in social situations and are not able to recognize the impact of their behaviour on others. Observations of and discussions with children and their parents will reveal their level of social skills and provide direction for support.

Social skills that may need developing include:

  • Joining a group of peers
  • Responding to provocation
  • Turn taking
  • Recognizing another's feelings
  • Controlling anger
  • Thinking about right and wrong
  • Getting positive attention

Use existing programs

There are several tested and proven social skills programs, such as the S.N.A.P. program (Stop Now and Plan), at Stop now and plan

Programs such as SNAP provide teachers with ideas for strategies that they can use to support children who are experiencing problems with bullying. Each child will need support in developing particular skills, depending on the individual children's strengths and weaknesses.

Pick up "teachable moments" for coaching

With all of these skills, and many more that children may lack, it is the moment-to-moment coaching that helps children learn how to engage in a positive way with peers and adults. Working with teachable moments to "rewind" and perform a behaviour again in a positive way can be very beneficial. Some children need exactly this type of repeated lesson to develop the skills that they should have started to learn before entering school.

Involve parents in planning strategies and supporting the child.

Consistency from school to home is important, but teachers often report that the parents of children with social skills problems are difficult to engage. These parents may not have had the necessary support to develop their own social and problem-solving skills and may therefore be struggling with the challenges of parenting.

Children who experience social skill problems at school are most likely to experience similar problems at home and in community settings. Teachers can raise concerns regarding the child in a positive and supportive manner and inquire as to how the parents see the child and whether they have seen any of these problems at home. To engage parents in a sensitive manner, teachers are encouraged to have a supportive discussion, preferably face-to-face, with parents. It is important to approach these discussions in a positive, solution-focused manner.

Focus on the strengths

Every child has strengths, and parents will be more receptive if teachers focus first on strengths and then on the challenges that a child is experiencing.

Be concrete

It is important to be concrete in describing observations of difficulties that children have been experiencing and the strategies that have already been used with the child to promote social skill development.

Collaborate on strategies

Once a common goal of helping a child develop the skills for safe and healthy relationships is established, teachers can build supportive strategies collaboratively with parents so that children are receiving the same messages, encouragement, training, expectations, and educational consequences at home and at school.

Stay in touch

It is important to keep in touch with parents regarding the child's improvements and challenges.

Work together to keep track of progress

Keep a communication book that highlights the successes that a child has had during the day at home and at school, as well as the difficulties that the child has experienced. Reports of successes should outnumber the reports of difficulties: remember that children need about 10 positives to every negative and that only positive reinforcement will increase the desired positive social skills.

Suggest external resources if needed

If the home-school communication and coordination are not adequate to support children's development of social skills, then teachers will be in a position to recommend to parents a referral to mental health services either within the school system or within the community.

Specific strategies for positive leadership skills

  • Goal: Help the child find positive ways of achieving power and status.
  • Bullying is about power. Children who bully want to be recognized and powerful within their peer groups and want to feel a sense of control. Power is a wonderful attribute, which we as adults have and value. The important lesson for children is to use their power positively rather than negatively. Bullying is a negative use of power, but children who bully may well have leadership potential, suggested by the fact that they seek status and a sense of control.
  • Following are a few suggestions on how to engage children who bully in positive leadership activities.
  • Children who bully can be taught the effective steps for conflict mediation and engaged in positive leadership by being a peer mediator on the school playground
  • Children who bully may find it rewarding to be a buddy for a younger child who is isolated or experiencing some social difficulties.
  • Children who bully might prepare a presentation for their classmates and other grades on bullying and why it is damaging to relationships.
  • There may be tasks within the school that would enhance a bullying student's reputation in a positive way.
  • Children who bully may have skills in a particular area, such as music, art, or computers. They can be encouraged to help others who are having difficulties with these skills.

In all of these positive leadership activities, it is important to monitor children to ensure that they are in fact using their power positively rather than negatively.

Specific strategies for alternative problem solving

Goal: Help child:

  • recognize a problem to be solved
  • think about solutions other than bullying to solve the problem
  • consider the potential outcomes of the various solutions.

Children's social problems are challenging for them to solve. Not only are the children unskilled, but those with whom they are having the problem are probably their age-mates and similarly unskilled.

  1. Train children in positive approaches

    If children lack emotional and behavioural control, they may consider bullying as one of the first problem-solving strategies that comes to mind. It is important to teach about positive problem solving ; how to do it and why. Bullying does not solve problems in the long term; in fact, it may even create more problems. Training children to stop and think about what else they could say or do to solve their problems is one way to promote effective problem solving.

    Pick up "teachable moments" for coaching

    Moment-to-moment coaching is a good method for supporting alternative problem solving. When children are facing social problems, teachers and parents can stop them immediately and coach them to think of multiple strategies to approach the problem: "I can see you want to join that group for lunch. If what you just said doesn't work, what else could you try?" "What did you try to solve the problem of being left out of the game at recess? ; That didn't seem to work; what else could you try?" For the children who are dealing with social problems, seeking an adult's help is often a solution that can prevent turning their frustration into bullying another.

    Be a positive role model

    As with other forms of effective relationship skills, adults are constantly on stage as models for children's learning. It is essential, therefore, that teachers and parents model positive problem solving and the many ways to solve a problem.

  2. Specific skills to withstand peer pressure

    Goal: Help children to recognize their own sense of right and wrong and to cope with pressure from peers to engage in antisocial behaviours.

    Children who bully are more apt to respond to negative peer pressure than those who do not bully. This makes sense when we understand that bullying can enhance a child's power and status. Children who bully may find that they are the centre of attention when they engage in deviant and risk-taking behaviours. In their desire to be accepted by peers, they may not consider the costs of succumbing to peer pressure.

    Raise awareness about peer pressure

    The first step in responding to peer pressure is awareness that it is happening and self-awareness of how one is responding to it. The teacher can lead this type of discussion with the whole class, or one-to-one with an individual child. Children may readily admit that they went along with others in a group that was bullying because they did not want to become the next child who was victimized.

    If children are able to stop and think about a peer's suggestion for behaviour that doesn't feel quite right, they may be able to tune into their deeper sense of what is right and wrong and decide not to follow the wrong course.

    Explore possible responses to peers

    Children not only need to be able to decide that something is wrong, but they need a ready response to peers who are pressuring them. Talking through what they can say or do when pressured to skip class, not tell a friend about a lunch outing, or not to invite someone to a party, can provide them with a variety of responses to save face when under pressure. These responses can be generated following a situation when a child has been drawn into bullying. "What could you have said or done when your friend pressured you to send a hurtful email to Sara?" "What could you have said or done when you were pressured to write something mean in a workbook?" Children can feel empowered through responses such as: "That doesn't feel right to me" or "That doesn't sound fair."

  3. Beyond the Child's Skills

    This chapter has focused not only on the child's skills and capacities as they relate to the development of bullying problems, but also on the child's social environment. The child's family environment, classroom environment, and peer group have strong influences on the development of positive and negative relationship skills. Therefore, when considering interventions, the focus needs to extend beyond skill development in the children who engage in bullying to reach the social contexts in which the child is living.

  4. Negative influences of peers

    Teachers have the opportunity to shape both the classroom and the peer environments to ensure that they are promoting positive interactions and minimizing opportunities for negative interactions. Negative interactions within the peer group have been called "deviancy training". Research has shown that antisocial youth reinforce each other for deviant behaviours, thereby increasing the likelihood that such behaviours will occur.

    We see this happening when observing children's behaviour; the bystanders to bullying spend most of their time giving positive attention and reinforcement to the child who initiated the bullying. Furthermore, when others join in bullying, the child who initiated the bullying is more likely to become excited and aroused and more aggressive. Peers who are bystanders and reinforce bullying are a critical part of the problem.

  5. Positive influences of peers

    Peers can be involved in positive ways to be a critical part of the solution to bullying. We have observed that peers intervene in more bullying episodes than their teachers ; perhaps because they are more likely than teachers to be there to see the episode. When students intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time. This is a remarkable response rate: imagine children settling down within 10 seconds of a teacher's request.

    Children may be particularly responsive to peer interventions because of issues of power and status. If other children are challenging bullying behaviours, it can signal a potential loss of power and status. It is important, therefore, to create a sense of social responsibility among all children so that they respond when they see someone being bullied. If they do not feel safe intervening directly, they can tell a trusted adult about the problem. Teachers can help children differentiate telling from tattling: telling is to get someone out of trouble and tattling is to get someone into trouble.

  6. Strategies for promoting peer intervention and reporting

    Our research indicates that children are less likely to continue to be victimized if they tell an adult. But there is a challenge in creating a climate that encourages reporting. In some student groups there is a strong peer culture about not ratting on peers to teachers or other adults, regardless of how wrong students may consider a peer's behaviour to be.

    The culture of not telling only serves to reinforce the status and power of those who are bullying; therefore, it is important to have open discussions about bullying and build consensus among the children regarding the importance of safe and healthy relationships. Students need help developing social responsibility and positive strategies for intervening and reporting if they cannot or do not feel safe intervening to stop bullying themselves.

    In a Norwegian program, Dan Olweus recommends that teachers help the students to develop a set of rules regarding positive relationships and against bullying. If students themselves determine that it is important to ensure that all are safe and included and that no one is being victimized, then it sets the stage for intervening to stop bullying and reporting when someone is not safe.

    Since children are more likely to engage when they generate the strategies and responses themselves, it is important to involve them in frequent guided discussions about what they can say or do when they observe bullying. Teachers play a critical role in guiding these discussions to ensure that children are suggesting and endorsing positive, rather than aggressive, problem solving strategies. As children develop a list of possible intervention responses, teachers can push them to think about what they can do if their first, second, and perhaps third attempts to stop bullying are not effective. The final response should be to tell a teacher or other trusted adult.

    Children should also be encouraged to intervene collectively. Intervention strategies can be both verbal (e.g., identifying bullying and saying it is not fair) and physical (e.g., taking the victimized child out of the group by suggesting another activity).

    Children may benefit from role-playing these strategies so that they feel comfortable doing them. Role plays, presentations, and workshops for the school can promote both self confidence in carrying out the intervention strategies and a general understanding within the class and school that stopping bullying and promoting healthy relationships are everyone's responsibility.

    Perhaps the most important factor in engaging students in this form of social responsibility is ensuring that teachers and administrators are supportive and responsive when children come forward to report their concerns. Since bullying is a relationship problem, it requires relationship solutions: schools' responses to bullying must be supportive in providing students with the relationship skills they are lacking.

Social architecture in the classroom

To describe the kinds of interventions required with classrooms and peer groups to reduce bullying behaviours, we have chosen the metaphor of "social architecture". Just as an architect designs a building, teachers are social architects when they design or structure children's experiences with peers. By optimizing the opportunities for positive peer experiences and discouraging negative peer experiences, carefully designed social structures can limit the chances for troubled children to be together and reinforce deviant behaviours.

Teachers can be social architects at many levels to reduce the opportunities for aggressive and other forms of antisocial behaviour.

  1. Seating arrangements

    Something as basic as where students sit makes a difference for children who have a tendency to bully.

    Some students who bully are disruptive and there is a tendency to move these students to the margins of the classroom. This is also where they find themselves in normal peer groupings because peers, like teachers, do not find these disruptive students easy to interact with. When they are at the margins, children tend to find others just like themselves, and that is when the deviancy training begins and trouble starts to erupt for the teacher.

    Our research shows that a significant risk for frequent and serious bullying is having friends who also bully. If students who bully are highly socially skilled and manipulative, it is also important to think about their placement so they cannot create group dynamics that shun and exclude a peer right within the class.

    The strategy for seating arrangement is:

    • Be sure to separate groups of children who bully together to reduce the opportunity for group dynamics that lead to bullying and promote deviancy training
    • Try to ensure that a troubled child has opportunities to be surrounded by children who are friendly and sociable.
  2. Grouping students

    When placing children in groups for an assignment, it is important to be aware of the natural processes that unfold in children's peer groups; children tend to associate with others who are just like themselves. Therefore, when a teacher asks students to get into groups for an assignment, the students who are very strong in the subject will come together, the students who are athletic or artistic might come together, and, of concern, the students who bully or are in a tight clique may come together. Others will naturally be left out and the teacher will have to force one or more groups to include them.

    Many aspects of learning can be enhanced if the groups are diverse or at least random, rather than letting the natural groupings to occur. Therefore, following are two suggested strategies for grouping students:

    Depending on the nature of the assignment, group with one child who excels in the subject, one who is artistic, one who is a strong leader, and one who might have learning or behavioural difficulties. Exceptional students also have strengths. These diverse groupings might help other students see those strengths, especially if teachers point them out.

    Randomly assign students to groups and vary the groupings for many different activities and projects. In this way, you provide an opportunity for students to work with many others with whom they might not generally interact. This situation is not unlike what we expect for adults, who seldom have the opportunity to choose our workmates for a given project or committee.

  3. Forming teams

    There are often times at school when students need to be assigned to teams (e.g., spelling bees, baseball teams). The traditional approach is to pick a couple of students who excel at the task and ask them to pick their respective teams. For the students who are competent and socially accepted, this works well because they are among the first to be picked. For the students who are exceptional, either because of social-emotional problems or for another reason, this process can be devastating as they are seldom picked as desired team members. Their assignment becomes a publicly humiliating process as the two captains debate as to which one has to take the remaining student this time.

    Teachers do not mean to create difficult social situations that provide a context for bullying for the most vulnerable students. But when they do not consider peer dynamics and reputations, the situation can be shameful, painful, and alienating for these students. Suggested strategies are:

    • Form the teams through a random process, such as drawing names from a hat, the colour shoes children are wearing, or birthday months.
    • Form the teams with some designed process whereby there are standard groupings for a given week for all activities, and then the groups change the following week.
  4. Free time

    Social architecture is also an important consideration for children's free time, such as at lunch or recess. Children who bully as a group should be kept apart as much as possible as they tend to spur each other on in bullying behaviour. Our research shows that when one child is bullying, they often coerce others to join in.

    If teachers are aware of groups that have been bullying and have not responded to the strategies listed above, such as the Method of Shared Concern, See Here, and the Support Group Approach (see here), it is important to direct children to play apart to reduce the likelihood of bullying and to protect children who are being victimized. Free time and free range on the playground is a privilege, not a right. This privilege can be taken away and earned back through the educational consequences we discussed earlier.


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All of the strategies suggested for the yellow light area children are suitable for the children in the red light area whose behaviour is of the most concern. It is important to begin with the least intensive strategies and work up until the child begins to show progress in developing positive relationship skills, attitudes, and motivations.

Who are the "red light" children?

A small group of children will not be able to benefit sufficiently from these strategies. They will continue to make mistakes and use their power aggressively, but will not receive enough support to learn from them. The children who continue to engage in repeated, serious bullying may be at great risk for continuing on a pathway with troubled relationships through adolescence and into adulthood.

It is important to recognize that the children in the red light zone are likely to both bully others and be victimized themselves. There are remarkable opportunities to bring in support for these children when their social development pathways are still flexible and they have not become marginalized in the school system and alienated from it.

Seek outside support

For these children with persistent, serious problems with bullying, intervention will need to be intensive and systemic (i.e., including support of parents). In these cases, a referral to a children's mental health centre or school professional will be required to provide additional support for positive development. The child must be referred for discussion at the school's team meeting to involve other professionals in the intervention plan. The School Team should also discuss whether it is necessary to plan on restricting the child's time at school to only a partial school day schedule with a gradual re-introduction of the full day, or any other special accommodations that may be necessary.

Involve the parents

Parents are essential partners in this process. If teachers are having difficulties with the child at school, it is likely that parents are also having difficulties at home. Taking time to explore how the child is at home and whether he or she bullies parents and siblings may open the door to parents' awareness and cooperation.

Teachers need to make sure they find ways to involve parents in the plans to seek additional treatment for their children. The counsellor assigned by the School Team could work with the family to make a referral for appropriate counselling outside of the school, or to reconnect with any counselling or children's services worker who may have had involvement with the family in the past. Raising children in stressful circumstances is most challenging. But keeping communication lines open with parents may lead to small steps that work; parents feeling respected and better able to share information in the long run, ultimately resulting in a better home-school partnership.

Once a child is receiving additional supports at a community clinic, it is essential that the lines of communication between home and school are kept open (with parental consent). To maintain the improvements through interventions for children with serious relationship problems, such as bullying, it is important that the skills are transferred and practiced in many other settings, such as school.

You can make a difference

Children with serious bullying problems pose a particular challenge because they have spent years learning how to use aggression to gain power and control over others. It takes time for them to establish other behavioural patterns and see the rewards of engaging in a prosocial manner with positive leadership. If there is one adult to champion a child and recognize his or her strengths, this support can often be enough to shift a child from a troubled to a healthy pathway. Teachers are often these champions!


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Children who bully others have learned to use their power aggressively to control or distress others. These children require support from adults at home and school to find positive ways of gaining power and status among peers. They also need help in learning the skills, attitudes, and perspectives for healthy relationships.

There are many myths about bullying. Some people believe children "just grow out of it" or it is a "normal part of growing up". However, persistent bullying can lead to troubled relationships in adolescence and adulthood and may signal serious mental health or social problems. If children who bully do not receive supportive interventions, they are at increased risk of engaging in illegal activities (such as delinquency and substance use), sexual harassment, and dating aggression. We are concerned that the lessons of using power and aggression to control and distress others will carry over into workplace harassment, marital abuse, child abuse, and elder abuse across the lifespan. Given the importance of healthy relationships for healthy development, it is essential to catch these problems early in order to prevent future problems.

For the majority (70-80%) of children, bullying problems are minor and short-term. With minor intervention and support (such as the universal programs offered in schools), these children will understand the problems with using their power aggressively and learn to engage positively with peers.

Some (10-15%) children will experience problems with bullying that are of some concern. These children may require additional support and more specialized intervention in order to get them back on the right track. Our research shows that these children respond relatively quickly to whole school bullying prevention programs.

Finally, for a small proportion of children (5-10%), troubling and bullying problems will persist. These children require prolonged and comprehensive intervention to support their development, help them avoid using their power aggressively, and help them find more positive ways of finding their place in the peer group. Since children's peer relationships provide an important context for their social development, it is important to promote positive relationship skills for all children.

It is essential to remember that bullying is a relationship problem that requires a relationship solution

Therefore, every intervention to reduce bullying must enhance children's understanding, skills, attitudes, and motivations essential for healthy relationships.

Another important insight into bullying is the power dimension. Children who bully are attempting to assert and enhance their power. The challenge for adults is to redirect this leadership potential from the negative strategies of bullying to positive leadership skills and opportunities.



All young children need adult support and guidance to help them learn to regulate their behaviour and interact positively with others. Children need consistent messages, support, and guidance across all of the contexts in which they live, work, and play. Therefore, a partnership between schools and parents is important in helping children learn positive relationship skills and refrain from bullying. Children in the green light zone already have a range of social skills and they will benefit from a supportive setting that enables them to practise those skills and learn new skills. There are many effective strategies for creating a classroom environment that promotes positive interactions and minimizes bullying.

Be a positive role model

Teachers set the tone in the classroom, and children are sensitive to the tone and behaviour of their teacher. It is important for teachers to remember to speak the way they want children to speak and to behave in a positive manner as an example for their children. If teachers are supportive and respectful of children's differences and difficulties, the children will adopt that style.

While teaching is a rewarding profession, it is also such a challenging one in which teachers are on stage every moment of the school day. It is natural to become tired and frustrated with difficult children, but there is a danger in letting these feelings show or affect your own behaviour. If teachers make demeaning comments to troubled students (e.g., "Have you got a brain in your head? How many times do I have to tell you things again and again? Why can't you remember anything?"), they provide a vivid model to children, and inadvertently give the other students in the class permission to bully the troubled child at recess.

Work with children to develop clear guidelines for behaviour

Children need clear guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not. At the beginning of the school year, students can participate in creating a few key rules for the classroom. These rules can be posted and serve as a reminder to all.

The beginning of the school year is the best time to put issues of bullying on the table. Help students understand the full range of bullying behaviours, encourage students to generate lists of what they can say and do when they are being bullied or when they see another child being bullied. It is essential to guide students to generate positive strategies and to ensure that they are not suggesting aggressive strategies to address bullying. Our research shows that if a child who is being bullied responds aggressively, the bullying is likely to continue and may accelerate.

Ensure that consequences are appropriate, timely, and consistent

Appropriate consequences for bullying must be educational and should match the severity of the bullying behaviours. Examples of educational consequences might include: having a child help out, read a story about a child who has difficulties with bullying, draw a picture or write a poem of what it feels like to be victimized, find a positive way to apologize or repair the relationship problem. Consequences must be applied immediately and consistently in order to have an impact.

Apply consequences to all children involved in bullying

It is important to recognize that a bullying episode rarely involves just one child. One child may be the instigator or the primary actor, but others may be watching, joining in, and actively encouraging the bullying. Those children who are present during bullying and are not part of the solution, by intervening in some way, are part of the problem. They must be included in the discussion and consequences for bullying. Consequences or interventions must be monitored closely and recorded to ensure aggression does not reoccur.

There are many creative and positive strategies for addressing bullying problems that focus on the group of children involved in a bullying episode. One of these, developed by Anatole Pikas, is the Method of Shared Concern. With this method, the teacher, administrator, or counsellor speaks to each involved student individually to help him/her gain an understanding and show empathy for the victimized child. When all students have shown some recognition that their bullying has caused distressed to another and that this is a problem, the group is brought together for a common agreement that the bullying must stop at the very least for peaceful co-existence. Follow up is essential. A paper on this method is available here.

A similar method is the Support Group Approach (formerly the No Blame Approach) developed by Barbara Maines and George Robinson. They advocate working with the group of students from the start. When students acknowledge that their behaviours might be causing distress, the adult establishes a verbal contract with the students to engage positively with the victimized child and avoid bullying. Follow up with both the victimized child and those who have been involved in bullying is essential. Information on the support group approach is available here.

Continue to monitor the situation and apply further consequences if needed

Follow up is essential with children engaged in bullying, because this pattern of interacting may be difficult to stop if peers continue to reinforce it with their attention. If one consequence for bullying is not sufficient, then the discipline needs to be progressive, and at the same time educational. For example, if a child is engaged in excluding another from the lunch table, and continues to exclude an isolated child in spite of reading a passage about victimization and talking about how hurtful his/her behaviour is, the next step might be to have the child spend lunchtime alone for one or more days or have the child help out with younger children during lunch time.

Help children understand their behaviour

Children learn by making mistakes and they need help in learning from their mistakes. Almost all children explore their power through bullying. Most recognize that they are hurting others and stop; those who continue to bully need help understanding the problems with their behaviours, the impacts on others, and the peer dynamics that may be leading them to bully.

Proceed one step at a time

Effective discipline unfolds in many small steps with increasing consequences, each of which teaches the child something.

Focus on positive behaviour, both yours and the children's

Children thrive on positive reinforcement -- it is the catalyst for positive social development. It has been suggested that children need 10 positives to every negative. Hence it is vital that teachers recognize and encourage children when they are engaging in healthy relationship behaviours, rather than only paying attention when they are bullying or being negative. A positive youth perspective fosters a sense of optimism that children can change their behaviour for the better. When adults invest positively in children and youth, it helps children and youth develop positive relationships with others and promotes their healthy development at home, school, and in the community.

In responding to bullying, it is important that adults model positive problem solving strategies and avoid bullying themselves. If children are disciplined in a harsh way, they take away the message that those who have the power are able to use it aggressively. Children who bully need positive relationships with adults in order to learn how to be positive with their peers. With children who bully, teachers and parents can promote respect and positive engagement in relationships by noting and reinforcing children's small behavioural steps in the right direction.

Be aware that bullying may be occurring when you are not there

Most children are aware that teachers disapprove of bullying; therefore, they bully while the teacher is not looking, or not around, and they use verbal and social forms of bullying that are hard to identify. Our observations show that bullying is most likely to occur in the classroom when the teacher is focused on other children. On the playground, children are more likely to bully in areas that are crowded and not closely monitored by teachers.

With an understanding of the nature and subtle forms of bullying, as well as the peer dynamics in bullying, teachers and other supervising adults may be more equipped to identify when it is occurring. Sometimes children who are being victimized will not speak up in the moment about their distress because of fear or shame. These children may be more open to talk about what happened in a private moment. If they explain that they are being bullied, thank them for their courage and openness and assure them that you will help to keep them safe.

Stay connected to the family

Regular and open communication with parents regarding children's development is essential. Early identification helps parents and teachers work together to offer immediate and early support in the early stages of relationship problems. Parents are important partners for schools in socializing children, and children benefit when the messages and expectations for social behaviours are consistent across home and school.

Messages about the importance of healthy relationships, positive problem solving, and social responsibility are needed both at home and school. Some parents may also need support in understanding the importance of consistently positive relationships.


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Children who are experiencing some problems with bullying behaviours require all of the effective strategies provided to the children in the green light area' and a bit more focused support.

 

Children who repeatedly bully need support to develop a variety of skills. These include: empathy (understanding others' perspectives and feelings), emotional and/or behavioural regulation (learning to control one's emotions and behaviour), how to cope with internalizing problems (feeling sad, worried, fearful), social skills, positive leadership skills, positive ways of problem solving, and social or reasoning skills to withstand peer pressure.

 

The type of support these children require depends on the nature of their bullying behaviour and their areas of difficulties. Support for children who bully can be delivered both through particular programs, but more consistently through moment-to-moment coaching throughout the day.

 

Children who bully need adult support to boost their capacity and motivation for successful relationships. They may benefit from help in recognizing the impact of their behaviours on others and finding positive ways of building status and acceptance in their peer group. In our research, the children who bullied were most susceptible to peer pressure to engage in problem behaviours. Children who bully can be helped to recognize the peer dynamics, such as attention, that lead them to bully, and can learn how to develop strategies to stand up to peer pressure. With focused support, these children's bullying behaviours should improve, so that referral to a professional is not required.

 

 

It is important to speak with the child to find out his or her understanding of the bullying problem. This can help determine what might be motivating him or her to engage in bullying. It is important to consider potential stresses in the child's life that may be underlying the use of power and aggression with peers. Some children who are victimized in one setting turn around and bully in another setting where they can assert power and control.

Observations of children in class, during transitions, and at lunch and recess may also give clues as to the nature of their bullying problems. Do they bully when they are with younger children, with their friends, when they are not engaged in some game or activity? Are other children encouraging the bullying by paying attention and joining in?

Next, it is important to determine the areas of skill that the child needs help to develop, including: empathy, emotional and/or behavioural regulation, how to cope with internalizing problems (feeling sad, worried, fearful), social skills, positive leadership skills, alternative problem solving, and the social-cognitive skills to withstand peer pressure.

Parents are partners. It is important to keep parents informed and also consult with them in creating a plan for school and home to encourage positive social behaviours and reduce bullying. Parents are also helpful in shedding light on the nature of the problem (for example, the age at which problem behaviours started, or whether bullying behaviours occur at home). This knowledge will inform plans put into place to manage children's social behaviours in the school and classroom.

It is imperative to educate the child about what bullying is, why it is not acceptable, and the reasoning behind the consequences for engaging in bullying. This education must occur consistently, and immediately after a bullying problem has been identified. Development unfolds through trial and error: children need positive lessons to learn when they make the mistake of using their power aggressively. Talking with children about what happened, why they reacted that way, and what they could have done differently to avoid bullying may help them think before they bully in the future.

Children are most likely to improve their behaviour when they receive positive support from the adults in their lives. There are many ways to approach supporting these children; consulting with other teachers may help in thinking through the many ways to help these children. Children who experience yellow-light problems may need more attention and more moment-to-moment support than green-light children. The green-light children may be helpful in giving support as well, particularly in labelling bullying when they see it and intervening to stop bullying as soon as they see it unfolding.

A one-time effort to support yellow light children may not be enough to change well-established patterns of using power and aggression. For interventions to be systematic and progressive, it is important to keep records of the bullying problems and the consequences implemented. This record will provide a basis for future interventions and for reporting to the principal and parents.

Children improve in relationship skills and positive behaviours when they receive positive reinforcement. All children have strengths. It is important to identify their strengths, help others see the strengths, and recognize children's progress.

Children's development of relationship skills is enhanced when adults can anticipate their needs and coach them on the spot. Adults need to anticipate when children may experience problems and provide momentary coaching to help them think of others, tune into their moral compass, and remember expectations. This may help children refrain from using power and aggression to control and distress others and may help them find positive ways to achieve power and status.

There are several social skills programs that have been empirically tested, such as the S.N.A.P. program (Stop Now and Plan, see here).

Programs such as SNAP provide teachers with ideas for the types of strategies that they can use to support children who are experiencing problems with bullying. The specific skills that children need support in developing depend on the individual child's strengths and weaknesses. Below are some strategies to use in developing children's skills in specific areas.

  1. Assess the Problem
    • Because children who bully differ so much, it is important to assess a child's specific difficulties and motivations in order to tailor the responses for the child.
    • There are many approaches to assessment.
  2. Talk to the child
  3. Watch what goes on
  4. Identify skills needed
  5. Inform the Parents
  6. Educate the Child
  7. Provide Educational Consequences

    Consequences must support students to learn the skills and acquire the insights they are lacking. In delivering consequences, focus on the bullying behaviour and avoid labelling the child as the problem or as a "bully". In addressing bullying, relationships are key. Children are most eager to work for and please adults whom they value and feel close to. It is important, therefore, to model positive relationships and avoid being hostile in disciplining children. Examples of educational consequences include:

    • Withdraw privileges (recess/lunch) and provide educational replacement activities such as a caring act, role playing being in the victimized child's position with teacher to develop empathy, reading and reporting on a bullying story, with a particular emphasis on understanding the impact of bullying.
    • Ask the child to make amends, for example, letter of apology
    • Have the child help out around the school with younger children, in the library etc. Children who bully need to be recognized for their positive behaviours and for their leadership potential.
  8. Offer Support
  9. Keep Records and Monitor
  10. Build on the positives with positives

Specific strategies for promoting empathy

Goal: Help children label and recognize their own and others' feelings.

Support for identifying children's own feelings can be provided in the moment "I see you look upset, what are you feeling?", but also through more systematic social skills programs.

After children are able to recognize their own feelings, they will be able to learn to read others' feelings. This support is best provided in a "teachable moment", when a child has bullied and can be immediately led through an understanding of the effect of his or her behaviour on others: "How do you think John feels right now, after you called him that name?"

Additional activities to promote empathy include: role plays, discussions, reading stories about victimization, media, opportunities to repair, Support Group (no blame) Approach No Blame Approach), Method of Common Concern (an intervention for bullying, first devised by the Swedish psychologist, Anatol Pikas), Method of Common Concern, Restorative Justice Common concern, and programs designed specifically for this issue, such as the Roots of Empathy (Roots of Empathy).

Specific strategies to help children control their emotions and behaviour

Goal: Help children think about the consequences of bullying by stopping to regulate emotions and by planning an effective problem-solving strategy.

Keep track of children's emotions and behaviours.

Sometimes problems of bullying arise when children are flooded with emotions and act before thinking. It is important to help children recognize what situations trigger a flood of emotions and lead them to take out their frustrations by bullying others. When children put others down, it sometimes helps them to feel better about themselves.

Pick up on "teachable moments"

Picking up the moment-to-moment opportunities for coaching will help children learn what is acceptable and what is not. It can also provide immediate feedback on the impact of bullying on others. When teachers observe even minor bullying in the classroom, in the hallways, and on the playground, it provides a "teachable moment". In this moment, children can identify their own and others' feelings and can learn by "rewinding" the action and replaying the interaction in a way that is not hurtful to others. Although it takes a minute or two to unpack problem situations, the teachable moment provides not only the potential for learning, but also for setting a positive tone for interactions in the school.

Deliver constructive consequences

It is important to provide consequences that teach children something related to the attitudes, skills and controls that children need for healthy relationships.

When consequences are delivered in this constructive manner, they not only provide important education, but also reduce the likelihood that the child will become angrier and retaliate with the victimized child to teach him or her not to tell about bullying

Teach children strategies for controlling their emotions and behaviour

Some children with bullying problems may have missed important early childhood lessons on how to control their emotions and behaviours. These children will need additional support recognizing the signs that they are becoming agitated and frustrated, and then learning strategies to control both their emotions and behaviour.

These lessons can be delivered through systematic anger management programs, but will be more effective if they are offered and rehearsed in the heated moment when children are likely to have difficulties. Teachers and parents can be most instructive if they are tuned into children's experiences and able to recognize when children are becoming agitated. This is an opportune time to stop, ask the children how they feel, how their body feels (e.g., heart pounding, tense), and then enable the children to focus on strategies to calm themselves (e.g., counting to 10, breathing in and out to a count of 8), and think of positive ways to engage others and get what they want.

Specific strategies for supporting children with internalizing problems (e.g. sad, worried, fearful)

Goal: Help child develop coping skills for problems with sadness and worries or fears.

Be aware of the link between bullying and sadness and worries or fears

Some children who bully are also sad and experience excessive worries or fearfulness. These are the children who are most likely to be involved both in bullying others and being victimized. With their social and emotional problems, these children have difficulties establishing friendships with peers. They rely on negative strategies, such as bullying, to get the attention of peers and to gain acceptance among some peers.

Use established programs to help children deal with these feelings

As with other problem areas, some children who are sad, worried or fearful will benefit from established programs. One such program for anxiety, developed by Phillip Kendall, is the Coping Cat program (see Coping Cat). Children who experience excessive worries or fearfulness and/or sadness need help recognizing their feelings and being able to reframe and cope with their emotions that interfere with their ability to have positive peer relationships.

Engage parents

The emotional problems that children experience often emerge from troubled family relationships. It is important, therefore, to engage parents in supporting children with emotional problems.

To engage parents in a sensitive manner, teachers are encouraged to have a supportive discussion, preferably face-to-face, with parents. In this discussion, teachers can describe their observations and concerns regarding the child and inquire as to how the parents see the child and whether they have seen any of these problems at home. Teachers can build supportive strategies collaboratively with parents so that children are receiving the same messages, encouragement and expectations at home and at school.

It is important to keep in touch regarding the child's improvements and challenges. If the home-school coordination is not enough to support children's positive behaviour, then teachers will be in a position to recommend to parents a referral to mental health services either within the school system or within the community.

Pick up on moments for on-the-spot coaching

Coping strategies can also be supported through moment-to-moment coaching. When children appear to be worried, fearful or sad, teachers and parents can stop them and ask them about their feelings and coach them to think of different ways to overcome their feelings or to engage in positive activities.

Be a positive role model

As with other forms of effective relationship skills, adults are constantly on stage as models of children's learning. It is essential, therefore, that teachers and parents model positive coping strategies and speak about their own frustrations or worries and talk about how they manage to solve problems and remain positive, even under stress. Parents may also need support in promoting their children's healthy social-emotional development.

Specific strategies to help children with social skills problems

Goal: Help children develop the social skills, attitudes, and motivation to interact positively with others.

There is a wide range of social abilities among children who bully: some are highly skilled and perceptive, while others are unskilled in social situations and are not able to recognize the impact of their behaviour on others. Observations of and discussions with children and their parents will reveal their level of social skills and provide direction for support.

Social skills that may need developing include:

  • Joining a group of peers
  • Responding to provocation
  • Turn taking
  • Recognizing another's feelings
  • Controlling anger
  • Thinking about right and wrong
  • Getting positive attention

Use existing programs

There are several tested and proven social skills programs, such as the S.N.A.P. program (Stop Now and Plan), at Stop now and plan

Programs such as SNAP provide teachers with ideas for strategies that they can use to support children who are experiencing problems with bullying. Each child will need support in developing particular skills, depending on the individual children's strengths and weaknesses.

Pick up "teachable moments" for coaching

With all of these skills, and many more that children may lack, it is the moment-to-moment coaching that helps children learn how to engage in a positive way with peers and adults. Working with teachable moments to "rewind" and perform a behaviour again in a positive way can be very beneficial. Some children need exactly this type of repeated lesson to develop the skills that they should have started to learn before entering school.

Involve parents in planning strategies and supporting the child.

Consistency from school to home is important, but teachers often report that the parents of children with social skills problems are difficult to engage. These parents may not have had the necessary support to develop their own social and problem-solving skills and may therefore be struggling with the challenges of parenting.

Children who experience social skill problems at school are most likely to experience similar problems at home and in community settings. Teachers can raise concerns regarding the child in a positive and supportive manner and inquire as to how the parents see the child and whether they have seen any of these problems at home. To engage parents in a sensitive manner, teachers are encouraged to have a supportive discussion, preferably face-to-face, with parents. It is important to approach these discussions in a positive, solution-focused manner.

Focus on the strengths

Every child has strengths, and parents will be more receptive if teachers focus first on strengths and then on the challenges that a child is experiencing.

Be concrete

It is important to be concrete in describing observations of difficulties that children have been experiencing and the strategies that have already been used with the child to promote social skill development.

Collaborate on strategies

Once a common goal of helping a child develop the skills for safe and healthy relationships is established, teachers can build supportive strategies collaboratively with parents so that children are receiving the same messages, encouragement, training, expectations, and educational consequences at home and at school.

Stay in touch

It is important to keep in touch with parents regarding the child's improvements and challenges.

Work together to keep track of progress

Keep a communication book that highlights the successes that a child has had during the day at home and at school, as well as the difficulties that the child has experienced. Reports of successes should outnumber the reports of difficulties: remember that children need about 10 positives to every negative and that only positive reinforcement will increase the desired positive social skills.

Suggest external resources if needed

If the home-school communication and coordination are not adequate to support children's development of social skills, then teachers will be in a position to recommend to parents a referral to mental health services either within the school system or within the community.

Specific strategies for positive leadership skills

  • Goal: Help the child find positive ways of achieving power and status.
  • Bullying is about power. Children who bully want to be recognized and powerful within their peer groups and want to feel a sense of control. Power is a wonderful attribute, which we as adults have and value. The important lesson for children is to use their power positively rather than negatively. Bullying is a negative use of power, but children who bully may well have leadership potential, suggested by the fact that they seek status and a sense of control.
  • Following are a few suggestions on how to engage children who bully in positive leadership activities.
  • Children who bully can be taught the effective steps for conflict mediation and engaged in positive leadership by being a peer mediator on the school playground
  • Children who bully may find it rewarding to be a buddy for a younger child who is isolated or experiencing some social difficulties.
  • Children who bully might prepare a presentation for their classmates and other grades on bullying and why it is damaging to relationships.
  • There may be tasks within the school that would enhance a bullying student's reputation in a positive way.
  • Children who bully may have skills in a particular area, such as music, art, or computers. They can be encouraged to help others who are having difficulties with these skills.

In all of these positive leadership activities, it is important to monitor children to ensure that they are in fact using their power positively rather than negatively.

Specific strategies for alternative problem solving

Goal: Help child:

  • recognize a problem to be solved
  • think about solutions other than bullying to solve the problem
  • consider the potential outcomes of the various solutions.

Children's social problems are challenging for them to solve. Not only are the children unskilled, but those with whom they are having the problem are probably their age-mates and similarly unskilled.

  1. Train children in positive approaches

    If children lack emotional and behavioural control, they may consider bullying as one of the first problem-solving strategies that comes to mind. It is important to teach about positive problem solving ; how to do it and why. Bullying does not solve problems in the long term; in fact, it may even create more problems. Training children to stop and think about what else they could say or do to solve their problems is one way to promote effective problem solving.

    Pick up "teachable moments" for coaching

    Moment-to-moment coaching is a good method for supporting alternative problem solving. When children are facing social problems, teachers and parents can stop them immediately and coach them to think of multiple strategies to approach the problem: "I can see you want to join that group for lunch. If what you just said doesn't work, what else could you try?" "What did you try to solve the problem of being left out of the game at recess? ; That didn't seem to work; what else could you try?" For the children who are dealing with social problems, seeking an adult's help is often a solution that can prevent turning their frustration into bullying another.

    Be a positive role model

    As with other forms of effective relationship skills, adults are constantly on stage as models for children's learning. It is essential, therefore, that teachers and parents model positive problem solving and the many ways to solve a problem.

  2. Specific skills to withstand peer pressure

    Goal: Help children to recognize their own sense of right and wrong and to cope with pressure from peers to engage in antisocial behaviours.

    Children who bully are more apt to respond to negative peer pressure than those who do not bully. This makes sense when we understand that bullying can enhance a child's power and status. Children who bully may find that they are the centre of attention when they engage in deviant and risk-taking behaviours. In their desire to be accepted by peers, they may not consider the costs of succumbing to peer pressure.

    Raise awareness about peer pressure

    The first step in responding to peer pressure is awareness that it is happening and self-awareness of how one is responding to it. The teacher can lead this type of discussion with the whole class, or one-to-one with an individual child. Children may readily admit that they went along with others in a group that was bullying because they did not want to become the next child who was victimized.

    If children are able to stop and think about a peer's suggestion for behaviour that doesn't feel quite right, they may be able to tune into their deeper sense of what is right and wrong and decide not to follow the wrong course.

    Explore possible responses to peers

    Children not only need to be able to decide that something is wrong, but they need a ready response to peers who are pressuring them. Talking through what they can say or do when pressured to skip class, not tell a friend about a lunch outing, or not to invite someone to a party, can provide them with a variety of responses to save face when under pressure. These responses can be generated following a situation when a child has been drawn into bullying. "What could you have said or done when your friend pressured you to send a hurtful email to Sara?" "What could you have said or done when you were pressured to write something mean in a workbook?" Children can feel empowered through responses such as: "That doesn't feel right to me" or "That doesn't sound fair."

  3. Beyond the Child's Skills

    This chapter has focused not only on the child's skills and capacities as they relate to the development of bullying problems, but also on the child's social environment. The child's family environment, classroom environment, and peer group have strong influences on the development of positive and negative relationship skills. Therefore, when considering interventions, the focus needs to extend beyond skill development in the children who engage in bullying to reach the social contexts in which the child is living.

  4. Negative influences of peers

    Teachers have the opportunity to shape both the classroom and the peer environments to ensure that they are promoting positive interactions and minimizing opportunities for negative interactions. Negative interactions within the peer group have been called "deviancy training". Research has shown that antisocial youth reinforce each other for deviant behaviours, thereby increasing the likelihood that such behaviours will occur.

    We see this happening when observing children's behaviour; the bystanders to bullying spend most of their time giving positive attention and reinforcement to the child who initiated the bullying. Furthermore, when others join in bullying, the child who initiated the bullying is more likely to become excited and aroused and more aggressive. Peers who are bystanders and reinforce bullying are a critical part of the problem.

  5. Positive influences of peers

    Peers can be involved in positive ways to be a critical part of the solution to bullying. We have observed that peers intervene in more bullying episodes than their teachers ; perhaps because they are more likely than teachers to be there to see the episode. When students intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time. This is a remarkable response rate: imagine children settling down within 10 seconds of a teacher's request.

    Children may be particularly responsive to peer interventions because of issues of power and status. If other children are challenging bullying behaviours, it can signal a potential loss of power and status. It is important, therefore, to create a sense of social responsibility among all children so that they respond when they see someone being bullied. If they do not feel safe intervening directly, they can tell a trusted adult about the problem. Teachers can help children differentiate telling from tattling: telling is to get someone out of trouble and tattling is to get someone into trouble.

  6. Strategies for promoting peer intervention and reporting

    Our research indicates that children are less likely to continue to be victimized if they tell an adult. But there is a challenge in creating a climate that encourages reporting. In some student groups there is a strong peer culture about not ratting on peers to teachers or other adults, regardless of how wrong students may consider a peer's behaviour to be.

    The culture of not telling only serves to reinforce the status and power of those who are bullying; therefore, it is important to have open discussions about bullying and build consensus among the children regarding the importance of safe and healthy relationships. Students need help developing social responsibility and positive strategies for intervening and reporting if they cannot or do not feel safe intervening to stop bullying themselves.

    In a Norwegian program, Dan Olweus recommends that teachers help the students to develop a set of rules regarding positive relationships and against bullying. If students themselves determine that it is important to ensure that all are safe and included and that no one is being victimized, then it sets the stage for intervening to stop bullying and reporting when someone is not safe.

    Since children are more likely to engage when they generate the strategies and responses themselves, it is important to involve them in frequent guided discussions about what they can say or do when they observe bullying. Teachers play a critical role in guiding these discussions to ensure that children are suggesting and endorsing positive, rather than aggressive, problem solving strategies. As children develop a list of possible intervention responses, teachers can push them to think about what they can do if their first, second, and perhaps third attempts to stop bullying are not effective. The final response should be to tell a teacher or other trusted adult.

    Children should also be encouraged to intervene collectively. Intervention strategies can be both verbal (e.g., identifying bullying and saying it is not fair) and physical (e.g., taking the victimized child out of the group by suggesting another activity).

    Children may benefit from role-playing these strategies so that they feel comfortable doing them. Role plays, presentations, and workshops for the school can promote both self confidence in carrying out the intervention strategies and a general understanding within the class and school that stopping bullying and promoting healthy relationships are everyone's responsibility.

    Perhaps the most important factor in engaging students in this form of social responsibility is ensuring that teachers and administrators are supportive and responsive when children come forward to report their concerns. Since bullying is a relationship problem, it requires relationship solutions: schools' responses to bullying must be supportive in providing students with the relationship skills they are lacking.

Social architecture in the classroom

To describe the kinds of interventions required with classrooms and peer groups to reduce bullying behaviours, we have chosen the metaphor of "social architecture". Just as an architect designs a building, teachers are social architects when they design or structure children's experiences with peers. By optimizing the opportunities for positive peer experiences and discouraging negative peer experiences, carefully designed social structures can limit the chances for troubled children to be together and reinforce deviant behaviours.

Teachers can be social architects at many levels to reduce the opportunities for aggressive and other forms of antisocial behaviour.

  1. Seating arrangements

    Something as basic as where students sit makes a difference for children who have a tendency to bully.

    Some students who bully are disruptive and there is a tendency to move these students to the margins of the classroom. This is also where they find themselves in normal peer groupings because peers, like teachers, do not find these disruptive students easy to interact with. When they are at the margins, children tend to find others just like themselves, and that is when the deviancy training begins and trouble starts to erupt for the teacher.

    Our research shows that a significant risk for frequent and serious bullying is having friends who also bully. If students who bully are highly socially skilled and manipulative, it is also important to think about their placement so they cannot create group dynamics that shun and exclude a peer right within the class.

    The strategy for seating arrangement is:

    • Be sure to separate groups of children who bully together to reduce the opportunity for group dynamics that lead to bullying and promote deviancy training
    • Try to ensure that a troubled child has opportunities to be surrounded by children who are friendly and sociable.
  2. Grouping students

    When placing children in groups for an assignment, it is important to be aware of the natural processes that unfold in children's peer groups; children tend to associate with others who are just like themselves. Therefore, when a teacher asks students to get into groups for an assignment, the students who are very strong in the subject will come together, the students who are athletic or artistic might come together, and, of concern, the students who bully or are in a tight clique may come together. Others will naturally be left out and the teacher will have to force one or more groups to include them.

    Many aspects of learning can be enhanced if the groups are diverse or at least random, rather than letting the natural groupings to occur. Therefore, following are two suggested strategies for grouping students:

    Depending on the nature of the assignment, group with one child who excels in the subject, one who is artistic, one who is a strong leader, and one who might have learning or behavioural difficulties. Exceptional students also have strengths. These diverse groupings might help other students see those strengths, especially if teachers point them out.

    Randomly assign students to groups and vary the groupings for many different activities and projects. In this way, you provide an opportunity for students to work with many others with whom they might not generally interact. This situation is not unlike what we expect for adults, who seldom have the opportunity to choose our workmates for a given project or committee.

  3. Forming teams

    There are often times at school when students need to be assigned to teams (e.g., spelling bees, baseball teams). The traditional approach is to pick a couple of students who excel at the task and ask them to pick their respective teams. For the students who are competent and socially accepted, this works well because they are among the first to be picked. For the students who are exceptional, either because of social-emotional problems or for another reason, this process can be devastating as they are seldom picked as desired team members. Their assignment becomes a publicly humiliating process as the two captains debate as to which one has to take the remaining student this time.

    Teachers do not mean to create difficult social situations that provide a context for bullying for the most vulnerable students. But when they do not consider peer dynamics and reputations, the situation can be shameful, painful, and alienating for these students. Suggested strategies are:

    • Form the teams through a random process, such as drawing names from a hat, the colour shoes children are wearing, or birthday months.
    • Form the teams with some designed process whereby there are standard groupings for a given week for all activities, and then the groups change the following week.
  4. Free time

    Social architecture is also an important consideration for children's free time, such as at lunch or recess. Children who bully as a group should be kept apart as much as possible as they tend to spur each other on in bullying behaviour. Our research shows that when one child is bullying, they often coerce others to join in.

    If teachers are aware of groups that have been bullying and have not responded to the strategies listed above, such as the Method of Shared Concern, See Here, and the Support Group Approach (see here), it is important to direct children to play apart to reduce the likelihood of bullying and to protect children who are being victimized. Free time and free range on the playground is a privilege, not a right. This privilege can be taken away and earned back through the educational consequences we discussed earlier.


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All of the strategies suggested for the yellow light area children are suitable for the children in the red light area whose behaviour is of the most concern. It is important to begin with the least intensive strategies and work up until the child begins to show progress in developing positive relationship skills, attitudes, and motivations.

Who are the "red light" children?

A small group of children will not be able to benefit sufficiently from these strategies. They will continue to make mistakes and use their power aggressively, but will not receive enough support to learn from them. The children who continue to engage in repeated, serious bullying may be at great risk for continuing on a pathway with troubled relationships through adolescence and into adulthood.

It is important to recognize that the children in the red light zone are likely to both bully others and be victimized themselves. There are remarkable opportunities to bring in support for these children when their social development pathways are still flexible and they have not become marginalized in the school system and alienated from it.

Seek outside support

For these children with persistent, serious problems with bullying, intervention will need to be intensive and systemic (i.e., including support of parents). In these cases, a referral to a children's mental health centre or school professional will be required to provide additional support for positive development. The child must be referred for discussion at the school's team meeting to involve other professionals in the intervention plan. The School Team should also discuss whether it is necessary to plan on restricting the child's time at school to only a partial school day schedule with a gradual re-introduction of the full day, or any other special accommodations that may be necessary.

Involve the parents

Parents are essential partners in this process. If teachers are having difficulties with the child at school, it is likely that parents are also having difficulties at home. Taking time to explore how the child is at home and whether he or she bullies parents and siblings may open the door to parents' awareness and cooperation.

Teachers need to make sure they find ways to involve parents in the plans to seek additional treatment for their children. The counsellor assigned by the School Team could work with the family to make a referral for appropriate counselling outside of the school, or to reconnect with any counselling or children's services worker who may have had involvement with the family in the past. Raising children in stressful circumstances is most challenging. But keeping communication lines open with parents may lead to small steps that work; parents feeling respected and better able to share information in the long run, ultimately resulting in a better home-school partnership.

Once a child is receiving additional supports at a community clinic, it is essential that the lines of communication between home and school are kept open (with parental consent). To maintain the improvements through interventions for children with serious relationship problems, such as bullying, it is important that the skills are transferred and practiced in many other settings, such as school.

You can make a difference

Children with serious bullying problems pose a particular challenge because they have spent years learning how to use aggression to gain power and control over others. It takes time for them to establish other behavioural patterns and see the rewards of engaging in a prosocial manner with positive leadership. If there is one adult to champion a child and recognize his or her strengths, this support can often be enough to shift a child from a troubled to a healthy pathway. Teachers are often these champions!


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There are many effective strategies for creating a school and classroom environment that promotes positive interactions and minimizes bullying. In essence, these are strategies to prevent bullying from moving from the Green Light Zone to a higher, more troubling level.
 
Be a positive role model
Teachers set the tone in the school, and adolescents are sensitive to the tone and behaviour of their teachers. It is important for teachers to remember to speak the way they want students to speak and to behave in a positive manner to set an example. If teachers are supportive and respectful of their students’ differences and difficulties, most students will adopt that style.
While teaching is a rewarding profession, it is also a challenging one where teachers are “on stage” every moment of the school day. It’s natural to become tired and frustrated with difficult students, but there is a danger in letting these feelings show or affect your behaviour. If teachers make demeaning comments to troubled students (e.g., “How many times do I have to tell you things again and again? Why can't you remember anything?"), they provide a vivid model of bullying behaviour, and inadvertently give the other students in the class permission to bully the troubled peers.
 
Work with students to develop clear guidelines for behaviour
Students need clear guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not. At the beginning of the school year, encourage student participation in creating a few key rules for the classroom. These rules can be posted and serve as a reminder to all. The beginning of the school year is also the best (though not the only) time to put issues of bullying on the table. Topics to touch on include:
·         understanding the full range of bullying behaviours, from teasing, to harassment, social exclusion, and so on
·         what might be effective to say and do when being bullied or when one witnesses bullying
·         the importance of trying positive strategies to escape or defuse a bullying situation rather than trying to use aggression to discourage those doing the bullying. (Note, research shows that if a young person who is being bullied responds aggressively, the bullying is likely to continue and may accelerate.)
 
Ensure that consequences are appropriate, timely, and consistent
Appropriate consequences for bullying must be educational and should match the severity of the bullying behaviours. Examples of educational consequences might include:
·         reading and reporting on a story or novel about a person who is bullied or victimized,
·         writing an essay or poem of what it feels like to be victimized,
·         apologizing, in person or in writing
·         trying to repair the relationship problem
Consequences must be applied immediately and consistently in order to have an impact.
 
Apply consequences to all students involved in bullying
It is important to recognize that a bullying episode rarely involves just one student. One student may be the instigator or primary actor, but others may be watching, joining in, or actively encouraging the bullying. Those present during bullying and are not part of the solution by intervening in some way, are part of the problem. They must be included in the discussion and consequences for bullying. Consequences or interventions must be monitored closely and documented to ensure aggression does not reoccur.
There are many creative and positive strategies for addressing bullying problems that focus on the group of students involved in a bullying episode. One of these, developed by Anatole Pikas, is the “Method of Shared Concern”. With this method, a trained teacher, administrator, or counsellor speaks to each involved student individually to help them gain an understanding and show empathy for the victimized person. When all students have shown some recognition that their bullying has caused distress to another and that this is a problem, the group is brought together for a common agreement that the bullying must stop, at the very least for peaceful co-existence. Follow up is essential.
A similar method is the “Support Group Approach” (formerly the “No Blame Approach”) developed by Barbara Maines and George Robinson. They advocate that trained staff work with students as a group from the start. When students reach consensus that their behaviour is inappropriate and causing distress, the adult establishes a verbal contract with the students to engage positively with the victimized person and avoid bullying. Follow up with both the victimized student and those who have been involved in bullying is essential.

Continue to monitor the situation and apply further consequences if needed
Follow up is essential with students engaged in bullying, because this pattern of interacting may be difficult to stop if peers continue to reinforce it with their attention. If one consequence for bullying is not sufficient, then the discipline needs to be progressive (i.e., escalating in severity), but at the same time still educational. For example, if a student is engaged in excluding another from the lunch table, and continues to exclude and isolate the victim even after intervention, a possible next step might be to have the student spend lunchtime alone for one or more days.
 
Help students understand their behaviour
We all learn by making mistakes and adolescents sometimes need help with understanding that. Almost all children explore their power through bullying. Most recognize that they are hurting others and stop. Those who continue to bully may need help understanding the seriousness of their behaviour, the impacts on others, and the peer dynamics that may be leading them to bully. Teachers can try teaching these concepts in the same way that any other curriculum content might be taught, including by assigning homework, projects or extra practice.
 
Proceed one step at a time
Effective discipline unfolds in many small steps with increasing consequences, each of which teaches something.
 
Focus on positive behaviour, including yours
All children, including adolescents, thrive on positive reinforcement. It is the catalyst for positive social development. Researchers have estimated that for any kind of peak performance students should get 10 positive consequences to every negative. Hence it is vital that teachers recognize and encourage students when they are engaging in healthy relationship behaviours, rather than only paying attention when they see bullying or negative interactions. That is, catch them relating appropriately and give them positive feedback right then and there. Examples of comments might include:
·         ”I’m impressed with the mature way you guys settled your disagreement.”
·         “That was a respectful way to ask him to stop. I like that.”
·         “Man, you guys are working together like a well-oiled machine! Well done!”
·         “The whole class cheered him on to solve that tough math problem. That was very cool and it’s one reason why I love this class.”
Such a positive approach fosters a sense of optimism that the students can change their behaviour for the better. When adults invest positively in youth, it pays dividends at home, school, and in the community.
In responding to bullying, it is important that adults model positive problem-solving strategies and avoid the appearance of “bullying the bully”. If students are disciplined in a harsh way, they take away the message that it’s acceptable to bully, but only if you’re an authority figure. Youngsters who bully need positive relationships with adults in order to learn how to be positive with their peers. Teachers and parents can promote respect and positive relationships by noting and reinforcing even small behavioural steps in the right direction.
 
Remember that bullying often occurs when adults aren’t looking
Students are aware that teachers disapprove of bullying, so bullying in the classroom is most likely to occur when the teacher is otherwise occupied or out of the room. As well, students use verbal and social forms of bullying that are subtle and hard to catch. Similarly, studies show that outside the classroom students are more likely to bully in locations that are crowded and not closely monitored by teachers.
With an understanding of the nature and subtle forms of bullying, as well as the peer dynamics of bullying, teachers and other supervising adults may be more equipped to identify when it is occurring. Sometimes young people who are being victimized will not speak up because of fear or shame. These students may be more open to talk about what happened in a private conversation. If they explain that they are being bullied, thank them for their courage and openness and assure them that you will help to keep them safe.
 
Stay connected with the family
Note: In many jurisdictions adolescents have legal privacy rights that include the right to refuse consent for teachers to share information with parents. The following assumes that such consent, if required, has been obtained.
Regular and open communication with parents regarding their child's development is essential. Alerting parents as soon as possible when a student has been observed to have relationship problems facilitates collaboration to offer immediate support.
Parents are important partners for schools in managing adolescent students, and the students benefit when the messages and expectations for appropriate social behaviour are consistent across home and school. Emphasising the importance of healthy relationships, positive problem solving, and social responsibility is crucial both at home and school. Some parents may need support in understanding just how important this can be.


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Adolescents who are experiencing some problems with bullying behaviours require all of the strategies described in the green light area plus a bit more intensive, focused support.
Students who repeatedly bully others need support to develop a variety of skills, including:
  • empathy (identifying with how others' feel)
  • emotional and/or behavioural self-control
  • how to cope with their own feelings (e.g., sadness, worry, fear)
  • positive social interaction with peers
  • positive leadership
  • positive problem solving
  • recognition of, and resistance to negative peer pressure
     
There are many school-based programs available that help students develop these skills (e.g., Character Education), but teachers and other school-based professionals can also discourage bullying through informal coaching in “teachable moments” throughout the day. Guidance counsellors, physical education teachers, sports coaches and itinerant mental health professionals are obvious staff who can contribute here, but any teacher who has a warm, caring relationship with a student can provide support for the development of the mature social and emotional skills listed above. The key is to act early when bullying behaviours seem to be emerging or getting worse.
Adolescents who bully even at a mild “yellow light” level need adult support to boost their capacity and motivation for successful relationships. They may benefit from help in recognizing the impact of their behaviours on others and finding positive ways of building status and acceptance in their peer group. Studies have shown that students who bully tend to be overly susceptible to negative peer pressure. However, they can be helped to recognize the group dynamics, such as peer attention, that lead them to bully, and can learn to develop strategies to stand up to peer pressure. With focused support, these students’ bullying behaviours should decrease so that referral to a professional is not required.
 
 

 
1.      Assess the Problem
Because adolescents who bully differ so widely, it is important to assess a student’s specific difficulties and motivations in order to tailor the interventions for that student. There are many approaches to assessment:
 
  • Talk with the student
It is important to speak with the student to gain insight into his or her perception of the bullying problem. This can help determine what the motivation might be to engage in bullying. Try to identify any stresses in the student’s life that may be underlying the use of power and aggression with peers. For example, some young people who are victimized in one setting turn around and bully in another setting where they can assert power and control. On the other hand, some students may simply be enjoying the sense of power over more vulnerable students with little concern for their feelings.
 
  • Talk with other students
Obviously discretion is extremely important here, but it can be instructive to speak with other youngsters about the kinds of bullying behaviour they have observed, participated in, or experienced. Even if they don’t want to “name names”, their knowledge of the situation will always be far more accurate and detailed than that of teachers or other adults in the school.
  • Observe
Observations of students in class, during transitions, and at lunch may also give clues as to the nature of their bullying problems. Is there a pattern as to when they bully, such as when they are with younger students, with certain friends, or when they are not engaged in structured activities? Are other students encouraging the bullying by paying attention to it or even joining in? Does it occur in only certain locations?
 
2.       Identify skills needed
 
Using the information gathered above, and perhaps in collaboration with colleagues, try to determine which social/emotional skills the student needs to develop, such as:
·         empathy,
·         emotional and/or behavioural self control
·         managing feelings, e.g., sadness, worry, fearfulness
·         positive social interaction
·         positive problem solving
·         resisting negative peer pressure
 
3.       Consult With Parents
Parents are partners, and it is important to keep them informed (assuming the adolescent student has consented). As well, it is important to consult with them in creating a plan for school and home to encourage positive social behaviour and reduce bullying. Parents are also helpful in providing further information, for example, if and how bullying occurs at home, and the age at which it began. Note that parents are not always concerned about bullying, particularly in their sons, and may not be cooperative in reducing the problem. In such cases it is best to indicate that the school does take the problem seriously and will work to reduce it even without parental assistance. In such cases it is still important, perhaps even more so, that parents be kept informed.

4.       Educate the Student
Even with adolescent students who might have a long history of difficulties with bullying, it’s imperative to discuss again what bullying is, why it is not acceptable, and the specific consequences that will ensue for bullying. This discussion must occur consistently and immediately after a bullying problem has been identified.

5.       Provide Consequences That Are Educational
Consider that as well as negative or punishing consequences, students also need positive lessons to learn when they make the mistake of bullying others. Even if the consequence is simply “a lecture”, include a discussion of what happened, why it happened that way, and what they could have done differently to avoid bullying. Consequences should also help students to develop the social/emotional skills they are lacking. A simple example would be requiring the student to read a short story with an anti-bullying theme.  Examples of other educational consequences include:
·         replacing a privilege such as free time in a spare period or a sports team practice, with something that develops social/emotional skills such as tutoring younger students (under supervision), or reading and reporting on a novel or story with a particular emphasis on understanding the impact of bullying
·      asking the student to make amends, for example with a letter of apology
·      having the student help out around the school with younger students in the library etc.
·      any other consequence that provides a certain amount of punishment for bullying, but allows the student to be recognized for positive behaviours and for leadership potential.
When delivering consequences, focus on the bullying behaviour and avoid labelling the student as the problem or as a "bully". Remember that relationships are key. Adolescents are willing to work at change to please adults they value, trust and/or feel close to. It is important, therefore, to maintain a positive relationship and avoid being hostile in punishing inappropriate behaviour.
 
6. Provide Ongoing Positive Support
Youngsters are most likely to improve their behaviour when they receive positive support from the adults in their lives. There are many ways to approach supporting students who tend to bully, including:
·         providing discrete praise and attention when they use appropriate             behaviour to gain peer approval (e.g., contributing to class discussions,       providing ideas for activities, volunteering in the community)
·         rewarding attempts at leadership such as leading off a class discussion,    volunteering answers in class, offering to lead a group, getting involved in    school politics such as student council
·         meeting in private with the student occasionally to discuss progress and    expressing pride in their efforts.
Consulting with other teachers who are familiar with the student may generate other ways to provide positive feedback when “catching them behaving well”.
 
7. Keep Records and Monitor
A one-time effort to support students who show yellow light levels of bullying behaviour will likely not be enough. Support strategies will probably be required for some time to combat the effects of negative peer pressure or whatever else underlies this mild yet worrisome behaviour. It will be important then for the interventions to be systematic and progressive, and equally important to document the bullying problems and the consequences implemented. This record will provide a basis for future interventions and for reporting to administrators and parents.
 
8. Build on the positives with positives
Development of relationship skills is enhanced when adults can pick up problems and provide coaching on the spot. Adults need to anticipate situations when problems may arise and provide momentary reminders and encouragement to:
·         think of the needs of others
·         tune into the moral compass (i.e., the inner sense of right and wrong that we all have)
·         remember expectations
This may help students to refrain from using power and aggression to control or distress others and to find positive ways to achieve power and status.
Several commercially available programs designed to help develop these social skills have been shown in studies to be relatively effective. One example (though there are many others) is the S.N.A.P. program (Stop Now and Plan) which provides teachers with strategies that they can use to support students who are experiencing problems with bullying.  There are simple things teachers can do in the classroom and around the school to foster these skills as well. Below are examples of strategies to use in developing skills in specific areas.
 
Strategies for promoting empathy
 
Goal: Help students recognize and label their own and others' feelings.
This is an extremely important goal since a well-developed sense of empathy makes it almost impossible to bully another person. Empathy is similar to sympathy, but more at a “gut level”. That is, one doesn’t just understand how others feel, but can identify with and share those feelings. Development of empathy begins by learning to identify our own feelings, a skill referred to as “Emotional Self Awareness” in the Emotional Intelligence literature.
Support for identifying feelings can be provided through systematic social skills programs, but also in the moment (e.g., "You look upset, what are you feeling?"). As well, there are many points within the high school curriculum where feelings can be discussed and related back to students’ own experiences.
Being able to recognize one’s own feelings facilitates learning to read others' feelings. This can be supported again in "teachable moments", for example, when a student has bullied someone and is immediately led through a discussion of the effect this has on the victim or target (e.g., "How do you think John feels right now, after you called him that name?").
To explore some additional strategies designed to promote empathy teachers can research approaches such as:
·         role playing
·         classroom discussions
·         novels, short stories, movies or TV programs about victimization
·         support group approaches such as in the No Blame Approach (No Blame Approach)
·         the Method of Common Concern (an intervention for bullying, first devised by the Swedish psychologist, Anatol Pikas)
·         Restorative Justice programs (Common concern)
·         the Roots of Empathy program (Roots of Empathy)
 
Strategies to help students control their emotions and behaviour
 
Goal: Help students stop and think about the consequences of bullying by learning to control or “regulate” emotions and by planning an effective problem-solving strategy.

Teach strategies for controlling emotions and behaviour
Although bullying often happens in a planned or purposeful way, it can also erupt as a result of anger, resentment or some other emotion. In fact, some young people with bullying problems have missed important early childhood     lessons on how to control their emotions and behaviours. These students need support in learning to recognize the signs that they are becoming angry, agitated and/or frustrated, and then in learning strategies to control those            emotions and the resulting behaviour.
These lessons can be delivered through systematic anger management programs, but might be more effective in this yellow light zone if they are offered and rehearsed in the heat of the moment when difficulties arise. It is             important, of course to bear in mind that teens react differently in front of the peer group than they do in private or in small group situations.
Teachers and parents can be effective if they are tuned into the youngster’s  experiences and are able to recognize when he or she is becoming agitated. This provides an opportunity to discretely suggest the young person take          note of how he or she is feeling right now (e.g., heart pounding, tense), and then arrange for a private discussion soon after to focus on strategies for calming down (e.g., counting to 10, breathing in and out for 8 seconds each,         relaxation techniques, etc.)
 
Talk about the role of emotions in bullying behaviour
Related to the above, when emotions, especially anger or frustration, are running high students might act before thinking. It is important to help them recognize what situations trigger a flood of emotions that tempt them to lash    out by bullying others. Understanding what the triggers are will help students resist giving in to the temptation to act out their emotions through bullying vulnerable individuals.
 
Pick up on "teachable moments"
While difficult in the secondary school environment, picking up on moment-to-moment opportunities for coaching will help students learn what is acceptable and what is not. It can also provide immediate feedback on the impact of         bullying on others. When teachers observe even minor bullying in the classroom, in the hallways, or on the school grounds, it provides one of these "teachable moments". In these moments, students can identify their own and others'  feelings and can learn by "rewinding" the action and replaying the interaction in a way that is not hurtful to others. Although it requires time and sensitivity to peer influences, intervening in the teachable moment can provide great      potential not only for learning, but also for setting a positive tone for interactions in the school. Of course, this kind of intervention is far more effective when the teacher has previously established a supportive, positive relationship with the student.
 
Deliver constructive, educational consequences
As mentioned earlier, it is important to provide consequences that teach something about the attitudes, skills and emotional control that we all need for healthy relationships. When constructive consequences are used, they not only provide important education, but also reduce the likelihood that the student will become angrier and retaliate against the victim to discourage reporting bullying  issues.
 
Strategies for supporting students with “internalizing problems” (e.g. sad, worried, fearful)
Goal: Help the student develop skills for coping with sadness, worries or fears.
  • Be aware of the link between bullying and sadness, worries or fears
      Some adolescents who bully are also sad and experience excessive worries or fearfulness. These are the youngsters who are most likely to be involved both in bullying others and being victimized themselves. With their emotional problems, these children have difficulties establishing friendships. They rely on negative strategies, such as bullying, to get attention and to gain acceptance.
  • Seek out established programs to help students deal with these feelings
            As with other problem areas, some adolescent students who are sad, worried or fearful will benefit from established programs. One such program for anxiety,  developed by Phillip Kendall, is the Coping Cat program (see Coping Cat). Children and adolescents who experience excessive worrying, fearfulness and/or sadness need help recognizing their feelings and being able to reframe situations and cope with their emotions.
            Other similar programs are available and might be effective with yellow light levels of these negative emotions, but teachers should consult with Guidance staff or mental health staff about their usefulness for this age of young person.
·         Engage parents
As already mentioned, it is important to ensure that the adolescent student’s rights to privacy are not breached.
            The emotional problems that adolescents experience often emerge from troubled family relationships. It is important, therefore, to engage parents in  supporting children with emotional problems.
            To engage parents in a sensitive manner, teachers are encouraged to have a supportive discussion, preferably face-to-face. In this discussion, teachers can describe their observations and concerns regarding the student, and inquire as to how the parents see their child with regard to these specific problems. Teachers can build supportive strategies collaboratively with parents so that, as much as possible, the youngster will get the same messages, encouragement and expectations at home and at school.
            It is important to keep in touch regarding any improvements and challenges. If these so called “internalizing emotions” escalate beyond the yellow light zone, teachers should recommend a referral to mental health services either within the school system or within the community.
·         Be a positive role model
            As with other forms of effective relationship skills, adults are constantly on stage as models that adolescents might emulate. It is essential, therefore, that  teachers and parents:
o   model positive coping strategies
o   discuss their own frustrations, fears or worries
o   talk about how they manage to solve problems and remain positive, even under stress.
 
Strategies to help students with social skills problems
Goal: Help students develop the social skills, attitudes, and motivation to interact positively with others.
·         There is a wide range of social abilities among adolescents who bully. Some are highly skilled and perceptive, while others are unskilled in social situations and are not able to recognize the impact of their behaviour on others. Observations of and discussions with children and their parents will reveal their level of social skills and provide direction for support.
·         Social skills that may need developing include:
joining a group of peers
responding to provocation
turn taking, particularly in conversation
recognizing another's feelings
controlling anger
thinking about right and wrong
getting positive attention
 
Existing programs
There are several tested and proven social skills programs, such as the S.N.A.P. program (Stop Now and Plan), at Stop Now and Plan. Programs such as SNAP provide teachers with ideas and strategies to support students who are experiencing problems with bullying. Each student will need support in developing particular skills, depending on individual strengths and weaknesses. But beyond these programs, which may or may not be practical for any given teacher, there are strategies that should be helpful in the Yellow Light Zone, including:
  • seize on "teachable moments" for coaching
            With social skills, as well as other skills that student’s may lack, moment-to- moment coaching can help them learn how to engage in a positive way with peers and adults. Using teachable moments (again being sensitive to peer group pressures), encourage the student to "rewind" and try again in a positive way. Some adolescents need exactly this type of repeated lesson to develop the skills  that they should have started to learn early in elementary school.
  • involve parents in planning strategies and supporting the student
            Consistency from school to home is important, but teachers often report that the parents of students with social skills problems are difficult to engage. These     parents may not have had the necessary support to develop their own social and problem-solving skills and may therefore be struggling with the challenges of             parenting an adolescent.
·         Students who experience social skill problems at school most likely also experience these problems at home and in community settings. Again, being sensitive to an adolescent’s legal right to privacy (even with regard to his or her parents), teachers can try to raise concerns in a positive and supportive manner. Inquire about how the parents perceive their child and whether they have seen any of these social skill problems at home. To engage parents in a sensitive manner, teachers are encouraged to have a supportive discussion, preferably face-to-face. It is important to approach these discussions in a positive, solution-focused manner. Other tips for engaging parents include:
  • Focus on the student’s strengths. Every student has strengths, and parents will be more receptive if teachers focus first on strengths and then on the challenges that a youngster is experiencing.
  • Be concrete. It is important to be concrete in describing observations of difficulties that a student has been experiencing socially, and any strategies that have already been used to promote social skill development.
  • Collaborate on solutions. Once a common goal of helping the young person to develop the skills for safe and healthy relationships is established, teachers can build supportive strategies collaboratively with parents, so that the student experiences similar or compatible approaches at home and at school.
  • Stay in touch. It is important to keep in touch with parents regarding the child's improvements and challenges.
  • Work together to keep track of progress
·         One strategy here is to keep a communication book that highlights the successes the student has had during the day at home and at school, as well as any difficulties encountered. Although the purpose is to facilitate home-school communication, this book would be the property and responsibility of the student. Positive comments should significantly outnumber negative comments since studies have shown that:
to change behaviour young people need about 10 positives to every negative, and
only positive reinforcement reliably improves social interaction abilities.
 
·         If the home-school communication and coordination are not adequate to support the student’s development of social skills, then teachers should consider recommending a referral to mental health services either within the school system or within the community. Bear in mind that adolescent students will need to be a part of the conversation here, since they can, and often will, be reluctant to seek community-based counselling.
 
Strategies for positive leadership skills
Goal: To help the student find positive ways to achieve power and status.
Bullying is about power. Adolescents who bully want to be recognized as powerful within their peer groups and want to feel a sense of control. This is not necessarily a bad thing since we as adults have this kind of power and value it. The important distinction for young people, however, is to obtain and use their power positively rather than negatively. Bullying is a negative way to obtain and use of power, but students who bully may well have leadership potential. The following are a few suggestions for engaging students who bully in positive leadership activities:
  • Students who bully can be taught the steps for effective conflict mediation and positive leadership by volunteering for peer mediator training if available at the school.
  • Students who bully may find it rewarding to be a buddy for a younger child who is isolated or experiencing some social difficulties.
  • Students who bully might prepare and deliver a presentation for their classmates and other grades on bullying and why it is damaging to relationships.
  • There may be tasks within the school that would enhance a bullying student's reputation in a positive way.
  • Students who bully may have skills in a particular area, such as music, art, or computers which would allow them to help others who are having difficulties in these areas.
  • For some students who bully, running for student counsel or some other position of leadership might be an experience whereby they learn the power of positive relationships in attaining a goal.
In all of these positive leadership activities, it is important to monitor the interactions to ensure that students are in fact using their power positively rather than negatively.
 
Strategies for encouraging alternative problem solving
Goal: To help the student:
  • recognize and analyse problems that need to be solved
  • think about strategies other than bullying to solve problems
  • consider the potential outcomes of the various solutions.
 
Adolescent social problems can be quite challenging. Those students who often resort to bullying tend to be unskilled in social problem-solving. What’s worse,  the youngsters they tend to pick on are often similarly unskilled. The following strategies might help:
  • Directly train students in positive approaches
            Students who lack emotional and behavioural control, may rely on bullying as their first problem-solving strategy. However, bullying does not solve problems in the long term; in fact, it often will create more problems. Training these students to stop and think about what else they could say or do in difficult or frustrating social situations is one way to promote effective problem solving.
·         Seize "teachable moments" for coaching
            Moment-to-moment coaching is a good method for supporting alternative problem solving. When students are facing social problems, observant teachers can subtly intervene and coach them to consider a variety of strategies to approach the problem. Here are a couple of example conversation starters:
o   "I noticed yesterday that you seemed a little aggressive when you joined a group for lunch and they looked a bit uncomfortable. Did you notice that? Do you want to discuss some ideas for joining in more smoothly and keeping things friendlier?"
o   "In first period I was a bit disappointed at how angry you were getting in the discussion about women’s rights. The other kids didn’t buy some of your arguments and that seemed to frustrate you. Want to talk about ways you could have calmed things down and come across as more reasonable and persuasive?”
·         Be a positive role model
            As with other forms of effective relationship skills, adults are constantly on stage as models for adolescent's learning. It is essential, therefore, that teachers model the many positive ways to approach and try to solve social problems.
 
Strategies for teaching resistance to negative peer pressure
Goal: Help students to tune in to their own sense of right and wrong and to cope with pressure from peers to engage in antisocial behaviours.
Studies suggest that kids who bully are more apt to respond to negative peer pressure than those who do not bully. Deviant and risk-taking behaviours such as bullying often result in a great deal of peer attention, and this can enhance a youngster’s power and status in the group. An adolescent who feels that bullying is the only behaviour that gains him or her that peer group acceptance, will always feel pressure to behave in that way. To combat this problem consider the following strategies:
·         Raise awareness about peer pressure. The first step in responding to peer pressure is becoming aware of it and self-aware of how it affects us. The teacher can lead class discussions on this important topic, or have one-to-one, private discussions with individual students. Young people may readily admit that they went along with others in a group that was bullying because they did not want to look “uncool” or to become the next victim. If students can learn to stop and think about peer group pressure to behave in ways that don't feel quite right, they may be able to tune into their deeper sense of right and wrong and decide not to follow along.
·         Explore possible responses to peers. Youngsters not only need to be able to decide that something is wrong, but they need a ready response to peers who are pressuring them. Talking through what they might say or do when pressured to bully or otherwise behave inappropriately, can arm them with a variety of responses to save face and defuse the situation. For example, students can feel empowered simply by rehearsing responses such as:
o   "That doesn't feel right to me."
o    "That doesn't sound fair."
o   “I think that will get me in trouble”
o   “I’m simply not comfortable with that.”
·         Build self-esteem.   Studies have shown that adolescents with strong self-esteem are more able to resist negative peer pressure. Although some of the determinants of self-esteem are genetic, there are still some things teachers can do to help build this important trait in their adolescent students. Examples include:
o     Help to build a sense of accomplishment. Focussing on each student’s strengths is the beginning point here, but it is equally important to teach students to set goals, both long and short term, and to celebrate as each is    achieved. Students who struggle academically, for example, are often surprised when taking a look back at where they were one year ago, and seeing how far they have actually progressed. Similarly, students who bully need to celebrate any improvements in that behaviour, as well as being reminded that teachers are aware of those areas where they excel.
o   Be a warm, caring teacher, even with regard to those students who are struggling with bullying issues. Current research on resiliency clearly shows that adolescents who enjoy a warm, caring relationship with even one adult        have higher self-esteem, are better able to rebound from setbacks, and are more responsive to the needs of others.
o   Accept each student for who they are. How we see students and the way we  feel about them are difficult to hide. Teachers who dislike a student or have low expectations of him or her will communicate those feelings without even     being aware of it. As professionals, teachers need to accept that each student, especially in adolescence, is a work in progress and can still be shaped and nurtured to become a better human being.
 
Beyond the Student’s Skills
Besides the student’s skills and capacities as they relate to the development of bullying problems, we also need to consider the social context. The family environment, classroom environment, and peer group have strong influences on the development of positive and negative relationship skills. Therefore, when considering interventions, the focus needs to extend beyond skill development in the students who engage in bullying and encompass the social contexts in which they are living. Once again, the peer group is crucial:
  • Negative influences of peers. Teachers have the opportunity to shape both the classroom and the peer environments to ensure that they are promoting positive interactions and minimizing opportunities for negative interactions. Negative interactions within the peer group have been called "deviancy training". Research has shown that antisocial youth reinforce each other for deviant behaviours, thereby increasing the likelihood that such behaviours will occur. We see this happening when observing student behaviour; the bystanders to bullying spend most of their time giving positive attention and reinforcement to the youngster who initiated the bullying. Furthermore, when others join in bullying, the youngster who started it is more likely to become excited and aroused and more aggressive. Peers who are bystanders and reinforce bullying are a critical part of the problem.
  • Positive influences of peers. Peers can be involved in positive ways to be a critical part of the solution to bullying. It has been shown that peers intervene in more bullying episodes than their teachers, perhaps because they are more likely than teachers to be there to see the episode. When students intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds about 60% of the time. This is a remarkable response rate.  Students may be particularly responsive to peer interventions because of issues of power and status. If other students are challenging bullying behaviours, it can signal a potential loss of power and status for those doing the bullying. For those who try to stop the bullying there is not only a potential increase in power and status, but also an enhanced sense of social responsibility. One goal is to ensure that students associate intervention to stop bullying with positive characteristics such as bravery, integrity and leadership, so that they will be inclined to intervene when they see someone being bullied. If they do not feel safe intervening directly, they can tell a trusted adult about the problem. Teachers can facilitate this by differentiating “reporting” from “squealing” or “tattling”: “reporting” is done to get someone out of trouble, while “tattling” is done to get someone into trouble.
  • Strategies for promoting peer intervention and reporting. Research indicates that students are less likely to continue to be victimized if they tell an adult. But there is a challenge in creating a climate that encourages reporting. In some student groups there is a strong cultural taboo against “ratting” on peers, regardless of how wrong their behaviour might seem.  This culture of silence only serves to reinforce the status and power of those who are bullying; therefore, it is important to have open discussions about bullying and build consensus regarding the importance of safe and healthy relationships. Students need help developing social responsibility and positive strategies for intervening and reporting if they cannot or do not feel safe intervening to stop bullying themselves.
In a Norwegian program, Dr. Dan Olweus recommends that teachers help the students to develop a set of rules to encourage positive relationships and discourage bullying. If students agree it is important to ensure that everyone is safe and included, and that no one is being victimized, then it creates an expectation for intervening to stop bullying and reporting when someone is not safe.
Since students are more likely to buy in when they generate the strategies and responses themselves, it is important to involve them in frequent guided discussions about what they can say or do when they observe bullying. Teachers play a critical role in guiding these discussions to ensure that students are suggesting and endorsing positive, rather than aggressive, problem solving strategies. As student groups develop a list of possible intervention responses, teachers can push them to think about what they can do if their first, second, and perhaps third attempts to stop bullying are not effective. The final response should be to tell a teacher or other trusted adult.
Students should also be encouraged to intervene collectively. Intervention strategies can be both verbal (e.g., labelling bullying and stating that it is not fair) and involve action (e.g., taking the victimized student out of the group by suggesting another activity).
Students may benefit from role-playing these strategies so that they feel comfortable doing them. Role plays, presentations, and workshops can promote both self confidence in carrying out the intervention strategies and a general understanding within the class and school that stopping bullying and promoting healthy relationships are everyone's responsibility.
            Perhaps the most important factor in engaging students in this form of social responsibility is ensuring that teachers and administrators are supportive and responsive when children come forward to report their concerns. Since bullying is a relationship problem, it requires relationship solutions: schools' responses to bullying must be supportive in providing students with the relationship skills they are lacking.
Social Architecture in the Classroom
To understand the kinds of interventions required in classrooms and peer groups to reduce bullying behaviours, consider the metaphor of "social architecture” where teachers design or structure the environment to affect their students’ social experiences. By optimizing the opportunities for positive peer interactions and discouraging negative peer interactions, carefully designed classrooms can limit the chances for troubled students to reinforce one another’s deviant behaviour.
Teachers can be social architects at many levels to reduce the opportunities for aggressive and other forms of antisocial behaviour. Examples include:
  • Seating arrangements. Something as basic as where students sit makes a difference for those who have a tendency to bully.
o   Some students who bully are disruptive and there is a tendency to move them to the margins of the classroom where they find themselves removed from normal peer groupings. However, when they are at the margins, these difficult students tend to find others just like themselves, and that is when the deviancy training begins and trouble starts to erupt for the teacher.
Research shows that a significant risk for frequent and serious bullying is having friends who also bully.
If, rather than disruptive, the students who bully are highly socially skilled and manipulative, it is also important to think about their placement so they cannot create group dynamics that shun and exclude a peer right within the class.
In planning seating arrangement then:
  1. be sure to separate groups of students who bully together to reduce the opportunity for group dynamics that lead to bullying and promote  deviancy training
  2. try to ensure that a frequently victimized student is surrounded mostly by peers who are accepting, friendly and sociable.
  • Grouping students. When placing students in groups, it is important to be aware of the natural processes that unfold in peer interactions. For example, young people tend to associate with others who are similar to themselves. Therefore, when a teacher asks students to get into groups for an activity the students who are very strong in the subject will come together, the students who are athletic or artistic might come together and, unfortunately, the students who bully or are in an exclusionary clique will likely come together. Others will naturally be left out and the teacher will have to force one or more groups to include them.
However, many aspects of learning can be enhanced if the groups are diverse or at least random, rather than letting the natural groupings occur. Therefore, consider the two following example strategies for grouping students:
o   Depending on the nature of the assignment the teacher might group together one student who excels in the subject, one who is, say, artistic, one who is a strong leader, and one who might have learning or behavioural difficulties. (Remember that exceptional students also have strengths, and these diverse groupings might help other students see those strengths, especially if teachers subtly highlight them.)
o   Randomly assign students to groups and vary the groupings for different activities and projects. In this way, the teacher provides an opportunity for students to work with many others including some they might not otherwise have gotten to know. This situation is not unlike the adult world, where we seldom have the opportunity to choose the colleagues we work with.
  • Forming teams. There are often times when students need to be assigned to teams. One traditional approach is to pick students who excel at the task and ask them to pick their respective teams. For the students who are competent and socially accepted, this works well because they are among the first to be picked. For the students who are exceptional, either because of social-emotional problems or for any other reason, this process can be devastating as they are seldom picked as desired team members. In the worst-case scenario it becomes a publicly humiliating process as the two captains debate as to which one has to take the remaining student. Here the teacher has unintentionally created a difficult social situation that provides a context for bullying. When teachers do not consider peer dynamics and reputations, the situation can be agonizing, painful, and alienating for vulnerable students. To avoid these issues, consider strategies such as:
  1. forming teams randomly, by perhaps drawing names from a hat, or using the colour of the student’s shirts or sweaters, birthday months, etc.
  2. forming teams with a rational process whereby there are standard, teacher designated groupings for a given week for all activities, and then the groups change the following week.
  • Free time. Social architecture is also an important consideration for students’ free time, such as at lunch or spare period. Students who bully should be kept apart as much as possible as they tend to encourage one another to victimize others. Research shows that when engaged in bullying, students often try to manipulate or coerce others to join in. If a group of students that have been bullying together have not responded to the strategies listed above, it is important to keep them apart as much as possible to reduce the likelihood of bullying and to protect those who are being victimized. Free time and free movement around the school are privileges, not rights. These privileges can be taken away and earned back through the educational consequences discussed earlier.

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Note that all of the strategies suggested for the yellow light area behaviours are suitable for behaviours in the red light area. In fact, it is unwise to wait until bullying has reached red light levels to act. It is best to begin with the least intensive strategies and work up until the student begins to show progress in developing positive relationship skills, attitudes, and motivations.
 
Who are the "red light" students?
A small group of students will not be able to benefit sufficiently from the strategies described above. They will continue to make mistakes and use their power aggressively, but will not appear to learn from these experiences. These students who continue to engage in repeated, serious bullying may be at great risk for continuing on a pathway with troubled relationships through adolescence and into adulthood. Studies have also linked serious bullying to equally serious outcomes such as incarceration, substance abuse and marriage break-down. It is important to remember that adolescents in the red light zone are likely to both bully others and be victimized themselves. Therefore it is extremely important to try to provide support for these students before they become marginalized in the school system and alienated from it.
 
Seek outside support
For these students with persistent, serious problems with bullying, intervention will need to be intensive and systemic, including support from parents if at all possible.  A referral to a mental health centre or outside professional will be required to provide additional support that is intense enough to make a difference. The student should also be referred for discussion at a School Team meeting to involve other school or Board professionals in the intervention plan. As well, the School Team should discuss whether any special accommodations may be necessary, such as restricting the student to a partial-day schedule with a gradual re-introduction to full-day.
 
Suspension and expulsion
These are highly controversial strategies that clearly need to be considered where bullying crosses the line into very serious and possibly illegal red light behaviour such as violence, sexual harassment, threats and intimidation, theft and so on. Obviously teachers must involve the school administrators and other Board officials if the situation has escalated to this point.
 
Involve the parents
In spite of the caveats mentioned above about adolescent student’s legal rights to privacy, even to the exclusion of informing their parents, parents are essential partners at this red light level. If teachers are having difficulties with the student at school, it is likely that parents are also having difficulties at home. Taking time to explore how the young person behaves at home, especially if he or she bullies parents and siblings, may increase not only the parents' awareness but also their cooperation.
Teachers need to make sure they find ways to involve parents in the plans to seek additional treatment for their children. A school administrator or Guidance Counsellor could work with the family to make a referral for appropriate counselling outside of the school or to reconnect with any counselling or social services provider who had involvement with the family in the past.
Parenting adolescents in stressful circumstances is extremely challenging. But frequent, supportive communication from the school will ensure they feel respected and better able to share information. In the long run this should result in a better home-school partnership and ultimately may lead to small steps that work.
Once a youngster is receiving additional supports from a community-based mental health provider, it is essential that the lines of communication between home and school are kept open (with appropriate consent). Any improvements resulting from interventions such as counselling are more likely to be maintained if they can be supported and encouraged at school as well as at home.
 
Teachers can make a difference
Adolescents with serious bullying problems pose a particular challenge because they have spent years learning how to use aggression to gain power and control over others. It takes time for them to establish, and reap the rewards of, alternative behaviour patterns that are prosocial and put them in a position to provide positive leadership within their peer group. If there is one adult to champion a student and recognize his or her strengths, this support can often be enough to shift that young person from a troubled to a healthy pathway. Teachers are often these champions.


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