Dealing with bullying behavior in a school setting

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I am looking for some concrete practical tips for dealing with bullying behavior in a school setting. How can I work to change the bully's behavior? How can I help the victim avoid any further victimization?


I have included excerpts on Bullying and the Victim from our book, Positive Discipline: A Teacher's A-Z Guide.  Even though these excerpts relate directly to your question on these two behaviors there is still much to learn about why children misbehave, and how to encourage change. We can also learn more about the effectiveness of class meetings for the best way to prevent bullying by creating a sense of belonging and involving students in focusing on solutions.



There are bullies in most settings from the classroom to the workplace,  and from the sports field to the United States Senate. The person on top in a vertical relationship is a bully no matter how subtle the interplay.  Bullying is a means to forcing other people to act or agree to a course of action. Bullying frequently includes disparagement, physical aggression, insulting language, and threats or intimidation. It is important to realize that a bully is a person who feels inferior to those around him. At a subconscious level, bullies believe that their only significance in life, or their way to belong, comes from making themselves more powerful than others.

There is a type of fish, known as the puffer, that frightens off enemies by puffing itself up to a greater size. A bully is like a threatened puffer fish that is all puffed up and full of air. The best tool at the bully's disposal is the willingness of other people to be victims. When a bully meets weakness he thrives. When a bully encounters dignity and assertiveness he deflates into nothingness.

  1. Put the problem of bullying on the class-meeting agenda for students to work on together. Hearing the opinions of classmates often takes the sail out of a bully's wind.
  2. Focus on the ways in which the children are currently reacting to bullying. Tell them about the puffer fish. When they learn to change their response to bullying then the bullying is likely to cease.
  3. Seek positive outlets through which the person used to bullying others can use her power to contribute to the classroom. Remember that you want to deflate the bullying behavior and not the person doing the bullying. Brainstorm with your students about ways to foster a healthy sense of belonging and significance in people who use power in a hurtful way. 
Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems
  1. Discuss with your students reasons why people use bullying behaviors. Make sure you include adults' bullying tactics in the discussion, especially if you're working with students in middle school or high school.
  2. Read stories in which some characters bully others. Children's literature and folktales are rich with bullies. The witches, trolls, dragons, and monsters of fairy tales all disintegrate when other characters stand up to them. Be sure to note that force or violence isn't necessary to deflate those who seem powerful. After all, the Wizard of Oz turned out to be hardly more than a figment of the community's collective imagination after the man behind the curtain was revealed.
  3. Teach children how to assert their opinions and ask for what they want or need in a respectful manner. For example, children can learn to state, "I do not want to smoke a cigarette." Children who rely on bullying to get what they want can learn to say, "I would like to use the tetherball at recess today." Learning to state views and desires clearly is important for all children.
  4. Role-play assertive responses to bullying. Be sure to explore how an assertive response differs from an aggressive or violent response. Role-playing can help children identify which responses they may use. You may want to teach some basic tools, such as reflective listening, ignoring a provocation, problem solving, asking for help, and other positive discipline methods described throughout this book.
  5. Explain to your students that the most challenging bully of all is that voice that discourages and intimidates each and every person from the inside. Encourage them to discuss the messages they receive from their inner critics and ways they can deal with the "inner bully."



Do you have a victim in training? When adults step in and take responsibility every time problems arise a child may begin to see himself as powerless. His thought process goes like this: "I don't have any responsibility for what happens to me. It is always someone else's fault. And I can't do anything to solve the problem. I need to call in the big guns."

Continually rescuing students allows them to excuse themselves from accountability. The student who sees herself as a victim learns quickly that grievances about the behavior of others are an excellent way to get attention and sympathy--and to get the heat off herself. A victim decides that any problem she has with other students or with adults has nothing to do with her own behavior.

Victims don't learn how to solve problems or how to accept responsibility for the consequences of what they do. Instead they learn how to get others to commiserate with them and solve their problems. As a consequence their emotional development is hindered.

  1. Ask the student who sees himself as a victim to put his concerns on the class-meeting agenda. This encourages personal responsibility. Just by doing something with his problem the student experiences a feeling of control.
  2. Invite the student to fill out a what/how form.
    • How can you use what you learned in the future?
    • What suggestions do you have for solving the problem?
    • What did you learn from what happened?
    • How do you feel about what happened?
    • What caused it to happen?
    • What happened?
    • What were you trying to do or accomplish?
    • What/How Form
  3. Actively teach assertiveness skills. With very young children this means that when a classmate hits the child and he seeks assistance from an adult he learns to go back to his classmate and state clearly, "No hitting. I don't want you to hit me." For older students this involves making a similar statement: "Leave me alone. Listen to what I am saying." Teach students that another choice is to walk away from a situation with dignity.
  4. Notice the hoopla generated by the allegations of a young student who plays the victim. A satisfying outcry usually follows his report that a student once again hit him or took away the swing he was using. Instead of fussing, listen, and nod without saying anything, or simply reflect the facts from what you hear: "Tyrone took the swing away from you."
Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems
  1. Teach that each person has power over his or her actions.
  2. Explain to your students that when someone treats them in a mean or hurtful way it's their job either to state their needs clearly or to leave the situation with dignity. Invite them to role-play situations using these alternatives.
  3. Teach students about using a what/how form to learn from their experiences and to identify what role their behavior played in a situation. Explain that they may want to fill out the form just for their own understanding, to learn from their mistakes, or as a basis for problem solving with others later.
  4. Rather than protecting or rescuing a student from difficult situations assist her in planning a course of action and determining how to accomplish her goal.

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