Battling Bullying: A Whole-School Approach (page 2)

By — Committee for Children
Updated on May 20, 2009

Friendship Is a Buffer

Early in the program, students learn concrete skills for making and keeping friends. Research shows that having at least one friend acts as a buffer for bullying, helps students deal with it, and mitigates its harmful effects (Hodges, Boivin, Vitaro, and Bukowski, 1999).

Children are also taught conversation skills, how to join a group, and how to manage conflict between friends. They brainstorm face-saving techniques for dealing with failure when attempts at joining in play are unsuccessful, and then practice the techniques in role-plays.

Then students move on to learn about bullying. They are introduced to the "Three Rs of Responding to Bullying": recognizing, refusing, and reporting; develop an awareness of the difference between tattling and reporting bullying; and discuss the various forms that bullying can take.

Bystander Power

The vast majority of bullying occurs in the presence of other children (Craig and Pepler, 1995). This dynamic creates ample opportunities for students to apply their collective power as bystanders. "We have to make it easy for kids to intervene," says Craig. "We need to give them skills that are easy to learn, that won't decrease their status in the peer group."

The program gives children a box of tools—skill steps they can use when they're confronted with bullying. Targeted students can refuse bullying assertively or seek an adult's help. Children nearby who see a bullying incident can speak out against it or report it to an adult.

"There's tremendous potential in using bystanders to 'assist' in solving the problem. Half the time when children intervene in a bullying episode, it stops after 10 seconds. The average episode lasts 38 seconds. The more bystanders [watch and don’t intervene], the longer the bullying occurs," says Pepler.

"We noticed a very strong difference in the kids' tolerance for bullying [after teaching the program], especially when they realized their influence and responsibility as bystanders," says Everett. "The teachers pushed the point that once you ignore it you're a part of the problem."

Incorporating Academics

Following the skill lessons, children receive literature-based lessons that integrate and reinforce concepts previously introduced. These lessons fulfill both language arts and social and emotional learning objectives.

Different types of bullying appear in each of the curriculum's novels, providing rich opportunities for classroom discussions. "The novels had so much meaning for students," says Everett. "They didn't like it when we stopped reading. Even the reluctant readers were motivated." Literature is an ideal vehicle for teaching empathy. Discussing characters' lives encourages perspective taking, a skill taught throughout the curriculum.

Changing School Culture

"Denial is a powerful thing, and grown-ups don't like to think that there's bullying or harassment going on at a private school. Starting off with surveys was a powerful tool," says Assumption-St. Bridget's Berlin. This pilot school used surveys to assess student and teacher perceptions about bullying. Students at Assumption reported a much higher incidence of bullying than their teachers. "When we showed those figures to parents, it blew them away," she says.

No program will be an effective antidote to bullying unless it involves an entire school. "The challenge in implementing a program is in changing people's behaviors," says Craig. "Attitude change comes first, behavioral change is second. For behavior change, the culture has to support it."

By Lisa Walls
Committee for Children


Craig, W. M., and Pepler, D. J. (1995). "Peer Processes in Bullying and Victimization: An Observational Study." Exceptionality Education Canada, 5, 81–95.

Hodges, E. V. E., Boivin, M., Vitaro, F., and Bukowski, W. M. (1999). "The Power of Friendship: Protection Against an Escalating Cycle of Peer Victimization." Developmental Psychology, 35, 94–101.

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