Got Bullies? Here’s How to Stop Them

By Rob Klindt

Most of us have seen it sometime in our lives: a child who repeatedly intimidates, taunts, humiliates or even hits another child. While some people might dismiss this as just rude behavior or a kid’s playground scuffle, it’s more than that.

It’s bullying.

And it isn’t confined to street corners or neighborhood playgrounds. Bullying also happens in the classroom. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, bullying happens more often at school than it does on the way to or from school.

For K-12 teachers, it’s important to recognize the signs of bullying behavior early and to stop it before anybody gets hurt.

Identifying bullying behavior

StopBullying.gov, an anti-bullying advocacy website, describes bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Children who are bullied and who bully others may have serious emotional or mental health problems.

A bully’s balance of power can take many forms, including physical strength or size, popularity among peers or being in a position to control or harm others. Teachers need to be on the lookout for the first signs of bullying behavior because if it happens once, it can happen again.

Types of classroom bullies

According to StopBullying.gov, classroom bullies often fall into three specific behavioral categories:

  • verbal
  • social
  • physical

A verbal bully might say or write something about classmates that would make them feel uncomfortable or fearful. This includes name-calling, teasing, taunting, inappropriate sexual comments or threats to hurt them.

Meanwhile, a social bully likes to attract the attention of others when harassing a victim. A social bully might spread rumors about classmates or purposely exclude them from a group activity or try to embarrass them in front of others.

Physical bullies may hit, kick or pinch their victims. They also might trip or push them, or steal their possessions.

What to do when you see bullying

The National Educational Association offers teachers several guidelines to prevent classroom bullying.  Among the NEA’s suggestions:

  • Intervene immediately.
  • Separate the students involved and make sure all are safe.
  • Get the facts.
  • Stay calm and reassure those involved, including bystanders.
  • Model respectful behavior.

When a teacher sees bullying in the classroom, it’s important to address it right away so students know it will not be tolerated. After making sure there are no physical injuries, separate the students to allow emotions to subside.

Talk with all students involved and find out what happened, but don’t place immediate blame on anyone. Speak calmly, firmly and respectfully. This shows students and bystanders you are serious and models the right way to react to bullies. If you have to involve the school principal or other administrators, do it quickly and privately.

Mistakes to avoid

The U.S. Department of Education says teachers should avoid these common mistakes when dealing with bullying:

  • Don’t ignore bullying when you see it.
  • Don’t force bystanders to say publicly what they saw.
  • Don’t question the students involved in front of the entire class.
  • Don’t talk to the students involved together, only separately.
  • Don’t make the students involved apologize on the spot.

Resources on bullying

Teachers have a wealth of resources for learning more about stopping bullying in their classrooms. One of the best resources is The Bully Project, a companion website to the critically acclaimed 2011 documentary film “Bully” about bullying in schools throughout the United States. The website offers an educator’s DVD and toolkit for classroom discussions about bullying.

Other online resources include:

Whether you’re a new teacher or a classroom veteran, there’s a good chance you’ve seen bullying among your students. How do you deal with it? Does your school offer outside help or resources to combat bullying? Log onto the comments area of this website and share your experiences.

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