5 Bully Prevention Tips for Parents and Schools That Work

Schools should be a safe place for everyone to come, as they are, and learn skills for their future. Bullying makes schools unsafe. Ending bullying is not solely the responsibility of parents or schools, but it does require both to work together to help create good humans and future leaders. Read on for 5 bully prevention tips for parents and schools.

Portrait of Roy Barnes, a Caucasian man with grey hair, wearing a dark suit and a red tie. He is standing in front of a painting and a tree inside a building with arms by his side and looking directly at the camera with a smile.

Former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes (pictured here) signed the nation’s first school anti-bullying legislation in 1999.

Bullying is more than just “kids being kids”

After bullying became more than just “kids being kids,” and schoolyard fights became preludes to assault charges, schools have taken more of a centralized role in preventing bullying. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, in 2019, about 22% of students ages 12–18 reported being bullied at school. Students who are female, BIPOC, and/or LGBTQ+ are more likely to experience bullying.

Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) are laws in place to prevent and address bullying. They cover in-person bullying and cyberbullying, and school districts are required to create policies to maintain a safe environment for all students to learn without fear or threat of bullying.

Map of the United States on a white background depicting states that have both anti-bullying laws and policies in blue versus just anti-bullying laws in red.

All 50 states in the United States have anti-bullying laws. Map courtesy of StopBullying.gov.

Bullying is underreported by kids, parents, and schools

I’ve worked as a high school social worker for the last seven years, and I believe there are gaps in these laws. More students are being bullied than what is reported.

I’ve spoken to adolescents about bullying in schools.  Here are two key problems my students highlight that impact anti-bullying initiatives:

  1. Students do not want to report when they’re being bullied for fear of a decline in social status or retaliation from the bully.
  2. Students believe that anti-bullying programs don’t work or do not make a difference in their experience.

HIB laws are only effective if someone reports these behaviors. A reporter can be the student being bullied, a bystander, a friend, a teacher, or a parent. Many times, when bullying is reported, students and parents may feel like school policies lack the follow-up and follow-through necessary to create lasting changes in the school culture and environment. The truth is, to make lasting changes and a more harmonious school environment, we should all be preaching and practicing ways to prevent bullying at home and at school.

Here are 5 bully prevention tips for parents and schools that work.

Inside Out's movie cover features five animated characters, each representing a different emotion, standing on a blue background. From left to right, they are Sadness, Joy, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. Joy is a bright yellow character with a pixie cut, Sadness is a blue character with large glasses and a droopy face, Anger is a small red character with a furrowed brow, Fear is a lanky purple character with a bow tie, and Disgust is a green character with a stylish haircut and a snobbish expression. The movie's title, "Inside Out," is written in white letters at the top of the cover, while the tagline, "Meet the little voices inside your head," is written in smaller letters beneath it.

Released in 2015, Disney’s Inside Out is a film that explores the consequences and portrayal of emotions and memories.

1. Teach your child empathy

Empathy is our ability to understand the feelings of others. The most important step to learning empathy is actually understanding our own feelings and emotions. Here are additional steps to take to teach your child empathy:

  • Provide space and validation of your child’s feelings, especially the hard ones like anger, jealousy, resentment, sadness, and grief.
  • Read books about emotions, or if your child is older, allow them to speak the truth of their experience without lecturing or interpreting.
  • Give them space to process the hard feelings.
  • Help children understand that they don’t always have to agree with or even like other people, and they can still coexist without conflict.

You should also model for your child how to be kind to others or how to take the perspective of others’ situations. It is also worthwhile to examine your own bias and opinions to see how this influences your child, either as a parent or as a teacher/school community member.

Logo for the Upstander Project on a white background with Up in blue text with Upstander and Project in black text. Project is below Upstander.

Formed in 2009, the Upstander Project uses storytelling to amplify silenced narratives, develop upstander skills to challenge systemic injustice, and nurture compassionate, courageous relationships that honor the interconnection of all beings and the Earth.

2. Teach your child to be an upstander

After your child understands empathy, the next step is teaching your child how to be an upstander.

An upstander is someone who intervenes when someone else is being bullied or targeted. This does not mean your child has to fight. In fact, discourage the use of violence or retaliation as a means to combat a bully. Instead, encourage your child to reach out to the person being bullied. Ask them if they’re okay. Pull them away from the situation, even if your child does not know them.

If the child doesn’t feel comfortable intervening directly, they can be encouraged to reach out to a trusted staff member or family member to intervene. In the case of cyberbullying, your child can take screenshots of the interaction, and show them to a trusted adult.

Bullying becomes a bigger problem when we ignore it; when we believe that someone else will intervene or take care of it.  If we create a community of upstanders, people are more likely to feel safe around each other and less likely to become victimized by bullying.

Green circle with an inverted pink triangle in the middle on a white background.

The Gay & Lesbian Urban Experience (GLUE) were one of the first to introduce the concept of a “safe space” in 1989. This is the symbol they created to represent universal acceptance of gay rights and a stance against homophobia.

3. Create safe spaces for children of all ages

This is especially important for schools. Children and adolescents need a place to feel heard, seen, and understood.

In my experience, a student will not be honest with you if they feel like you’re not wholly listening, lecturing, or if you’re telling them what to do. Many times, students feel shut down and invalidated by adults who minimize their problems or throw simple solutions at them.

Children need to be given the space to discuss their problems and brainstorm their own solutions. They will be more likely to follow through and feel empowered if they’re the main focus of any problem-solving session. Believe them when they say they’re struggling, even if you personally do not think their problems are a big deal.

Portrait of Albert Eglash in black and white wearing a dark suit with a dark tie against a white background.

Albert Eglash (pictured here) is credited with the creating the modern definition of “restorative justice” in 1977.

4. Restorative justice is a crucial bully prevention tip

Children who bully need just as much attention as the person who is being bullied. Oftentimes, a person who bullies is struggling with self-esteem issues, grief and loss, abuse, or other big emotions that they can’t process. Bullying can give a person a sense of importance, power, and control over their situation, especially when they feel out of control.

If your child is guilty of bullying, get them counseling or additional support. Excessive punishment or labeling the child as “bad” or as a bully will likely alienate them further, and cause repeat offenses. Require the child to make amends with the person they’ve bullied, take a course in empathy, or do community service hours. These experiences will help the child understand why their actions do harm to others, and give them a chance to do good for others instead.

Strengthen those empathy muscles!

Portrait of Mitch Prinstein. He is a middle-aged man with short hair wearing a light-colored dress shirt. He is looking directly at the camera with a smile. The background is a plain brownish color with some subtle texture.

Mitch Prinstein Ph.D. (pictured here), Chief Science Officer at the American Psychological Association (APA), recently testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Judiciary on social media’s dangers to children

5. Limit or monitor your child’s social media use

This bully prevention tip is mostly for the parents, as schools have little to no control over how students utilize social media.

Social media can be a great tool for children and adolescents to connect with one another. It’s also an unsupervised free-for-all where they can say whatever they want without the in-person consequence of witnessing hurt feelings.  Know what apps your child signs up for and whether it’s an appropriate app for their age. Here are some tips for keeping a check on your child’s social media life:

  • Check into their account (and make sure you know if they have hidden ones) to monitor for signs of bullying either by your child or to your child.
  • Set time limits for your child’s social media use. Less access means less opportunity to be a troll or be trolled by others.
  • Talk to your child about appropriate social media use, and using empathy even when they’re online.
  • Encourage your child to sign up for in-person socializing opportunities like clubs, sports, scouts, or whatever interests them. These structured social activities can help with building self-esteem, camaraderie, social skills, and empathy.

CFR Staff Therapist Danielle Silverman

CFR Staff Therapist Danielle Silverman, LCSW, MEd

About the Author

Danielle Silverman, LCSW, MEd, is a Staff Therapist at Council for Relationships. If you have questions for Danielle about her bully prevention tips for parents and schools, or if you would like to schedule an appointment with her, you may reach her at dsilverman@councilforrelationships.org or 215-382-6680 ext. 7015.

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