Research Based Best Practices in Bullying Prevention and Response

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1. Focus on the Social Climate

  • Bullying prevention requires changes in social climates of schools and organizations. It should become uncool to bully.
  • Students feel connected to schools where they know, care about, and support one another, and have common goals. Students must be willing to step in and stop the bullying or intervene in some other way, such as, getting an adult. Teachers should be looking out for signs and patterns of bullying so they can identify it and put a stop to it.
  • Changing social norms around bullying requires commitment, time, and effort but can have a positive effect on behavior. Teachers, students, parents, security officials, staff, bus drivers, administrators, etc. all must play a part with commitment.
  • Increasing adult supervision is also important. Bullying tends to be more common in areas where the adults are not present or not intentionally looking out for it. All adults should be diligent. Hot spots for bullying should be identified through data collection and supervision of adults should increase in such areas.

2. Conduct Community-Wide Assessments of Bullying

  • Collect local data on bullying, social climates, and the extent of youth violence. It can help customize prevention programs suitable for your area and also helps measure progress.
  • Resources to get started
    • Landscape Assessment, Community Action Toolkit. Download it here.
    • Measuring Bullying Victimization, Perpetration, and Bystander Experiences: A Compendium of Assessment Tools. Download it here.
    • School Climate Survey Compendium. View it here.

3. Seek Out Support for Bullying  Prevention

  • Early and enthusiastic support is critical from leaders of schools and youth programs.
  • Commitment from a majority of the youth-serving adults is also important.
    • Adults must be willing to address bullying wherever it happens if bullying prevention strategies are to be fully implemented.

4. Coordinate and Integrate Prevention Efforts

  • Bullying prevention should be coordinated and integrated with other related efforts.
  • A coordinating group or committee will inform decisions on ways to combine, coordinate, or adopt strategies.
    • School-based teams should represent staff, parents, and youth leaders.
    • Forming a community group of representatives from many disciplines and partnering agencies will avoid costly duplication and ensure greater success.
  • There are many stakeholders you will want to consider engaging in your coordinating group or committee:
    • Elected officials/Community leaders
    • Health and Safety Professionals
    • Law Enforcement Officials
    • Child Care/After-School and Out-of-School Professionals
    • Faith Leaders
    • Corporate and Business Professionals
    • Mental Health and Social Service Professionals
    • Educators
    • Parents and Caregivers
    • Youth Leaders Organization Members
    • City/County Recreation Professionals
  • Take steps to raise awareness on the topic of bullying:
    • Holding an anti-bullying day
    • Creating a community newsletter
    • Creating local fund for businesses to support anti-bullying efforts
    • Providing information on state and local bullying laws
    • Creating an interfaith alliance
    • Hosting a town hall or community event
    • Letters to editor to the local media
    • Helping youth to develop a media campaign
  • Following prevention and response steps can be taken:
    • Developing a task force to assess bullying in schools
    • Developing team building exercises with youth
    • Creating a safety plan for kids who are bullied
    • Developing screening processes to promote early detection and response
    • Training adults on gathering and using bullying data
    • Developing a procedure to monitor youth who have been bullied
    • Establishing in-school committee
    • Monitoring internet activity and mobile devices
    • Sponsoring training sessions for adults on bullying prevention, response, and crisis planning

5. Provide Training in Bullying Prevention and Response

  • Many state laws encourage or require training of school staff on bullying prevention.
  • Adults must understand:
    • The nature of bullying
    • Its effects
    • How to prevent bullying (e.g., the importance of adult supervision)
    • Appropriate responses if bullying is known or suspected
  • You can view a comprehensive list of training materials by clicking here.
  • You can view training toolkit that deals with bullying on school buses by clicking here.
  • The National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP) and Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development are two free, searchable online databases of mental health and substance abuse interventions and positive youth development programs. Each has a somewhat different focus and criteria for evaluating programs, but each includes programs and practices related to bullying.

6. Organize a Community Event to Catalyze Efforts

  • Successful bullying prevention and awareness efforts require support from many community stakeholders
  • This is why organizing a community event/town hall will be a critical next step in your initiative
  • Your event will provide a time to gather all of the stakeholders together to develop a call-to-action that mobilizes the community
  • A call-to-action that responds to bullying is multi-faceted
  • It will include roles and responsibilities for stakeholders from across the community to contribute resources and expertise toward a common goal: Effectively preventing and responding to bullying
  • This toolkit includes materials that will give you everything you need to put the research, ideas, and bullying prevention and response strategies into practice in your communities, including tools for:
    • Community Event Planning
    • Community Event Action
    • Community Event Follow-Up
  • The toolkit also includes:
    • Community event planning tools
    • A landscape assessment
    • A template community event agenda
    • A community engagement tip sheet
    • A guide to mobilizing communities in bullying prevention
    • Community event action resources
    • An action planning matrix
    • Tips for working with the media
    • A resource on the complex relationship between bullying and suicide
    • A tip sheet with funding ideas for future bullying prevention efforts
    • Feedback forms for you to use at your event

7. Set Policies and Rules About Bullying

  • All state laws require public schools to develop anti-bullying policies. School personnel should be familiar with their school’s policy and work to improve it if needed.
  • As part of these policies, school personnel should:
    • Establish and communicate clear rules about bullying behavior and expectations if bullying is witnessed.
    • Apply developmentally appropriate and proportional consequences for bullying others.
  • As part of these policies, school personnel should establish and communicate clear rules about bullying behavior that apply to all children and youth, and communicate expectations about positive behaviors to take if bullying is witnessed.
  • When children and youth do help out, this should be noted and reinforced by adults. On the other hand, if students violate rules and bully others, clear, developmentally appropriate, and proportional consequences should be applied.
  • Researchers, who have examined elements associated with effective school-based bullying prevention programs, have found that having classroom rules and clear discipline for violations was related to reductions in bullying.

8. Respond Consistently and Appropriately When Bullying Happens

  • When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time. There are simple steps adults can take to stop bullying on the spot and keep children safe.
  •  Do:
    • Separate the children involved.
    • Make sure everyone is safe.
    • Meet any immediate medical or mental health needs.
    • Stay calm. Reassure the children involved, including bystanders.
    • Model respectful behavior when you intervene.
  • Police or medical assistance may be needed if:
    • A weapon is involved
    • There are threats of serious physical injury.
    • There are threats of hate-motivated violence
    • There is serious bodily harm.
    • There is sexual abuse.
    • Anyone is accused of an illegal act, such as robbery or extortion—using force to get money, property, or services.
  • Don’t:
    • Ignore it. Don’t think children can work it out without adult help.
    • Immediately try to sort out the facts.
    • Force other children to say publicly what they saw.
    • Question the children involved in front of other children.
    • Talk to the children involved together, only separately.
    • Make the children involved apologize or patch up relations on the spot.
  • Follow-up responses are often needed with involved students and parents
    • In order to plan intervention strategies for youth who are bullied to support them and provide protection plans
    • Follow-up is also needed with youth who bully to help them appreciate the seriousness of the bullying, understand the consequences of their ‘ behavior, and learn alternative behaviors.
  • Adopt a trauma-informed approach
    • Recognize that children who have been bullied may have experienced trauma and need special care to address this trauma and avoid practices that may re-traumatize them.
  • In some situations, involved students may need to be referred to mental health professionals in or outside of school settings for additional help in addressing their bullying behavior or the consequences of being bullied.

9. Spend Time Talking with Children and Youth About Bullying

  • Talk about bullying and how to prevent it.
    • Bullying prevention efforts should include facilitated small group discussions with children and youth. Such forums give them a way to increase their knowledge about bullying and the harms it causes, share feelings and different viewpoints, gain skills in preventing and responding to bullying, and build ‘ understanding and empathy.
  • Hold class meetings for students and staff.
    • These meetings also can help build a sense of community in the group and give teachers a better understanding of their students concerns.
  • Incorporate lessons about bullying, positive behaviors, and social-emotional into your school’s curriculum.
  • By following the steps in the youth engagement toolkit, adults can also empower youth to organize social and educational bullying prevention initiatives.
  • SAMHSA’s KnowBullying app provides tips on talking about school, work, relationships, life, and bullying. The app also has a feature to remind you that it’s time to talk. This app also includes:
    • Information about bullying
    • Warning signs that your child may be bullying others, being bullied, or witnessing others being bullied
    • Conversation starters to talk with your child about bullying
    • Reminders to talk with your child at times that work best for you and your family
    • The ability to share advice right from the app in an email and/or text message
    • Quick access to bullying prevention resources, and
    • Resources for educators
  • Of course, young people themselves can have tremendous power in helping to stop bullying and create positive social environments. This Be More Than a Bystander guide includes information on bullying, ways bystanders can help those affected by bullying, steps to encourage others not to bully, as well as a discussion on how youth can protect themselves and others from cyberbullying.

10. Continue Efforts Over Time and Renew Community Interests

  • Bullying prevention should have no “end date”.
    • Bullying prevention should be ongoing in schools, afterschool programs, and in all youth serving organizations.
  • Communities should continually assess prevention needs and outcomes, revise strategies, and champion the benefits in children’s lives and to the community.


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