According to the National Center of Education, as of 2016 more than 20 percent of students reported being bullied.
It’s a staggering statistic; especially considering the many ways bullying can affect students’ wellbeing. Targeted children often suffer from poor performance in school, sleep issues, anxiety, and depression. And let’s not forget the students doing the bullying—they’re at a much higher risk for a whole host of issues that could extend into adulthood, ranging from violent behavior to substance abuse.
As an educator, what can do you to make an impact? How can you create a classroom climate that prevents bullying, but also put interventions in place that stop the behavior in its beginning stages? We talked to experts in education and mental health counseling to come up with these six strategies.
1. Teach kindness and empathy.
When students are able to approach ideas and problems from multiple perspectives, they’re less likely to bully others.
From the earliest ages, students should participate in activities that boost social-emotional learning. As a teacher, find ways to help children understand and appreciate their identity as well as others’. To do this requires empathy and kindness, two skills that educators like Susan Patterson, who leads a cyberbullying course at Lesley University, believe can be taught.
“Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and teachers need to embed this skill into their curriculum,” says Patterson. “We need to do identity work with children early on so that kids know who they are and who everybody else is and what their place is in the world.”
One way to do this is to have kids get together and talk about their differences. Allow them to practice conflict resolution, work through problems, and build their understanding of those around them.
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2. Create opportunities for connection.
Fostering a sense of community in your classroom can lower bullying incidents and facilitate healing for targeted students.
Research shows that when targeted students feel connected to peers, they’re better able to cope with being bullied. Studies also indicate that teaching students to speak up when they witness bullying behavior, and to take a stand against it, can reduce future bullying situations by more than 50 percent.
“It’s all about connection,” says Nancy Beardall, who created and implemented a bullying prevention curriculum in Newton Public Schools. “When students feel connected to their peers, their school, and their community, they do better.”
In the classroom, start by creating a safe place for students to express themselves and feel heard. Cultivate students’ abilities to advocate on behalf of themselves as well as others. Outside of the classroom, facilitate opportunities for positive reinforcement by helping students get involved in afterschool activities that align with their hobbies and interests.
3. Identify ‘gateway behaviors.'
Researchers have found that small behaviors can often signal the beginning patterns of bullying. Often missed by educators who already have so much on their plates, these indicators, called “gateway behaviors,” can be difficult to detect. But, if you can recognize them early on, there’s a chance you could prevent bullying behavior from developing down the road. As an educator, here are some of the key behaviors you should take notice of:
- Eye rolling
- Prolonged staring
- Back turning
- Laughing cruelly/encouraging others to laugh
- Name calling
- Ignoring or excluding
- Causing physical harm
While these behaviors may not be classified as bullying, putting interventions in place now could mitigate the likelihood of them growing into something more problematic. “The research would imply that [these behaviors] lead to bullying, and that if we can stop kids here, then we’re going to go a long way to stopping the problem,” says Patterson.