8 Ways to Make Your Child’s School a Bully-Free Zone

By The Understood Team

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School should be a safe place for kids. But unfortunately, that’s where the majority of bullying takes place. These ideas from The Bully Project and Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project can help you work with teachers, administrators and other parents to make your child’s school a bully-free zone.

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Son sitting outside on a bench with his mother who is talking on the phone
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Learn what people already think about bullying at school.

Ask the school to pass out surveys two to three times a year. Make sure the questions touch on when and where bullying is an issue, and how well it’s addressed. The survey should get at whether kids and staff believe the school lives up to its stated values. Ask the principal to share the results widely so that everyone is aware of the problems and solutions.

Gym teacher leading a discussion with a group of students on the play ground
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Help students form relationships with trusted school adults.

When kids know they have someone they can turn to for help, they’re more likely to ask for support when they need it. Ask the school to take steps to build one-on-one relationships between students and staff. That can include teachers, counselors, the school nurse and support staff members. One example might be setting up a mentoring program. This can help students create lasting, trusting relationships with these adults.

A parent walking with students from the bus to the school
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Ask all school adults to be “upstanders.”

An “upstander” is someone who will speak up and step in to make school safe for all students. Suggest that the school staff sign a pledge and display it in their classroom, offices or door. This tells students that these adults are safe to talk to about bullying.

A teacher watching and helping students as they get on to the school bus
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Keep adults in places where bullying often happens.

Make sure there is enough of an adult presence throughout the school. Having a teacher or staff member monitor public areas where students gather can reduce the likelihood of bullying happening there. That includes the hallways, bathrooms, lunchroom and sports fields. Plus, they can step in if bullying is taking place.

Parent and child walking and talking alone in the school hallway
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Have consistent consequences for bullying. Make them known.

Make sure the school is clear about what sorts of behavior it will not tolerate. It should also be clear about what will happen if students bully other kids. That might include having to write a letter to the victim or an essay about times they’ve been hurt by others. The rules and consequences should be reinforced at assemblies and in the classroom.

Students meeting and talking outside the school
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Create student leadership teams.

Work with the school to establish a bullying task force of students. Choose kids who are trusted by their peers, and have them work together to create a “positive school culture.” Let them define what that means for your school. Ask them to brainstorm ways to interact with students who might be overlooked or isolated. Have staff oversee their solutions and help their ideas come to life.

Teacher talking to a young student at her desk
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Create opportunities for students to think about caring and respect.

Work with the school to finds ways to get students thinking about their behavior. How does it impact the people and environment around them? One idea is to host a schoolwide walk through the community to observe instances of kindness and unkindness.

Another idea is to have students write letters to school staff about how the adults can help promote a more caring school. They can also conduct interviews with local officials (policemen and women, city council members, local nonprofit owners, etc.) about how they contribute to the community.

Parent showing a teacher something on the internet
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Regularly educate staff and students about bullying.

Work with the school to create awareness campaigns throughout the year. One option is holding a screening of the movie Bully followed by a schoolwide discussion. Encourage staff to start a “character education program.” These are programs that promote social and emotional skills. (Make sure the program is “evidence based,” meaning there is research showing that the program works.) Host parent education programs to address conflict awareness in class and at home. Working with the school to create a bully-free zone shows your child how serious the issue is.

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About the Author

Understood Team Graphic

The Understood Team is composed of writers, editors and community moderators, many of whom have children with learning and attention issues.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Molly Algermissen

Molly Algermissen, Ph.D., is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.

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