As adults, we are responsible for taking a strong stand against bullying, harassment, abuse, and other kinds of emotional and physical violence in any place where we leave our kids. Successful anti-bullying programs require sustained commitment and leadership.
Our goal is to create a shared vision and implement a practical reality that will lead to a climate where bullying behavior does not thrive and is weeded out. Here are three steps that you can take to develop a system to further this goal:
1. Agree on a written public proclamation that declares your institution or group’s commitment to promoting a culture of caring, safety, and respect for all its members;
2. Establish a written plan of action that involves everyone within your institution or group – children, parents, teachers, administrators, etc. – and that includes skills, training, and support for implementing this plan.
3. Establish and uphold written policies that specify what the rules are and an ongoing system for addressing failures and problems.
We encourage you to use the samples below from our book, Bullying – What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, to create or further develop your own bullying and harassment prevention proclamations, action plans, and policies.
Sample Bullying, Harassment, and Violence Prevention Proclamation
We agree that:
- People of all ages and abilities have the right to be safe from physical and emotional attack.
- Any form of behavior that is threatening, harassing, bullying, abusive, or dangerous must be stopped.
- Families, schools, youth organizations, colleges, workplaces, places of worship, and other groups are responsible for empowering and protecting their members and for promoting cultures of caring, respect, and safety for everyone.
- Adults are responsible for taking leadership to ensure that unsafe or harmful behavior is clearly against the rules, that everyone understands the rules, and that these rules are upheld.
- Procedures that are clearly understood by everyone need to be in place to deal with problems that come up in a prompt, fair, open, and effective fashion.
- Everyone in a position of leadership is responsible for modeling consistent, powerful, and respectful behavior – and for intervening to address unsafe behavior.
- Everyone has the responsibility to behave in ways that are safe and respectful to others. Anyone who feels threatened, upset, or endangered by someone’s behavior – or who sees this happening to someone else – has both the right and the responsibility to speak up.
- Most people are empowered when they know how to take charge of their own safety, how to act safely towards others even if they feel frustrated or upset, how to intervene, and how to advocate effectively.
- People of all ages and abilities have the right to develop understanding and skills through high quality programs that give them the opportunity to be successful in practicing in contexts that are relevant to their lives.
We also agree that:
- This Proclamation is effective only when we each, individually, have the courage and determination to act in ways that reflect our commitment to these principles, especially in the face of embarrassment, inconvenience, and offense.
- While children have great power to participate in building and supporting a culture of caring, community, and respect, we adults are responsible for providing the leadership, supervision, and guidance necessary for maintaining an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for everyone in our community.
- We will renew this proclamation annually, or more frequently if needed, in order to ensure our actions continue to reflect our commitment to these principles and to make changes as needed to ensure the safety of everyone in our community.
Sample School Action Plan
1. Adopt a Bullying, Harassment, and Violence Prevention Proclamation similar to the one above. Agreeing on a shared vision and commitment is essential in making lasting change.
2. Make sure that all school staff and families know what your vision and commitment are. Post the Proclamation on your website and include it in your school handbook.
3. Turn the Proclamation into specific policies about how problems are going to be handled. A sample School Policy is below.
4. At the beginning of each school year, send a letter home to parents with guidelines about how to talk with their children and the school’s Bullying and Harassment Prevention Proclamation and Policies. Even younger children can be told, “We expect you to be safe at school. If anything ever happens that makes you feel unsafe or unhappy, we want you to go to a teacher for help right away and to tell us as soon as you can. We also expect you to act in ways that are safe and respectful to other people. If you or the school tells us that you have threatened or been disrespectful to someone, we will work together to help you figure out how to solve problems with people in other ways.”
5. Have a discussion in the classroom each year about what the rules are. Use age-appropriate examples to help students understand what kinds of behavior are considered safe and unsafe, what their safest choices are about how to handle different kinds of problems including teasing, shunning, threatening, attacking, a kid bringing a weapon to school, etc.– what the consequences are for unsafe behavior.
6. Give students the opportunity to learn and practice “People Safety” skills of the kind taught by Kidpower, including how to avoid trouble, set boundaries, handle conflict, and ventilate upset feelings without using threatening or abusive language and without using physical violence. If they cannot handle problems on their own, give students practice in how to be persistent and respectful in getting adult help.
7. Give educators and parents training in how to supervise students to support the use of these “People Safety” skills; how to assess and intervene when problems are not being resolved in a safe way; and how to enforce clear consequences for unsafe behavior in a firm, respectful way.
8. If a serious incident occurs, have a plan to make sure that the student who came for help is protected from any threats or other repercussions. This usually means having very close supervision of all parties involved in the incident, including friends of the offending student, until everything is resolved. The parents of all students involved need to be contacted and met with by the school. Sometimes a counselor can be asked to facilitate a meeting to create a safe place to air feelings and then figure out how to use this incident as an opportunity to learn and grow.
9. When an upsetting event has occurred, the names of the students should be kept confidential as much as possible. However, to ensure emotional safety, all of the people in the school community who might hear about the incident need to be informed about what happened and about what steps are being taken to address the situation. Both teachers and parents can review the school’s Proclamation and Policies with children in an age-appropriate way. If kids are talking about what happened, adults need to be given guidance in how to lead discussions that are clear and educational rather than scary.
10. Agree on consequences for unsafe behavior and ensure that these consequences are consistently enforced. At Kidpower, we recommend that an effective management tool to address times when children behave in rude, unkind, or destructive ways is to require all parties in the moment to practice skills for how they might handle the situation in a safer way.
Sample School Bullying, Harassment, and Violence Prevention Policy
Our commitment is to ensuring an emotionally and physically safe environment in our school community. We will do our best to stop any behavior that is threatening, harassing, bullying, or dangerous. If any student, parent, or staff member feels threatened, upset, or endangered by someone’s behavior, that person has both the right and the responsibility to speak up.
Our goal is to prevent problems whenever possible. We expect adults to supervise children at all times and to intervene in a firm, respectful way to stop unsafe behavior. We offer conflict resolution training and self-protection and boundary-setting training through our school community. We ask parents to discuss our expectations about safe behavior with their children.
We work hard to create an environment where children can feel safe and happy most of the time, but understand that being upset or afraid occasionally is a normal part of life. We are committed to giving children support and skills for talking about their feelings and for getting help when they need to. Even though all of us are busy, we want to encourage children to develop the habit of talking problems over with their parents and teachers. If they feel unhappy or unsafe, we don’t want them to feel alone and we do want them to have adult help in figuring out what to do.
If a problem occurs, our focus is on addressing situations in ways that seek solutions rather than blame. We will do our best to deal with problems in a prompt, pro-active, fair, and effective fashion.
Most concerns about student behavior can be resolved on an individual level by talking with the teacher or yard duty teacher – or by speaking directly with the individuals involved. If this doesn’t work or if a serious incident occurs, the following process will take place.
1. The teacher and the parents of the child or children involved will meet separately with the principal and/or school counselor. A plan will be made so that students will understand what happened and will get the counseling or other support they need to deal with whatever happened and to prevent future problems. Every effort will be made to protect students raising concerns from retaliation.
2. A letter will go home to parents in the classroom without naming the families involved. The letter will describe what happened and what steps were taken to address the situation. The letter will suggest how parents might talk with their children about what happened in an age appropriate positive way.
3. For a severe situation, a meeting will be held so parents can discuss their concerns and get help in how to talk to their children.
4. Where appropriate, training will be offered to the parents, teachers, and students involved in the incident.
If there is a concern involving the behavior of an adult working at the school, most of the time this issue can be resolved by speaking directly with that individual.
If this doesn’t work, or if the adult’s behavior raises concerns about the safety of the children or other people, the principal, vice principal and/or school counselor should be approached immediately with the concern. Prompt action will be taken to address the problem in a solution-oriented, fair, and pro-active fashion.
An Opportunity to Grow
Bullying can lead to great growth – as well as causing big problems. With clear boundaries, better skills, and strong support, everyone involved can learn what to do, as well as what not to do.
Conflict is a normal part of most relationships because people have different perspectives and priorities. While kids need adult supervision so that they learn how to deal with conflict constructively, most upsetting behavior between people is not bullying. Bullying means that someone is using a power imbalance with the deliberate intention of harming another person. People can also harass or be hurtful to each other because of thoughtlessness, annoyance, poor self control, or experimentation with negative uses of their power without realizing the impact.
The good news is that the social-emotional skills that can prevent and stop most bullying and harassment are also important in building healthy relationships.
As one mother wrote, “I look at what my son gained from the episode of his life when he got badly bullied and then was bullying for a short period of time himself (which led to our finding out about him being bullied), and I must say that he’s so much better off now. It was not easy, it was not quick, but it taught all of us such a lot of good things. Because of the work we did together and the support we received, my son learned to make new friends. He became strong in himself and immune to peer pressure – the dream of every parent for a teenager!”
Learning how to take charge of their own safety, how to act safely towards others even if they feel frustrated or upset, and how to advocate effectively empowers most people and gives them tools to better manage future conflicts and relationship issues.