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Fast Facts: Ways to counter bullying

Why is the way we talk about bullying important?

Aggressive language, like 'Stamp out bullying' or language which labels students, like 'Get tough on bullies' can actually become part of a bullying problem. More positive language, like 'We stand together' refers to ways to build the capacity of students to take actions to reduce bullying.

What can schools do if bullying is happening?

In creating and maintaining a safe and supportive school environment, strategies to address bullying include:

  • preventing bullying through promoting a positive whole-school culture based on values agreed to by the whole school community
  • intervening early in suspected or identified bullying issues and communicating clearly with all involved
  • responding to bullying incidents with approaches which have been shown to be effective.

These elements need to be outlined in the school's policy and plan. The Bullying. No  Way! website provides advice, strategies and other information for teachers, parents and young people on how they can help reduce bullying.

Not all hurtful behaviours are bullying, but schools address inappropriate behaviour whether or not it meets the definition of bullying.

Bullying that appears to involve criminal behaviour such as violence, threats, intimidation, inciting violence, etc., should be reported to the police (in line with school guidelines) and will require management by the school to ensure the risks to student safety are reduced.

What approaches to bullying are effective?

Schools that are responsive to students' needs and have a whole-school approach to optimising student wellbeing experience lower levels of bullying. This includes the explicit teaching and modelling of positive values and wellbeing through Social and Emotional Learning curriculum and pastoral care.

Effective school responses to bullying incidents are:

  • solution-focused
  • relationship-based
  • at the school level, the class level, the student level, and
  • based on strong links between parents and schools.

Students who bully others need to understand that their behaviour is not acceptable and to learn more appropriate ways to behave and to solve conflicts. School staff may also need to address the underlying causes for the bullying. Staff and other students need to be taught what to do if they witness bullying happening.

Effective approaches to student bullying include restorative practices, conflict management, equalising power imbalances amongst students, and social skills development.

More than one method of addressing bullying may be needed as no single approach is appropriate or effective in all circumstances or for all people.

Dealing with bullying can be complex and challenging. Both short and long-term approaches need to be adopted, including regular reviews of policy and procedures and monitoring of progress using the school's data.

Anti-bullying campaigns and programs are just one aspect of the work that schools need to do to counter bullying. The long-term aim is to foster a school culture based on positive values and supportive relationships which feature respect, inclusion, belonging and cooperation.

Why are other people (bystanders) important in dealing with school bullying?

Everyone plays a part in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of others – parents, staff, students and community members. It is essential that these members of the school community know how to deal with incidents of bullying effectively and safely. It is important to note, however, that the majority of people are not involved in bullying.

Those who bully others often aim to impress or intimidate bystanders. The reaction of bystanders can either support or discourage bullying from happening. If bystanders do nothing, this can be seen as a form of silent approval.

Supportive bystander behaviours are actions and/or words that are intended to support someone who is being bullied. The actions of a supportive bystander can stop or diminish a specific bullying incident or help the bullied student to recover from it.

The attitude and reaction of bystanders can affect the culture of the school. Social disapproval of bullying behaviour can prevent bullying from occurring and help to stop it when it is happening.

Training in how to intervene safely assists in effective bystander behaviour. The majority of students do not want bullying to occur, but often don't know how to stop it. Schools can help students learn what to do when bullying occurs.

What doesn't work when dealing with bullying

Short-term 'solutions' alone, like punishing the student doing the bullying, do not improve the relationships and social factors which allow the bullying to happen. Although the bullying may stop in the short-term, unless these factors are addressed, it is very likely to reoccur or become covert (hidden).

Punishment as the only intervention is not effective in preventing bullying.  Interventions need to be matched to the particular circumstance of the bullying. No single approach to bullying is appropriate or effective in all circumstances or for all people.

If the school's response to bullying further dis-empowers students who have been bullied or fosters a negative school culture, this can make the situation worse.

Why don't simple solutions work to reduce bullying in the long-term?

Bullying is complex. Approaches to bullying need to include relationship and social solutions at the whole-school, class and student level, and on occasion, at the family and community level. Although bullying may stop in the short-term after a 'get tough on bullying' approach, unless the relationship and social factors are addressed, it is very likely to reoccur, take another form, or just become hidden (or covert).

Next: What can parents do if bullying happens.

Download the complete set of Fast Facts: Bullying in Schools (PDF, 210KB).