Sticks, Stones, and the Power of Words – 6 Ways to Stop Bullying Before it Starts

Many of us can remember our early days on the playground when teams were chosen for kickball and not everyone got picked or someone was singled out as the “bad player.” One group of kids got mad and walked off to start another game or just do something else. Mean words were exchanged and sometimes fights ensued, but when recess was over, somehow everything was smoothed over and everyone went on their way.

Children on the playground or in the classroom are going to experience conflict. What’s important about this is that they learn to settle it in a healthy way and move on. Those who bully can be the more popular or larger students on campus, but they can also be students who think or behave differently than others. While we often think of bullying as verbal insults, taunting, or teasing, it can also be physical and emotional.

Left unchecked, bullying can cause physical and long-term emotional issues. It can be a vicious cycle, people who are the target of bullying, often, in turn, become those who bully. One out of every five students reports being bullied (NCES, 2020). It’s been noted that at least 70 percent of students are bullied at one time or another during their school day.

Experts agree that taking a proactive approach to stop bullying before it starts is key. Administrators and staff can’t be everywhere on campus and we know that most bullying takes place when “adults aren’t looking”. It’s important to create a campus culture that embraces positive interaction and actively models positive conflict resolution. We are the most powerful role models on our campus and the kids are watching so we need to make sure our interactions with one another are positive and respectful. Nobody on campus has the right to bully anyone. We need to encourage our students to be upstanding citizens instead of bystanders who allow bullying to take place. In many states, bullying is against the law and everyone needs to understand that.

Inspired by National Bullying Prevention Month, we have curated a list of resources to assist you in creating a campus culture that is free of bullying in all of its forms–from physical to emotional.

  1. Raise Awareness: Visit PACER’S National Bullying Prevention Center for a wealth of resources. They have created shareable social media images, downloadable activity kits, lesson plans, and more. 

  1. Celebrate Unity Day: Encourage students and staff to wear orange on October 20th to celebrate Unity Day. Unity Day promotes kindness, acceptance, and inclusion. It also spreads the message that no child should ever experience bullying.
  1. Watch for Warning Signs: Often bullying goes unreported ​​(Bullying Facts, 2021). Students and staff should be encouraged to watch for warning signs. Share and bookmark this checklist from stopbullying.gov
  1. Be an Upstander: Model and practice with students how to speak up and take action when they witness bullying. Stopbullying.gov also provides a video along with a list of ways a bystander to bullying can become an upstander. Adults are targets of bullying also. As a campus leader, you can also encourage adults to be an upstander when they witness workplace bullying. 
  1. Prioritize Social and Emotional Learning: Select an evidence-based social and emotional learning curriculum that can be implemented with fidelity at your campus. Effective SEL programs, such as Ripple Effects for Kids and Teens, can equip students to stand up against bullying, heal from being a target of bullying, and address issues that may be causing someone to bully ​(Bullying Facts, 2021)
  1. Utilize Interactive Read Alouds: Choose books with anti-bullying, kindness, acceptance, and inclusion themes to read aloud with students. These read alouds send very powerful messages that can really help open dialogue about bullying and the impact it has one all of us. Here is a list of a few of my favorites by grade level:
Grade LevelReading Rec
KindergartenStick and Stone by Beth Ferry
First GradeChrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Second GradeLove by Matt de la Peña
Third GradeIf You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall
Fourth GradeThe Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff
Fifth GradeFish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Sixth GradeEsperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Seventh GradeWonder by R.J. Palacio
Eighth GradeTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Ninth GradeSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Tenth GradeThe Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Eleventh GradeThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Twelfth GradeInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Bullying is preventable and together we can provide safer, healthier schools and communities for our children. How is your school raising awareness during National Bullying Prevention Month? Please share your thoughts in the comments. 

In next week’s blog, we will discuss how to address the behaviors of those who bully, why we should never label someone a bully, and how to get to the root of the bullying behavior.

References

Bullying facts. National Bullying Prevention Center. (n.d.). Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://www.pacer.org/bullying/info/facts.asp.

Student reports of bullying results from the 2017 school … (n.d.). Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2019/2019054.pdf.


Sabrina Valverde is an educator, entrepreneur, educational trainer/consultant, and published author. She is a fiercely passionate advocate for children and has worked in many settings to foster an environment where all children can succeed. Sabrina holds a Master’s of Education in Instructional Leadership and believes that equipping teachers with the best curriculum, resources, and professional development is the cornerstone to student achievement.

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