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Call the 24 hour Bullying Prevention Helpline at 1-888-456-2323 (toll-free in Alberta) for advice and strategies on bullying prevention and building healthy relationships.
Bullying is a repeated and hostile or demeaning behaviour intended to cause harm, fear or distress, including psychological harm or harm to a person's reputation. It often involves an imbalance of social or physical power.
Bullying behaviours are a form of aggression and can be:
- Physical – for example: poking, elbowing, hitting
- Verbal – for example: name calling, insults, racist, sexist or homophobic comments, put- downs or threats
- Social – for example: gossiping, spreading rumours, excluding someone from the group, isolating, ganging up
- Cyber – for example: social or verbal bullying through the use of email, text messages or social media.
Identifying bullying behaviour
Below are some warning signs to help identify if a person may be engaging in bullying behaviour:
- Not understanding or caring if someone is hurt.
- Unexplained increase of money, clothing or other items.
- Boasting about taunting someone.
- Passing off teasing as a joke.
- Laughing when others get hurt.
- Demonstrating aggressive behaviour.
- Grouping together with some individuals and intentionally leaving others out (e.g., isolating, shunning).
Bullying is the misuse of power intended to harm or humiliate someone else. People of all ages may engage in bullying behaviours.
What bullying is not
Bullying behaviour is not the same as hurting someone's feelings if there is no misuse of power or a deliberate intent to cause harm. It is important to support individuals to understand the difference between these behaviours as part of learning how to build healthy relationships.
Bullying behaviour is sometimes confused with conflict. Conflict is a disagreement about different beliefs, ideas, feelings or actions. It is a normal part of healthy relationships. For example, friends may disagree over which movie to see or what game to play. Learning skills to resolve conflict appropriately is very important for building and maintaining positive relationships.
Homophobic Bullying: Tip Sheet for Youth
Homophobic Bullying: Tip Sheet for Parents/Guardians
Respect in School training
Respect in School is an online training program to help prevent abuse, bullying, harassment and discrimination in schools. It educates participants on their legal duty of care and supports our goal of creating safe and respectful learning environments for all students.
Training is available in English and French for:
- school staff
- bus drivers
- parent volunteers
- student leaders
Contact your local school authority to access training.
Government will give grant funding of $1.2 million over 4 years to Respect Group Inc. to make this program available.
Signs of being bullied
People don’t always speak up when they’re being bullied. They may feel embarrassed, afraid or at risk of being isolated. Children and youth who are the target of bullying behaviour often lack healthy relationships with peers and/or adults.
Signs someone may be experiencing bullying
Warning signs may include:
- Being afraid to go to school or complaining about feeling ill to avoid attending school.
- Skipping school.
- Decrease in performance at school.
- Losing belongings or coming home with clothes or books destroyed.
- Coming home, or arriving at school with unexplained bruises or cuts.
- Having nightmares, becoming withdrawn or beginning to bully other children.
- Engaging in self-harm.
- Attempting or talking about suicide.
Bullying can cause serious harm
Bullying can cause serious harm. Individuals may experience physical symptoms, social isolation or increased difficulty with school achievement.
When bullying behaviour leads to toxic stress, it can negatively impact a child’s developing brain and result in behavioural and social-emotional difficulties.
Widespread bullying behaviour creates an environment of fear and hostility that negatively impacts the feelings, social experience and learning of all students.
Bullying behaviours are learned and should not be considered a ‘normal part of growing up.’ Without intervention, bullying behaviours tend to remain constant or escalate rather than improve as individuals get older. The type of bullying behaviour changes as children grow older and can differ between boys and girls.
Responding to bullying
Bullying behaviour is very much a group phenomenon – 85% of bullying takes place in the presence of others. By providing students with the skills and confidence to intervene, either in the moment or afterwards, schools can take a significant step toward stopping bullying behaviour.
Intervening in a bullying incident
The role of adults
Intervening in a bullying incident generally stops the behaviour and sends a message that it is not acceptable. When intervening:
- Stay calm and ensure that everyone is safe.
- Listen attentively to all points of view.
- Determine if bullying is actually the case.
- Ensure support is provided to the person impacted by the behaviour, the person engaging in the behaviour and bystanders witnessing the behaviour. Make sure to take into account age, maturity and individual circumstances. It is important that the person engaging in bullying behaviour has an opportunity to understand the impact of their actions.
The role of students
- Model the behaviours you would like to see.
- Support the person who is the target of the bullying behaviour.
- Don't watch or encourage the behaviour - this sends a message that you think the behaviour is acceptable.
- If it is safe, say to the person "hey, let's go" and walk away with them.
- Check in with the person to see if they are OK and if they have someone to talk to.
- Encourage the person to tell an adult or tell an adult that you trust.
Bullying prevention is an ongoing, collaborative, problem-solving process that is an essential part of creating welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments. It requires a comprehensive approach — there are no single solutions.
Emphasizing a shared responsibility
Healthy relationships and bullying is everyone’s business and it takes an ongoing community effort to create safe and supportive learning environments. Adult leadership is the foundation for creating proactive and responsive bullying prevention strategies and modelling healthy relationships.
Building a school-wide understanding
Building a common understanding will make everyone aware of the importance of healthy relationships and how to nurture them, what bullying behaviour looks like, how it effects people and how to respond to and prevent it.
Assessing the scope and nature of bullying behaviour in the school community
Surveys and interviews can provide helpful data for tailoring a plan and serving as a baseline for future information gathering.
Focusing on changing the social environment
Notice when a student is bullied or left out and incorporate ways of changing attitudes and behaviours into daily life. Bullying tends to thrive in locations where adults are not present. Schools need to be strategic about using adult supervision to decrease bullying behaviour.
Teaching and reinforcing skills that foster healthy relationships and prevent and stop bullying behaviour
Students need clear instruction related to social-emotional competencies. They also need to know how to prevent, stand up to and stop bullying behaviour and have the confidence to effectively respond to bullying behaviour in different contexts.
Focusing on strategies that are coordinated, intentional and sustained over time
Promoting healthy relationships and implementing bullying prevention strategies should be ongoing. Strategies should be reviewed, evaluated for effectiveness and adjusted regularly.
Sample steps for a bullying prevention plan
Before developing specific plans or activities, it is important to find out how much and what type of bullying behaviour is currently happening. It may also be helpful to gather information on skills and attitudes related to healthy relationships. Schools can use surveys, class discussions, interviews, discussions with school staff and structured observations to gather data.
Bullying behaviour can continue when students leave the school grounds. It can happen in all environments and parents/caregivers are an important adult presence. Parents/caregivers are also their children’s primary teachers about healthy relationships. It is important to involve parents and provide them with resources to help recognize and prevent bullying behaviour and promote healthy relationships.
Although students should never be left to solve their own problems with bullying behaviour, it is important that they actively participate in counteracting bullying in schools. It is crucial that they understand that the purpose and importance of these strategies is to create a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment for all.
Create a schools statement for healthy relationships and bullying prevention
A statement creates a shared understanding among staff, parents/caregivers and students and communicates a unified vision and commitment to a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment.
Develop an action plan
Use the collected data from students, staff and parents to create actions for:
- including social and emotional learning in daily instruction, learning activities and school routines;
- teaching and fostering skills for building healthy relationships
- teaching students strategies for responding to bullying behaviour
- teaching students strategies they can use when they witness bullying behaviour
- engaging parents/caregivers and community partners
Structure the physical and social environment to reduce opportunities for bullying behaviour
For example, increase the adult presence in key areas or adopt active supervision techniques.
Develop a response plan to bullying behaviour
An effective intervention and response plan has 4 goals:
- Encourage communication. Adults provide a model for students by engaging them in discussions about bullying and encouraging students to seek help from an adult when other strategies are not working.
- Develop empathy. Adults help students recognize and interpret the feelings and needs of others, understand the impact of bullying behaviour and treat others with caring and respect.
- Promote accountability. Adults help students develop the ability to stop and think before they act, resist peer pressure and take responsibility for their own behaviour by making amends for harms they cause others.
- Enhance positive behaviours and healthy relationships. Adults teach, model and reinforce skills for getting along with others.
A response plan can include guidelines and strategies for:
- tracking incidences of bullying behaviour
- supporting students who experience bullying
- supporting students who engage in bullying behaviour by responding with logical and predictable consequences that promote positive behaviours and provide opportunities to understand the impact of their behaviour
- supporting students who witness bullying behaviour
Continue to collect and analyze relevant data to inform decisions about what is working, what is not and successes that can be celebrated.
Code of conduct
These websites provide information on different types of bullying, helplines, events and initiatives.
Alberta Family Wellness Initiative
Alberta's Plan for Promoting Healthy Relationships and Preventing Bullying
PolicyWise for Children and Families: Supporting Every Student Learning Series
PREVNet: Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network
The Society for Safe and Caring Schools & Communities
Fictional examples of bullying prevention
Plans for bullying prevention will look different at different schools, depending on the needs of students and the resources and priorities of the school community.
The importance of healthy relationships is mentioned in the school mission statement and is reinforced in the school’s code of conduct. The code of conduct is displayed throughout the school and key aspects are highlighted at monthly assemblies. Teachers work together across grade levels to include specific social emotional competencies in the Kindergarten to Grade 9 Health and Life Skills Program of Studies, revisiting key skills at each grade level.
All students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 are introduced to basic strategies for:
- responding to bullying behaviour
- managing minor conflict
- intervening when they see another student experiencing bullying
Grades 4 to 6 focus on leadership skills, including:
- listening respectfully to others
- valuing diversity
- ensuring everyone is included in activities and discussions
- practicing these strategies in the classroom
- providing visuals of the strategies to share with their families
Middle school and junior high
School staff spend time before the start of the school year to plan for more active supervision throughout the year. A group of teachers review data from year-end student surveys and office referrals data. They identify ‘hot spots’ in and around the school where bullying behaviour is most likely to occur and when it is most likely to occur. They develop strategies to increase adult presence and maximize supervision.
All staff participate in a two-hour interactive workshop discussing, practicing and reflecting on specific supervision strategies including:
- Giving descriptive and corrective feedback
- Using positive language to give directions
A module on respectful communication is included in the Kindergarten to Grade 9 Health and Life Skills Program of Studies. An overview of the learning objectives, content and strategies are shared at a staff meeting. In addition, the Student Council commits to organizing three school-wide events to promote healthy relationships and bullying prevention. Staff members commit to reinforcing respectful communication across environments and throughout the year.
This year’s student advisory focuses on attributes of healthy relationships and how they contribute to the prevention of bullying behaviour. This is reinforced by structured in-class discussions. A core group of staff develop sample activities and reflection questions for teachers to use.
Coaches and extra-curricular advisors work together to model and reinforce positive interactions throughout all student activities. They also provide orientation sessions for student representatives from each club, team and activity.
These student leaders are involved in helping:
- develop strategies
- provide feedback on plans
- generate new solutions and actions
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