How to Confront and Eliminate Bullying

Bullying is the unfortunate outward effect of conflict between students. Left unaddressed, bullying can lead to serious problems for all those involved. The following article offers tools to identify bullying and help you get to the root of the problem.

Why Bullies Do What They Do


Bully Free Zone image

Image via Flickr by Eddie~S

We live in a society that rewards bullies; just look at cutthroat industries or reality show contestants. Rarely do nice people win. Adults model this behavior in families, businesses, and governments. What kind of message does this send to children?

Bullying occurs in the absence of alternative, more positive behaviors. When children see bullying behaviors “work,” they assume that they’re acceptable. Therefore, it is imperative to identify bullying behaviors and replace them with constructive actions and attitudes.

Recognize and Identify Bullies

Bullies are hiding in plain sight. Most manifest obvious characteristics such as domination, impulsivity, defiance, and anger. Mindfulness of student-to-student interactions can quickly help identify bullies and their victims, but student-to-teacher interactions matter, too. After all, students who misbehave in class or are defiant typically target their classmates with similar behaviors.

Most bullies fit into discrete categories, including former bullying victims who seek to regain power by bullying others. Some bullies, fueled by their status as a popular student, continually feed their ego by bullying others. Others bully in packs, instantly outnumbering their victims. In all cases, the bully belittles and minimizes their victims.

Confront Bullies

Once a bully is identified, they must be stopped before their actions escalate. Paying attention to students’ behaviors is an obvious way to detect bullying. What happens next can spell the difference between creating a school culture of fear or of peace.

  1. Take Immediate Action: If a student seems to be a bully, there’s no time to question assumptions or second-guess hunches. The action needs to be stopped immediately to prevent further damage.
  2. Avoid Interventions: In some situations, it’s wise to bring conflicting parties together to devise a solution. This is not a good strategy in bullying situations. Bullies and their victims should be consulted with privately to avoid embarrassment and future problems for the victim.
  3. Don’t Make Judgments: It’s easy to jump on the victim’s side, but bullies need to be heard and respected. Listen to their side of the problem and refrain from making judgments before they finish speaking. Students may use bullying actions to mask a deeper issue in desperate need of resolution. Listening empathetically to a bully may help them reach a more constructive resolution to personal problems. However, keep in mind that fully resolving their issues may require assistance from an outside source, such as a counselor or nurse.
  4. Change the Minds of Bullied Students: Addressing bullies directly might seem the most logical strategy, but giving voice to the bullying victim also solves the problem. This is important to do actively, as bullied students otherwise may avoid telling authorities for fear of retaliation from the bully. Creating an outlet for bullied students and those who witness bullying situations to discuss their concerns privately, such as having students write about their day in reflective journals, can flesh out bullying issues.

Create An Anti-Bullying Mindset

Creating a bully-free environment might seem like a fantasy, but it is possible. Changing students’ mindset toward bullying means addressing the underlying factors that lead to bullying.

  1. Rethink Social Behavior: Obviously, bullying is a social issue. As such, it’s important to teach students what proper social behavior is. It’s easy to assume that students, especially older ones, are socially adept, but they often lack in areas such as interpersonal, assertiveness, and communication skills. They don’t understand how to handle basic situations, which leads to acts of aggression or anger to navigate the situation. Offering team exercises can also help reinforce proper behaviors.
  2. Rethink Equality: An NEA survey indicates that students are often bullied based on weight, gender, sexual orientation (actual or perceived), disability, and religion, with special-education students receiving the brunt of bullying behaviors. Simply telling students to be nice to everyone doesn’t work. They need to understand personal differences from each other’s point of view and be placed in an environment that readily respects students for who they are. Demonstrate how discrimination affects people and have your students share instances in which they have been discriminated against. For instance, when discussing the Declaration of Independence, discuss what the phrase “created equal” means.
  3. Rethink Ourselves: It may be hard to do, but even we teachers need to self-reflect and ask ourselves, “are we being the bullies?” If we’re yelling at and berating our students, we may very well be. Sure, we’re human and it’s understandable that we sometimes lose our patience, but it’s important to think about how our behaviors affect our students. Even labeling students as bullies can have a detrimental effect, as doing so will make them feel like they’ll never be a good person. We also need to think about how involved we are with our students. How well do we actually know them? Can we quickly identify problematic behaviors among our students? Can they trust us?
  4. Rethink Revenge: A common theme in anti-bullying advice is to tell victims to stand up to the bully. This is not productive and represents a fixed mindset in which both the bully’s and victim’s personality is unchanging. Instead, we need to adopt a growth mindset in our schools that emphasizes to students that they can rise above their problems and be successful. Providing examples of people who overcame adversity to effect positive change in their lives both inspires and motivates students.

In Short

Bullying is a common issue in schools, but it’s time for it to stop. No longer should we rely on cookie-cutter strategies that only offer a quick fix to the situation. In order to make a lasting change in bullying behaviors, we must address the problem at its very root.


  1. Chris Salberg

    November 28, 2015 at 9:46 am

    Unfortunately bullying will always be a part of life however we can teach our children it is unacceptable and a strong person intervenes when this is happening. Just make sure you don’t scold your child for possibly getting into a fight while helping someone…..I’ve seen those mixed messages happen also.

  2. Lyna

    December 2, 2015 at 5:01 am

    During our roll out on bullying in our school division, one of the facilitators asked me this question: “is bullying a part of growing up or a behavior?”

    I need you to help me clarify this issue/concern/query.

    Thank you