Bullying Interventions

By: Christina Whalen, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Student bullies another by pushing them against brick wall while another takes pictures with cell phone

School-wide bullying programs can decrease bullying incidents by about 25% or more (McCallion & Feder, 2013). There are four primary roles in bullying incidents – the bully, the followers, the target, and the bystanders. The bully or bullies are the students that are engaging in the bullying behaviors and the followers are the students who go along with the bullies or support the bullying behaviors. The target is the student or students who are being bullied and the bystanders, which are most students, are the ones who are nearby when the incident occurs or are aware of the bullying incidents but not directly involved.

Research shows that the most effective way to stop a bully is when a bystander intervenes. This can decrease bullying incidents by about 50% (Davis & Nixon, 2010). Bystanders should not confront the bully; rather, they should interact with the target in a positive way and remove the target from the situation. For instance, if a bystander observes a student being bullied in the cafeteria, they can give a compliment to the target like, “Nice goal today in soccer; that was great!” While ignoring the bully, they can engage the target and invite the target to come sit with them and their friends in the cafeteria.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) programs have also been shown to decrease bullying incidents. These programs target positive social behaviors that build the necessary skills and coping mechanisms to handle challenges more effectively and ethically. The gold standard for SEL programs is the CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) model which suggests teaching self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness. Building these skills can improve academic performance and school climate and can reduce behavioral challenges and bullying incidents.

Bullying is not a problem that is specific to school settings. A general shift in our thinking and attitudes is essential to minimize these incidents. Schools should teach staff, parents, administration, and their students how to prevent and respond to bullying. Parents and community members should be aware of red flags that their child is being bullied or is bullying someone and should work with their schools to minimize these incidents.

Decreasing bullying not only helps the students who are targets, but also improves the learning environment for all students and helps the student who is engaging in bullying to more effectively manage their behaviors. A more positive school climate also decreases stress and improves staff job satisfaction.

About the Author

Christina Whalen, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Director of Research at RethinkFirst

Director of Research, psychologist and behavior analyst for RethinkEd

Dr. Christina Whalen, Director of Research, is a psychologist and behavior analyst and lives in La Jolla, CA. At RethinkEd, she is the primary author of Tier 3 curriculum for Social Emotional Learning and assists with the development of professional development videos for educators. She has over 20 years of experience working with children, teens, and adults with special needs. She is the author of the book Real Life, Real Progress for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Strategies for Successful Generalization in Natural Environments and has presented at numerous education, behavior analysis, and psychology conferences.

Dr. Whalen was the initial founder and creator of TeachTown, a computer-assisted behavior analysis is intervention for children with developmental disorders. She also worked for various clinics, schools, and research programs. She received her PhD from University of California, San Diego and did postdoctoral training at UCLA and University of Washington.

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