A Different Approach to Bullying in Schools: Part 1 of a Series

According to the National Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2009 Report:

  • During the 2007-08 school year, 25% of public schools reported that bullying occurred among students on a daily or weekly basis.
  • In 2007, 32% of students ages 12-18 reported having been bullied at school during the school year.
  • Of the students who had been bullied, 63% said that they had been bullied once or twice during the school year, 21% had experienced bullying once or twice a month,

    10% reported being bullied once or twice a week,

    and 7% said that they had been bullied almost daily.

The typical school solution is very often an “anti-bullying” program, and punishment for the bully. In my work with schools, I seek to empower administrators, teachers, and parents with the tools and awareness they need to create an all-encompassing culture change that makes bullying the exception, not the norm.

The Nurtured Heart Approach offers deeper insights into the very nature of bullying. The typical child who bullies has often been the victim of bullying in ways we might not expect. The core causes of bullying behavior in a child’s life may have been formed by his home or school experience, inadvertently fueled by well-meaning adults. Consider the following examples:

In high achieving districts, children can be bullied by excessive parental pressure to get straight A’s, excel in sports, and so forth. When children don’t achieve the expected results, this can be stressful for them. Unfortunately, no one can perform at their peak if they are under too much stress.

Because they value achievement and want to support their child, parents may lobby school administrators and teachers, asking them what is being done to provide their child extra help and attention. Although intended as advocating for the child, it may be perceived as bullying by the teacher.

Let’s say the child bullies another child in the school environment. The principal, under pressure to ensure school safety, feels he or she is expected to enforce harsh discipline. Thus, the child perceives that he is being bullied into compliance.

From a district perspective, the pressure to achieve high academic ratings can put excessive pressure on the schools themselves, resulting in competition between and within schools. This results in extra pressure on teachers, creating an environment in which teachers feel bullied into having to be perfect.

In no way am I saying that high academic standards or discipline are a problem – quite the opposite. The core issue in all the previous examples is competitiveness. There is a difference between expecting excellence and expecting perfection. The latter breeds competition, not camaraderie. At our core, human beings are created to be in relationship, not in competition. A competitive culture can breed bullying. If one’s behavior is driven by pressure to be the best amongst his or her peers, and anything less than perfection is unacceptable, than his actions and decisions may come at the expense of another person.

So, what’s the solution? Academic excellence can be achieved in an environment that is completely contrary to bullying. The Nurtured Heart Approach emphasizes impacting the culture of the entire community, which includes the schools, parents, students, teachers, and administrators. Children and adults thrive in a collaborative school environment, staffed by teachers and administrators who are caring, assertive, and feel supported to do a great job. When the NHA is incorporated into the home environment, teachers, parents, and children are all on the lookout for the best in one another.

When schools create a culture focused on encouraging one other, bullying is so out of place that it can be addressed with low drama and quick, yet effective, consequences. The focus of the adults is to help children see themselves as valuable, competent, and having a place to belong. When bullying occurs, it is seen as a violation of the environment and culture of the school. The consequences are not fueled with anger, resentment or revenge. Instead, consequences and discipline are focused on restoration and healing, congruent with the desire to nurture the hearts of all children.

Next month’s newsletter and blog will be dedicated to empowering you with tools to help create a more positive, collaborative environment in your home, neighborhood, and school. You’ll learn practical games, suggestions, and tips to defuse bullying, help a child who has been bullied, and help those who bully others.


“Best Practices in Bullying intervention and Prevention” DuPage Country Regional Office of Education, 2011