Restoration: the Nurtured Heart Approach™ to Bullying

Part II of a series

For Both Parents and Teachers:

The roles of parents and teachers many times overlap. Both are encouragers and educators, comforters and counselors, and of course, disciplinarians. It is critically important however, that both parents and teachers handle their child’s behavior in a way that encourages growth and self-worth rather than shame.

Most parents and teachers are well-versed in common discipline and classroom management techniques based on punishment – time-outs, removal of privileges, and more drastic measures like corporal punishment, suspensions, detention, and so forth. This approach falls into the broad category of what is termed “retributive justice”, which mandates appropriate punishment for an offense. Retributive justice permeates our culture; up to and including our treatment of both juvenile and adult offenders within the prison system.

The Nurtured Heart Approach follows a different model – that of restorative justice. Restorative justice helps both offender and victim re-integrate into the community through acts of restoration and accountability. Restorative justice helps children learn how their behavior affects others, as well as what can they do to take responsibility and create healing. The goal is to free the child from the labels of bully and victim.

Below are some examples of both restorative and retributive justice, adapted from the website

Retributive Justice

Misconduct defined as breaking rules

Focus on establishing blame

Punishment for transgression

Attention paid to adhering to rules

Restorative Justice

Misconduct is defined as adversely affecting others

Focus on dialogue, cooperation, negotiation

Restitution and reconciliation of both parties

Attention paid to reaching the desired outcome

In this post, we explore the issue of bullying and how restorative justice can help by creating a home and school environment in which bullying is an anomaly. When it is reported, it can be addressed in a way that is congruent with restoration and justice, rather than punishment.

For Parents:

Parents encounter multiple types of bullying; bullying at home, between siblings, bullying in the school environment, playground, on sports teams, and in their neighborhoods.

A Nurtured Heart Approach to parenting helps children develop inner strength and confidence, making them less likely to be a target. The NHA also encourages the development of an empathic child. By motivating your child to befriend other children, especially those who are “different,” you are building his sense of empathy for others, a critical component of bully prevention.

The Nurtured Heart Approach can also benefit parents when one of their children bullies another child. For example, when my five-year old son bullies his two-year-old sister – perhaps by taking a toy, or hitting her, part of the restoration process is to help my son understand how his sister feels. Is she afraid of him? Does she feel she can trust him? Part of the consequence, for him, involves helping her feel safe again.

If I merely sent him to his room for a time-out, the teachable moment would be lost. Instead, I have my son come up with concrete ideas to right the wrong. It is his job to mend his relationship with his sister. This has a different effect than simply requiring him to say, “I’m sorry”. The offender must come up with the solution, thus, it becomes personal and the child takes ownership.

For Teachers

Unfortunately, bullying is still practiced in schools despite excellent staff that are trained in bully prevention. How is it that this takes place even though students are constantly supervised, and what can be done? Cyber bullying, covert bullying when staff is busy, bathroom and locker room bullying – there are multiple avenues for bullies to inflict harm on others when no one is looking.

The State of Illinois has recognized the importance of redefining disciplinary measures in schools as a means of helping our children succeed at school and at life. The state documents three main goals for schools implementing restorative justice (Ashley & Burke):

  • Accountability.“Restorative justice strategies provide opportunities for wrongdoers to be accountable to those they have harmed, and enable them to repair the harm they caused to the extent possible.”Community safety.“Restorative justice recognizes the need to keep the community safe through strategies that build relationships and empower the community to take responsibility for the well-being of its members.”
  • Competency development.“Restorative justice seeks to increase the pro-social skills of those who have harmed others, address underlying factors that lead youth to engage in delinquent behavior, and build on strengths in each young person.”

The State of Illinois guidelines are designed to nurture an environment that is congruent with the Nurtured Heart Approach. All types of bullying and school violence can be addressed with this approach.

In schools, there are many levels of bullying. For example, the bully might tell another child he or she can’t play with them. Being picked last for the team, pulling hair on the school bus – covert bullying takes a multitude of forms. There are also levels of engagement in bullying. Some children may not actively bully, but they may stand aside and do nothing, or may even be active spectators who enjoy watching other children being bullied.

Reprimanding or calling out the bully is not the answer. Frequently, the victim then feels singled out, labeled, may experience shame, and become the target of even more bullying. If a child reports the bullying to the teacher and receives the well-meaning advice “ignore it – don’t let it get to you,” the teacher sends a mixed message: “That’s not very important to me.” Not only does traditional punishment lead to more bullying, but the teacher’s response to the bully leaves the victim even more vulnerable.

We can address bullying in a way that encourages restoration and justice, not punishment. The secret is to get the bully and the victim working together to achieve restoration and re-integration into the social culture of the school. First, the child who has been bullied must learn to assert themselves with a bully, telling the other child about the impact the misbehavior had on them. Then, the bully is encouraged to consider his or her own actions in the light of the person harmed and choose how to genuinely create restoration, healing, and forgiveness.


Restorative and Retributive Justice. Retrieved online April 20, 2012, at

Ashley, J. and Burke, K. Implementing Restorative Justice in Schools.

Retrieved online April 20, 2012, at