8 Guidelines for Disciplining Bullies at School

Steps to take when disciplining bullies at school

teacher reprimanding a student at school
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Having a clear plan in place on how to discipline bullies and implement corrective measures, is an essential component of school bullying prevention. Doing so, helps schools ensure that they not only have a clear rules about bullying, but then consistently enforce those rules. In the end, this results in more successful bullying prevention programs.

Typically, the most successful disciplinary procedures are graduated in nature.

In other words, as bullying increases in severity so should the disciplinary action. By contrast, zero tolerance policies are usually not effective. For instance, if a school suspension is the only consequence for any type of bullying, students and teachers may fear it is too harsh and refrain from reporting less severe forms of  bullying. The result is that more bullying will take place because fewer incidents are being reported. Instead of decreasing bullying, zero tolerance policies often have the reverse affect. They also tend to leave students and teachers feeling like only the most severe cases of bullying are on the school's radar.

Finally, for bullying prevention programs to be successful, discipline must be consistent. This means that no student is exempt from being disciplined for bullying including gifted students, star athletes and even kids with parents who work for the school.

As a result, consequences for bullying have to be implemented without regard for who the student is. If a school fails to do this, the students will assume that not every student is treated equally and that some students are exempt from disciplinary action. In other words, they are above the law. When this happens, bullying at the school escalates.

And no one wants to see that happen. If you have been charged with developing a disciplinary plan for bullying at your school, here are eight guidelines schools should follow when dealing bullies.

Investigate all bullying complaints immediately

Once the school receives a complaint about bullying, it is imperative that an investigation begins right away. This crucial first step demonstrates not only that you aware of the situation, but also that bullying is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. It also shows students and parents that you take bullying seriously and that it will not be brushed under the rug or ignored.

Address the bullying immediately.

When you take immediate action, you are showing  victims of bullying, as well as any bystanders,  that your school does not tolerate bullying. Additionally, it communicates to the bullies, and potential bullies, that the school will take action when bullying occurs. When there are consequences for bullying at school, this helps deter bullying in the future.

Meanwhile, failing to implement any type of consequences for poor choices only serves to embolden bullies to take greater risks and to target students more frequently.

Confront the bully privately.

When you sit down with the bully, let him know that you will not tolerate his bullying behavior, and that if you see any sign that this was not an isolated incident, there will be additional repercussions including a call to his parents and a visit to the principal’s office. Talking with the bully publicly may cause him to lash out at the victim again. Or, it may be the type of attention he was seeking all along. Do what you can to avoid giving the bully too much attention or increasing his credibility among his peers.

Remind the bully that bullying is a choice.

Bullies need to recognize that no matter the reason behind his bullying behavior, bullying was a choice he made. And he is responsible for his actions. As a result, you need to be sure that the bully owns his choice and accepts responsibility for his actions. Sometimes kids refuse to take responsibility. Do not let this attitude slide. Refer the bully to the guidance office until he can communicate that he understands his responsibility. Bullies can change if they are given the appropriate skills.

Develop logical consequences.

The disciplinary plan developed for the bully should be logical. For instance, if the bullying occurred on the bus, then the bully should lose his bus riding privileges for a period of time. Or, if the bully used his status on the football team to bully others or bullied others because he is part of a clique, then he should lose that status for a period of time. You might choose to suspend him from a game or two or not allow him to eat lunch with the friends he was trying to impress. If a bully is targeting students in the locker room following gym class then do not allow the bully to use the locker room. Require him to change his clothes in the office bathroom. Just remember that every bullying situation is different and as a result the consequences will be different. The point is to demonstrate that bullying behavior has consequences and will not be tolerated.

Alert the guidance office about the bullying.

Typically, the guidance office will have ideas and resources they can pass on to bullies. If given the right skill set, most bullies can change. Be sure to provide the names of the victims as well so the counselors can reach out to them too. But it is never a good idea to have the bully and the victim in a meeting together. Mediation does not work between bullies and victims because of the power imbalance. Additionally, victims are often too intimidated by being in the same room with the bully that it silences them. Avoid providing bullies with situations where they can exert their power of the victims.

Contact the bully's parents.

While making a call to the parents is never an easy task, it is one that needs to happen. Explain that their child has been bullying other students and ask them to help you intervene. Ask the parents to tell their child that his behavior is unacceptable and to implement consequences at home. Stress the importance of respect at school. While some parents will be appalled by their child's behavior, other parents will deny their child did anything wrong. They may make excuses, shift blame or get confrontational. Stand your ground. Make sure the bully still experiences consequences for his choice despite any arguing and threatening you receive from the parents. If the parents are not supportive, you will have a harder time getting the bully to change, but you still should stay the course and follow your plan of action.

Continue to monitor the situation.

Sometimes when bullying is caught early, it won’t happen again. But do not automatically assume this is the case. Instead, monitor the bully’s behavior and continue to discipline if necessary. It is also a good idea to check in with the victim as well. Make sure he is adjusting well and recovering. Additionally, if the bully still has a bad attitude or is not taking responsibility for his choices, continue to require work in this area.

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