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Last updated: 25.02.20

What to do when dealing with a bully

Bullies and bullying can loom large in the lives of children of all ages, bringing down the self-esteem and self-worth of their victims and instilling an environment of fear, leaving children unable to thrive.

As a teacher, it can be hard to know how and when to intervene. Mishandling a case of bullying can often make things worse for the bullied, leading to reactions of intensified bullying from the bully. As such, resolving the situation requires tact and diplomacy, not only protecting the target but also helping the bully to learn and to change. This blog will provide a helpful guide on how to do just that.

Support the child who is being bullied

The most important thing for the targets of bullying is that they feel like they have someone to talk to if they feel the need to. Everything they say should be taken seriously and noted down and be sure to take their opinion into consideration – ask what they want you to proceed and how they want you to respond. Be sure to give them their support options, especially the Childline helpline, and enquire after their emotional wellbeing.

React to instances of bullying immediately

If you encounter bullying in the school day, act immediately. Set yourself up between the bullied pupil and their bully, and de-escalate the situation. Once you’ve calmed the disruption, talk to the bullied pupil and the bully separately on separate occasions; this provides a safe space for the bullied pupil to talk safely and securely with out having to face their tormentor. When you talk with the bully, be sure to let them know that their actions do constitute bullying and will not be tolerated. Administer punishment that is fair, but which focuses on teaching the bully that what they did was wrong, rather than punishing for punishment’s sake.

Establish an anti-bullying environment at school

To set the stage in your school for developing an anti-bullying environment is to call attention to it and to encourage a counter-movement of talking and open discussion of bullying and its consequences. This brings all bullying to the light and allows you to deal with it more easily. It also makes it easier for other pupils to support the bullied pupil and to challenge the bully over his or her behaviour, potentially leading the bully to reconsider their actions and focus on self-improvement.

Help the bully to change

Often a bully bullies because they don’t have the social skills that allow them to solve problems without aggression. This is something that can be taught by focussing on developing empathy and emotional intelligence, and by letting the bully know that you believe that they can change. When you hand out penalties for their bullying, make sure those consequences teach the bully to change their ways rather than punish them for their behaviour. This can include tasks like interviewing an older victim of bullying or asking them to watch a film where bullying is a prominent plot point. Alternatively, you can simply talk with the student about how they act and how their actions makes their target feel.

Developing a stronger understanding of bullying and its consequences is the best way to understand how to prevent it in your school and among your pupils. Virtual College’s comprehensive courses on the topic and other safeguarding methods can help you increase this understanding, with easy-to-follow and intuitive training materials. You can find our safeguarding courses here.

You can also check out our useful and informative downloadable resources, including this infographic on how to deal with a classroom bully, and a poster on how to spot when a child is being bullied.  

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