Committee for Children Blog

It’s Never too Late for Bullying Prevention

by Emilie Coulter

The tenth anniversary of No Name-Calling Week is a good time to remember that it’s not too late to adopt a bullying prevention program in school. In fact, many educators and others who work with children believe that bullying often increases in the second half of the year, due in part to accumulated academic and social frustrations, concerns about upcoming transitions, and anticipation of summer.

Scott Poland, Ed.D., professor of psychology and director of the Office of Suicide and Violence Prevention at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and an internationally recognized expert on school crisis, bullying prevention, and suicide intervention, believes there can be a gradual build-up of experiences throughout the year for a child who bullies as well as the person on the receiving end: “[T]he bullying becomes cumulative for the victim,” he says. “I also theorize that some [kids] have experienced lots of frustration in school by the spring and are likely to take it out on others.” This big-picture perspective is one that might be helpful for school leaders to take. Rather than wait for the simmering to come to a boil, educators are in a position to step up their efforts in social skills education.

Spring fever

Whether there is a statistical increase in bullying after the new year or not, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from teachers, some of whom have learned to anticipate the pattern. Northern High School (Durham, NC) math teacher Blake Rahn sees what he calls a “general decline” in positive behavior over the course of the year. This is most pronounced when spring hits,” he says. “It seems that a combination of better weather, the impending end of the school year, and surging hormones (at least in middle and high schools) frequently leads to more behavioral incidents in the second half of the year.

It is possible to nip some of that spring fever in the bud, though, leading to a more peaceful school climate all year long. Programs such as the new Second Step Bullying Prevention Unit help students address these issues positively and proactively. When children know how to recognize, report, and refuse bullying and—equally important in terms of lifelong social-emotional health—understand the powerful role of bystanders in bullying situations, they are better equipped to face their day-to-day challenges. Research also shows that students can reduce their chances of being bullied in the future by responding assertively.

The solution involves everyone

Longer-term programs that enlist the support of the entire school staff and administration give students the opportunity to practice and internalize the skills they need for better social interactions. These programs also allow the adults in the school to practice and internalize their own very important role of backing up the work the children are doing in learning to communicate, negotiate, and problem solve with their peers.

One middle school teacher in New Hampshire describes the advantages of establishing a strong program to address the typical issues that come up in schools: “We have few issues of bullying at the middle school, and by second semester our community-building efforts have really taken hold,” she says. In other words, the classroom community grows stronger as the year goes along, rather than disintegrating.

No Name-Calling Week

No Name-Calling Week is an initiative inspired by author James Howe’s young adult novel, The Misfits, and organized by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing. Schools are encouraged to dedicate this one week a year to improving school climate. As educators know, of course, one week of attention is not enough to make lasting changes, but it is a way of energizing schools to assess how they are doing and re-focus their efforts on bullying prevention and other social and emotional learning. This renewal of commitment also shows the entire school community that kindness and respect are highly valued all year long.

Emilie Coulter is a writer who has worked for Committee for Children in one capacity or another since 1987. She regularly scratches her head over how to apply all that accumulated social-emotional literacy to her own children in real time.