Anti-Bullying Efforts in the Elementary Classroom

Help prevent bullying from ever beginning with these simple strategies for implementing class meetings.

By Christen Amico

Young boy shielding face from a bully

Bullying is not innate; it is a learned skill. Children learn that being mean and aggressive will often get them what they want or need. Obviously, this notion must be diffused as early as possible. Children must learn that although being kind and caring takes more work and possibly more time, the outcome is far greater and longer lasting. The more adults can help to build strong, positive social skills among young children, the less bullying will become a problem in middle and high school. One way that teachers and school adults can begin to establish empathy in children is to set up class meetings, where children can voice their thoughts and share their stories in a collaborative and positive learning environment.

Set Clear, High Expectations

Teachers sometimes make the unfortunate assumption that children know how to interact appropriately in social situations. However, many children lack these basic skills. The first few class meetings should be dedicated to providing explicit directions on exactly how individuals must behave during class meetings and when interacting with others on a daily basis. These expectations go above simple class rules. They extend to specific wording such as: please, thank you, and excuse me. Body language and eye contact are also important. It is crucial that the classroom environment be deemed a safe place where all members may share their stories, problems, and emotions without fear. Some teachers have had more successful meetings by having everyone sit in a circle. This formation makes everyone visible and at the same eye level. Nobody, child or teacher, should dominate the class meetings. Rather, all participants should feel welcome to speak. Some teachers like to require that speakers refrain from using the names of others when sharing a concern. The particular rules and expectations for class meetings should be designed to best fit the needs of the class. Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Only one person speaks at a time.
  • All responses must be accepted without judgment.
  • Nothing said in the meeting may be repeated outside of the class meeting.
  • No negative or mean words.

There are two types of class meetings: those pre-planned by the teacher and those that just come up on an as-needed basis. For pre-planned meetings, the teacher will propose a topic for discussion. This will help keep the talk focused and learning-driven. The following are some topics you may want to cover:

  • A time when you didn’t get your way.
  • Follow the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.
  • What to do if you see someone hurting someone else.
  • What if friends disagree?
  • How to make someone feel better.
  • Tattling vs. Telling.
  • Role of bystanders.
  • Standing up for yourself.
  • Words can hurt… a lot!

During each session the teacher should share a personal experience to model the type of discussion that would be appropriate. Some teachers then choose to have students pair-share so that everyone does, in fact, get a turn to talk to someone else. Next, the discussion returns to the whole group, and as one person shares a story or related experience, other children or the teacher can comment and extend the conversation. The teacher should feel free to prompt or refocus the group as necessary, but the majority of the talking should be done by the children. Here are some prompts that teachers might consider for class meetings:

  • “How did that make you feel?”
  • “What could you have done differently to prevent that from happening?”
  • “Why do you think that happened?”
  • “Does anyone else have a similar story to share?”
  • “How can we help ____ so that this doesn’t happen again?”

Spur-of-the-moment class meetings may be called on when a group of students is having an argument or when you are bombarded by five kids yelling and screaming about something bad that happened at recess. These class meetings can be used to turn dramatic, chaotic situations into teachable moments.

Extending Class Meetings

There will never be enough time in the day to solve all the issues, so you may need to set a time limit for each meeting. However, the learning can be extended using these simple learning activities:

  • Written or artistic response to the class meeting. Pupils can create a skit, poster, or story about what they learned during the class meeting. The golden rule always makes for a great illustration.
  • Create a friendship commercial, advertising the many benefits of being a good friend. Children can even create a slogan such as “Be a Friend…Make a Friend"
  • Cut out a large shape of a person and have pupils rip off parts of the body to symbolize being hurt by another person. Then have them tape the parts back. They can now literally see how words can hurt and saying, “I’m sorry” is like tape: it can put the piece back, but the person will never be the same.
  • Using I-statements to prevent the other person from feeling attacked or becoming defensive. I- statements begin with the word I and include a feeling word, such as “I feel very frustrated when you cut in line” rather than “Hey, you cut in line!”
  • Set up a peace table where children can go to work out their own problems with little, or no adult intervention. Books and posters with conflict resolution ideas may be posted around this area.

Bully Prevention Lessons: 

Be Kind Kids Project

Kids work in teams to illustrate a kid-friendly poem about fairness and kindness among young children. This is a very hands-on and engaging plan that can easily be modified for any age or size group.

Bullies: Do Something about Them

Young learners are encouraged to analyze the term bully and discover that it used to be a positive word. There are plenty of simple lesson ideas to teach about the meaning of the word as well as the negative consequences it can have on others. This is a very thorough article that also includes an opinion piece questioning the role of the school in several incidents of bullying. Older writers can respond to this piece with their own viewpoints.

Social Stories

Although this was originally created for learners with special needs, it would be a great addition to any curriculum. Children use a digital camera to photograph social situations around them (e.g. children playing, adults making a purchase, birthday party). The photographs are collected and compiled into a book. Older learners can write about each picture and describe the emotions of the people involved and what actions would be appropriate in a similar situation.