Bullying Intervention Tips for Families, Schools, Communities

Bullying is a complex problem, but there are good tools and resources that can help parents, educators, and caring adults identify bullying behavior. Did you know that there are four characteristics that can qualify a situation as bullying? The behavior has to be intentional, be repetitive, be hurtful, and involve an imbalance of power.

As adults, we maneuver ourselves away from conflict throughout our days. It goes without saying, then, that some conflict is normal in our children’s lives in the same way that it is normal in our lives. Adults need to recognize that some of what we call “bullying” may actually be developmentally appropriate conflict and is a normal part of growing up.

Learn more about conflict >>

Once we can properly distinguish conflict from a serious bullying situation, we need to begin to take actions to prevent it. When bullying happens, it is common for two sides begin to play the “blame and shame” game; teachers and school administration will blame parents for not bringing up better children, and parents will blame the education system for not stopping bullying in schools.

We all need to realize that placing blame on a situation should not take priority over our children’s safety and well-being. Instead, we need to work together to take proactive approaches to raise resilient kids, so they may become healthy, caring, well-adjusted adults who will be less prone to engaging in violent or risky behaviors like bullying.

Learn More: What is resilience? How can building resilience help kids rise above bullying?

When to Step In

We all had to learn to deal with conflict just like our children will need to learn. At the same time, though, we have to ensure that children are safe and protected. This is not easy! Just as we take action once someone crosses the line from conflict into crime, we must act once children begin harming others in ways that are intentional, repetitive, hurtful, and cause an imbalance of power—or in the most extreme cases—life-threatening. If you are aware of a serious or life-threatening bullying situation, consider the following tips for intervention.

Tips for Bullying Intervention

  • Kids who show signs of bullying behavior need two things: (1) to be clearly told that bullying behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, and (2) to be supported so that they can start making changes in their behavior by gaining the skills and characteristics they need in order to be healthy and successful.
  • Firm and consistent discipline of bullying at the home and school is important in order to correct the immediate problem.
  • Helping these kids learn empathy, tolerance, better cultural and social values, and getting them support with depression, anxiety, stress, problems with social skills, or challenges in their home life, are all important ways to help them start building positive character.

Interventions with Victims

  • Parents, teachers and school administrators should watch for signs a child is being bullied. Notice incidents as they occur and speak up; notice that a child is becoming more withdrawn, anxious, depressed or avoiding certain situations. Don’t be afraid to ask kids about their experiences. Pay attention to non-verbal cues. Sometimes the things that they don’t say are even more important than the things they do say.
  • Victims need support. They need to know they can (and should) speak up about being hurt; they need someone to listen to them and take their concerns seriously. They need to know that speaking up will not result in more victimization and they need to know there’s nothing wrong with them simply because they were victimized.
  • Victims are sometimes chosen due to their perceived “weaker” status in a social group. Helping these kids gain resilience skills, confidence and/or social and peer support they need can help them feel more confident and heal from the hurt of being bullied.

Family Interventions

  • Parents who identify bullying behavior in their kids’ lives need to know where they can turn for support and help. Schools and communities need to be sure parents know who to talk to, and what help is available.
  • Bullies sometimes (but not always!) learn some of their behaviors or attitudes at home. They may be dealing with trauma in the family, neglect, or outright abuse. Intervening to help families in need of social support can be one way to help prevent or deal with bullying.

School-Based Interventions

  • Some of the elements associated with decreases in bullying include parent training/meetings, improved playground supervision, firm and consistent disciplinary methods, teacher training/support, classroom rules, communication with parents, cooperative group work, and whole- school anti-bullying policies. 1 2
  • Creating and sticking with programs over time is really important. One of the goals of school programs is to hopefully change the school culture to one where students are resilient, and bullying is never seen as acceptable or “cool” – and such cultural change can happen quite slowly!

Community-Based Interventions

  • Partnerships among schools and other agencies that are potentially involved in the bullying problem and its solution can be helpful. Potential partners may include mental health resources, social service groups, police or law enforcement, and community resources such as park and recreation departments. Helping break the patterns of bullying needs to take place anywhere bullying can happen, and cooperation among interested parties is a good way to keep the pressure on.
  • Work to establish a shared vision about bullying in the community, its impact, and how to stop it. Raise awareness in the community about the importance of the goal and what community members can do to get involved. The stopbullying.gov website suggests a three-step community process to explore resources and get folks involved.

1. Swearer, D. (2012). Bullying prevention and intervention: Realistic strategies for schools. A full day workshop.

2. Ttofi, M. M. & Farrrington, D. P. (2011). Effectiveness of school-based programs to reduce bullying: A systematic and meta-analytic review. Journal of Experimental Criminology 7, 27-56. doi: 10.1007/s11292-010-9109-1
Wang, J., Ianotti, R. J., & Nansel, T. R. (2009). School bullying among adolescents in the United States: Physical, verbal, relational and cyber. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45, 368-375.

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The problem with INTENT


Helpful information. One concern, however, is defining bullying in terms of intent. Proving intent is both difficult and irrelevant. Would it matter if a drunken driver “intended” to injure others in a car accident s/he caused? No. Children and teens typically minimize bullying behavior by saying: “I was just kidding,” “I didn’t mean anything,” “It was no big deal,” etc.. Aggressive peer behaviors need to be stopped, irregardless of espoused intent of the aggressor. Young people who choose verbal, physical, and relational bullying behaviors need consistent intervention and remediation by caring adults. I highly recommend the work of Stan Davis – his website is www.stopbullyingnow.com .