Health topic: Mental Health Health Promotion

Prevent and address bullying

What's it about?

Bullying is aggressive behaviour that’s meant to cause harm, fear, or distress. It’s often about social power, where one person has real or perceived power over another. Bullying takes many forms, including verbal, physical, social, and online.

Students who are seen as different (in any way) are at higher risk of being bullied. This includes those who:

  • Have diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and expressions
  • Look visibly different because of their skin colour, culture, or religious background
  • Have a physical disability or are obese
  • Experience poverty

Bullying is never okay. It’s not a normal part of life at school.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it's critical that we pro-actively prevent and address bullying among students exposed to the virus, those who must stay home, and those who experience heightened discrimination.


What's involved?

Policy is the backbone of school-based bullying prevention. It shapes our understanding of behaviour—what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

In Alberta, school authorities are required to have a policy that outlines how they’ll provide a welcoming, caring, respectful, and safe learning environment. As part of this policy, they require a code of conduct that addresses bullying behaviour.

Here are some other key actions to prevent bullying:


Tailor your approach

Research shows that everyone benefits from learning about bullying in ways that are tailored to their needs:

  • Students benefit from using instructional time at school to explore bullying and what it means to them. There’s also evidence that social and emotional skills can help to prevent bullying in the first place. Those skills can also buffer the negative effects of bullying for students involved.
  • Teachers and other school staff (like recess supervisors, bus drivers, and support staff) benefit from training that is tailored to their specific role and duty. In Alberta, Respect in School is a new online training program designed these groups. Contact your school authority to learn more.
  • Parents and other family members benefit from school-based training about:
    • How to talk to kids and teens about bullying
    • What to do if they’re concerned their loved one is being bullied
    • What the school is doing to respond to bullying, and how they can get involved


Collect information and use it to guide the way

Take stock of what bullying looks like and how it happens at your school. Use anonymous student surveys, observations, or other assessment tools to identify “hot spots” (areas on school property) and key times during the day when bullying is more common. Pay close attention to outdoor spaces, like playgrounds.

Use the information you collect to inform next steps. Be strategic—for example, boost adult supervision in certain spaces, or at key times of the day. Then monitor for signs of change.


Know how to respond

In Alberta, all schools are encouraged to have a 4-point response plan for bullying that encourages communication, develops empathy, promotes accountability, and enhances positive behaviours and healthy relationships.

Follow the protocols in place in your school division. Make sure that:

  • You know how to connect with your school-based mental health professionals (like counsellors or specialists) if you’re concerned about a bullying target or perpetrator.
  • You’re clear on the pathway to refer students and families to local mental health services.

Avoid these ineffective strategies. They can do more harm than good:

•    Encouraging kids to fight back

•    Face-to-face conflict resolution between targets and their perpetrators

•    Peer mediation approaches

•    Out-of-school discipline (suspension or expulsion)

•    Stand-alone awareness-raising events, like assemblies about bullying


How it connects

Bullying can have far-reaching consequences, both for kids who are bullied and those who bully. Bullying is associated with lower self-reported life satisfaction and poor mental health.

A proactive plan to prevent and address bullying is an important part of a whole school approach to mental health.

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