Ways Teachers Can Try To Stop or Reduce Bullying
Instalment Four: Considering Bullies' Backgrounds, Motivating Them to Change, Helping Bullying Victims, and Using and Teaching Stress Management Techniques

By Diana Holbourn

Article Summary

This instalment of the article discusses some reasons why bullies bully and what kinds of backgrounds many come from. It then suggests ways of motivating bullies to change, and discusses good and bad ways of punishing bullies. It gives advice on some ways of caring for bullying victims. Lastly, it suggests ways teachers can de-stress and relax when they have time, and gives ideas on relaxation techniques teachers can teach the class to calm them down when they're a bit boisterous.

It tells the story of a teacher in a primary school who had some success in stopping some bullies bullying with some imaginative techniques, including how she stopped a group of bullies from regularly pushing another boy's head down the toilet without them even knowing she knew they were doing it.

Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the self-help article.

Things People Have Said About Teachers and Teaching

It doesn't make much difference what you study, as long as you don't like it.
--Finley Peter Dunne

Do you know the difference between education and experience?  Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't.
--Pete Seeger

We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Intelligence appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without education.  Education enables a man to get along without the use of his intelligence.
--Albert Edward Wiggam

Education is the transmission of civilization.
--Ariel and Will Durant

The one real object of education is to have a man in the condition of continually asking questions.
--Bishop Mandell Creighton

The Main Contents

  1. Understanding Bullies Better
  2. Changing the Behaviour of Bullies
  3. Caring for Victims of Bullying
  4. Teaching the Children Relaxation Techniques and Learning to Use Them Ourselves

Part One
Understanding Bullies Better


It can help us feel less negative towards aggressive children if instead of thinking of them as just nuisances or bullies, we think of them as products of their environment. After all, though they need to start taking responsibility for their actions and making efforts to change, it won't be all their fault that they got to be the way they are. And if we can try to give them help and motivation to change the way they behave, we might be helping to prevent serious damage being done to people at their hands later in life. Lots of bullies go on to be criminals, according to studies.

Several different things might have contributed to making bullies the way they are:

Aggression in the Family


Some babies seem more easy-going and less aggressive and irritable than others from birth, for some reason. A more aggressive child's behaviour might trigger off aggressive behaviour in a parent that an easy-going child's wouldn't. Then the parent's aggressive behaviour will trigger the child to behave with more aggression. It can become a habit if it isn't skilfully dealt with. If the parent's aggressive all the time to start with, the child's aggression might provoke them to be more aggressive, which will in turn aggravate the child, and so on. Or even if a child is easy-going from birth, they can become aggressive if those in their surroundings are. Sometimes, aggressive parents will interpret a little child's behaviour as a deliberate attempt to irritate them and so respond harshly, when the child was really only trying to let the parent know in its baby way that it wanted something or isn't happy about something that's happening. The baby may become more aggressive in response to being treated aggressively. And in a home where the levels of conflict and stress are high, the child might well be around aggression for years, so it won't be any wonder they become aggressive themselves. They might not very often experience a parent's affection, and the parent might not look after them well.

Research has apparently found that school bullies often get to be the way they are through the way they have learned to behave from parents and as a response to mistreatment by them. For instance, if parents try to get a child to do what they're told by getting aggressive with them, the child will learn to get what they want by getting aggressive. And if the parents carry on trying to get them to do what they're told by being aggressive, and no one teaches the child any other way of behaving, the child will carry on behaving that way. It's more likely to produce good results if children are taught new and better ways of behaving, rather than just being punished for behaving in old ways but not being taught better ways of behaving instead.

Research has found that bullies often have parents who use physical discipline, don't supervise them adequately so they don't know if their children are getting in with a bad crowd and don't try preventing it from happening, have a hostile and rejecting attitude, have an overly-strict parenting style, or one where they punish inconsistently or hardly ever, so sometimes they let their children get away with whatever they want and sometimes they punish them unexpectedly, so the child doesn't see the punishment as fair because they're being punished for things they've been allowed to get away with a lot, and they can see the punishment as a random act of aggression by their parent rather than a fair consequence for their misbehaviour, especially if the punishment is extreme or doesn't fit the offence. And since they've got away with their misbehaviour a lot before, they'll keep trying to get away with it, expecting that a lot of the time, they will. Research has also found that parents of bullies often don't have very good problem-solving skills so they can't pass such things on to their children, or their children can't pick them up by watching them and learning what they do. Also they might teach their children that the way to handle conflict is to hit back.

Also, bullies quite often come from families where there isn't much warmth or caring. There can often be conflict in the parents' marriage, or one parent trying to bring the children up on their own on a low income. If a child's brought up amid stress and conflict, they won't have the opportunity to learn caring ways of interacting with others, because those around them quite possibly won't be behaving in a caring way all that often, and they might not feel they have the time or patience in any case to pay much attention to the child and give them a good example of caring and co-operation to learn from. And a lot of parents just wouldn't know how to do that, because their own family backgrounds were full of conflict, and they never learned how to resolve conflict without resorting to aggression and intimidation. Since that was the way they learned to behave as they were growing up, they won't know how to behave in any other way, so it's no wonder their children will be learning to behave like that from them.

The parents might never have been taught constructive ways of resolving conflict where agreements are reached by listening to and trying to understand the other's point of view and negotiating about how to do things differently in the future so both sides in the conflict are satisfied. Loud aggressive arguments might be the norm, where neither side really wants to understand the other's point of view but just responds with angry accusation and insult to the provocation they've received from the other one. Children will learn from their parents, so if their parents behave like that, it's no wonder if they do. And their parents might not stop aggressive arguments between the children till they're physically fighting. Some children may have found they get physically harmed if they don't stand up for themselves aggressively.


Also, expressing emotion might be frowned on. For instance, saying something like, "When you look as if you're going to hit someone, I feel scared" might be seen as a wimpy thing to say; children might be encouraged to be tough and resolve their own arguments by force. They might never have been influenced by anyone who gave them advice on controlling their emotions, for instance by trying to understand that the anger that can surge up in response to an insult can lead to actions that are far worse than what the person deserved, so it's best to pause before responding, perhaps taking several slow breaths, to relax a bit and reflect on what the best response would be. So they might do whatever they feel like doing on the spur of the moment.

So it might not be easy for such children to express their feelings and care much about those of other people. And it might be some time before they begin to pick up healthy ways of resolving conflict with the other children in the class, because years of getting used to behaving the way they do in their home environment and the continuing bad influence of their parents might make it difficult to break old habits. Teachers need to be persistent and patient in trying to teach them new ways.

Naturally, it would be unfair to assume in any individual case that a parent is to blame for their child's bullying. The child might have learned their bullying ways elsewhere. Even if they were mainly influenced by their parents, their parents will be behaving the way they themselves learned to behave when they were growing up. That doesn't mean they can't be held responsible for their actions and encouraged to change. They might find it difficult or be unwilling to change, but we can still try encouraging them in some ways, for instance by giving them little suggestions. For example, if we're teaching the children about good ways of handling arguments, we can tell the parents what we're teaching the children and give them information about the techniques we're teaching the children. It might turn out that the parents find them useful themselves.

For parents with particularly bad problems, it might be a good idea if we try to get the school counsellor or social worker or psychologist to try to help the family.

Schools Can Inadvertently Send a Message That Bullying's Acceptable


Schools can unintentionally provide an environment where bullying is encouraged. If teachers and other staff and other children behave aggressively, bullies will get the message that that behaviour is the norm, so they won't think they're doing something out of the ordinary. The impression is strengthened when school staff ignore their bullying. If they don't suffer consequences for their bullying, they might be getting a considerable reward for it, so they'll often have no reason to stop. If they learn they can get what they want by intimidating others and it makes them feel powerful and gets them admiration, they'll want to carry on.

Also, in schools where staff don't try to teach children communication and conflict resolution skills they can use to make friends and keep them, many children might reject a child who hasn't picked them up from elsewhere and behaves anti-socially by being aggressive and not co-operating with the others but trying to dominate or something. Rejected children who behave that way might get together and form a group of friends who are all aggressive, who will be able to be even better at intimidating others because there are several of them.

Another reward of bullying is that children who are bored of school or not doing well can do something they're good at when they bully, and can enjoy the feelings of superiority they get from it, as well as proving their courage and dominance over other children. They might not feel the need for friends if they're getting attention and feeling pride and a sense of achievement from their bullying. They'll be using what they know to get the recognition and attention they want, having never learned to make friends in healthy ways like some other children will have.

So it can help bullies change in positive ways if rather than just thinking of them as bad children who need to be punished a lot, we think of at least some of them as children who need to learn the skills that'll help them get on with people better and get rewards from friendships without having to resort to intimidation. For instance, if they develop a skill they can be admired for, such as playing a particular game well, that'll give them recognition and admiration they might previously have only gained by bullying. It might be impossible in some cases for us to influence their parents to provide a home environment for them where they learn to behave in a more civilised way; but we can at least have a go at trying to create a more caring environment for them to learn from at school. We can try to discipline them in appropriate ways instead of far too harshly or far too leniently, and we can teach them conflict resolution skills and get them to practice at school, so if their parents don't improve their behaviour, at least the bullies will know there is a better way of behaving.

The Neighbourhood a Child Comes From Can Influence the Way They Grow Up


The neighbourhood a child comes from can also play a big part in forming their attitudes. If the children around them have aggressive attitudes towards others, they'll probably grow up thinking it's the norm unless they're convinced otherwise by observing people behaving differently towards each other and being taught there are different ways of behaving.

Some bullies might have learned their bullying behaviour from children living around them in the neighbourhood. They might sometimes be the victims of bullying by other children in their neighbourhood. They might like the feeling of being powerful when they bully themselves that compensates satisfyingly for the feeling of powerlessness they feel when they get bullied by children in their neighbourhood. Or they might admire and envy the perceived strength and popularity of the bullies who bully them, and decide that bullying is a cool thing to do, and imitate the behaviour of the bullies by bullying younger children to feel strong themselves.

Or they might see children getting what they want by bullying others, for instance getting to go on a swing after they've pushed another child off it, and they might think bullying's an effective way of getting a person what they want if they see that kind of thing enough.

Some communities are just not safe for children to grow up in. They're around teenagers taking drugs and drinking alcohol and using violence to get what they want and behaving in other risky ways. A parent will have to be diligent in organising their children's lives if the children aren't going to associate with and be influenced by the other children in their neighbourhoods.

The culture children are brought up in can influence their attitudes as well. For instance, if they enjoy television programmes where violent people get what they want, or they're brought up in a competitive environment so they get to think that being the dominant one is good and that to get ahead in life it might be necessary to put down opposition that stands in the way, rather than learning to collaborate and try to develop win/win situations where everyone gets something they want, then they'll come to think of bullying behaviours as a good thing.

Not all bullying involves physical violence or threats. Some kinds involve excluding other children from a group of children who are playing, perhaps by turning the group against them by spreading nasty rumours about them.

And some bullies won't bully unless they're in a group of others.

Feeling Rewarded for Bullying

Children will see bullying as no longer worthwhile when they always receive a negative consequence for the behaviour and it doesn't seem all that rewarding, perhaps because they feel the disapproval of the class rather than being popular in some circles because of it. Also, if they try resolving conflict peacefully, they're more likely to try that again if they feel they've been rewarded in some way for it, for instance by being complimented on the way they handled things, or having the advantages pointed out to them, such as not being at risk of being hurt in a fight. Everyone can feel more motivated to do things when they feel they're getting some kind of reward. For instance, someone at work might work harder if they feel gratified because the boss is showing appreciation of their work.

Grinning smugly

Getting something they like will keep bullies bullying. For instance, if they get to play with a toy after they've snatched it from another child and hit them on the head with it to intimidate them into not trying to get it back, or if they get a feeling of power from threatening a child and making them do something they wouldn't normally do, they'll want to carry on so they continue to get such rewards. But if they find they're getting rewards from behaving well, such as compliments and attention, they'll be encouraged to do those behaviours more; and the more time they spend behaving in positive ways that get them attention and possibly admiration, the less time they'll have to bully. And if they know they're more approved of when they behave well, they might get to like it.

So it can be worthwhile if when we find a bully behaving well, we compliment them for it. If there are consequences for them when they behave badly as often as possible and encouragement for them when they behave well, they might well come to find behaving well more rewarding than bullying.

Part Two
Changing the Behaviour of Bullies

There are several things that could help encourage children not to bully so much, or that could help create an atmosphere in the first place where bullying doesn't begin to flourish.

Why it Can Be a Good Idea to Show a Caring Attitude Towards Bullies When Not Disciplining Them

One thing that can contribute to a reduction in aggression is trying to make the school seem like a friendly place where adults actually care about the children's welfare. If a teacher actually gets to know a bully as a person and shows interest in what's happening to them in life, helping them feel like someone who matters because they feel as if they must be worth taking an interest in, and if a teacher gives them responsibilities they can be proud of, or compliments them when they are actually doing something good in a way that makes them feel valued, then they might come to think of the relationship as too precious to jeopardise by behaving badly, or they might be in too good a mood to feel like behaving badly, or they might think that if they're respected, they want to carry on being respected so they don't want to behave badly. That usually won't happen overnight, naturally, but it might begin to happen over time.

If they feel the school's a safe caring environment, they're also more likely to do better academically, because they don't have to keep worrying about who they're going to fight next.

Feeling uncomfortable

Bullies often come from backgrounds where they're not respected, where they don't really feel cared for or listened to. Such bullies will probably just expect a good telling off in response to their bad behaviour. So they might feel uncomfortable and think it's a bit weird at first if a teacher starts showing an interest in them, and wonder what their motives might be. They might play up more at first to find out how long this apparently caring attitude will last if it's put under pressure. But if we keep it up, they might come to trust us and like the support and attention.

One thing we can do is to ask them all about why they bully and listen to their point of view, and talk with them about alternative ways of behaving.

The book says bullies are often motivated by the desire for attention, revenge or power. They often won't have received a lot of praise and encouragement, so they won't be familiar with getting gratification from being good and being praised for it. If they find they get gratification from getting power over others or being the centre of attention, even if the attention comes in the form of arguments or things other people might not like, they might enjoy it and want more, so they'll bully more to get it. They can also get reward from any admiration they get from others for being tough guys or being able to tease amusingly and that kind of thing. If they start to feel valued and they get enough reward from good behaviour to motivate them to do more of it, they might not want to behave in ways that would bring on the disapproval of people who've just made them feel good about good behaviour. We might not like the behaviour of bullies at all, but if we believe we have the power to change things so their behaviour improves, it's worth making the effort. It may be that many bullies would like to have supportive parents, but they've found their parents tend to be hostile and critical a lot, so that's the way they've learned to behave, and they expect hostility from others so they respond aggressively to even minor provocation because they're on edge. Bullies might be annoying and intimidating, but it may be that if we can provide the kind of patient support, fair discipline and caring guidance they'd get in a household where the parents have good child-rearing skills, so at least they get some, it'll influence their behaviour positively, helping them to think about what they're doing and decide whether it's what they really want or whether they'd prefer to behave another way.

Motives for Bullying, and Being Careful How We Respond


Though bullies might bully for attention a fair bit of the time, ignoring them's a bad idea, because their bullying will just get worse and worse because they'll wonder just what they can get away with and push their luck, and meanwhile, their victims and people looking on will think we don't care.

Another reason some bullies give for bullying is revenge. Not necessarily for anything bad the person they're bullying's done to them. It could be that they're angry that a teacher seems to be giving preferential treatment to another student. So their resentments motivate them to taunt the student or bully them in another way.

Another thing that motivates some bullies to bully is the desire to feel powerful or influential. They can enjoy power struggles with teachers or other students where they test their ability to intimidate or to get their way by throwing their weight around. The authors of the book say they've had bullies tell them they knew what they were doing was wrong, but they did it to prove to themselves that they had power in their lives.

Teachers need to be aware that if we get into an argument with a bully, they might be relishing it, seeing it as a power struggle, a way to get recognition as a good arguer who'll stand up for themselves, and a way to get admiration and attention from other children. Taking a less aggressive approach, one that challenges them to think more about their behaviour by asking questions rather than making accusations, can work better. So if we're feeling tired or irritable or any other emotion that makes us just want to respond by arguing, it's best if we first intervene as quickly as possible to stop what's going on, but then say we'll have a longer conversation with them later, and then do something to relax before doing so if possible. For instance, if we go into the classroom after lunch and see a boy pushing another one and we're really fed up and feel angry because he's done it so many times before, we could break things up by asking him to go and sit by our desk, and then go and do something quickly to calm down a bit if we can, and then come back and talk to him. Taking a bit of time out will also give us a chance to think through the various things we could say and do and decide on what seems best to us, rather than just reacting on the spur of the moment in anger, which means we might over-react.

If we don't feel we can cope with the bullying situation, we can seek outside help from someone if we know of someone we can turn to. Also, if we think the bullying's too serious for us to handle alone, we could talk it through with each of the bullies separately at some point and refer them for help from the school counsellor or social worker or someone else.

In less serious situations, we might not have to go away to relax. Even taking a slow, steady breath and counting to five might calm us down sufficiently to be able to respond to the bully's behaviour thoughtfully.

Man having a tantrum

One reason it's best not to get publicly angry with a bully is that after they've been made to feel good and powerful by dominating a victim, they can feel as if they've got power over the teacher if the teacher's behaving in an undignified way in front of the class, shouting like another child in the class rather than coming across as authoritative and in control. They can also enjoy the attention, as if arguing's a kind of stimulating sport.

Talking Things Through With Bullies

Of course, a firm line needs to be taken with bullies. But it's possible to try to support them in encouraging them to change their behaviour at the same time, though it might seem difficult. Talking through with them ways they can change their behaviour as well as giving them fair consequences for their bullying might well be a more effective way of changing the way they behave than just punishing them would be, which might just make them more determined not to get caught next time. Showing bullies we actually want to help them work towards their improvement as people can help them trust us and be more willing to work with us instead of just seeing us as adversaries. Here's an example of the kinds of things that could be said to a bully, not as a substitute for disciplining them, but as well as giving them a fair consequence for their behaviour. Before a consequence is given, a teacher could try to reason with them.


If for instance, the teacher sees a boy pushing another one in the lunch queue and then the boys start shoving each other and one's yelling abuse at the other, the teacher could go and say to the one who made the first move something like:

"Kevin, I'd like us to have a private talk. I can tell something's going on between you and Ben. Neither of you seems happy about something. You can't carry on pushing Ben and calling him names. You know you'll get in trouble for bullying, and it'll make Ben feel bad. I'm responsible for you, for Ben and for all the other students in the class. I understand there's a problem, but I need to help you find a better way to treat Ben. We need to talk about what you can do differently and how I can help you behave differently."

Essentially, we're saying we care about the boy while at the same time telling him his bullying isn't acceptable and his behaviour needs to change. Talking to him about the problem doesn't mean we don't give him a penalty for his behaviour, but it means we focus on moving forward to thinking of ways he can change the way he acts, not just hoping he'll change it because he doesn't like the penalties.

Bullies might often feel falsely accused and misunderstood, especially if they have picked on a victim because they genuinely thought they were being provoked by them or they deserved it, such as if the victim got some nice new clothes and has been showing them off, and the bully has interpreted that as the victim trying to show him up because his own clothes are shabby. So we could listen to what the bully says about their side of the story. It may be that they genuinely were provoked and we ought to be having a word with the victim as well as them. So it might be useful to get their side of the story. But if it sounds as if they might not have been genuinely provoked, we can talk through with them other explanations for the victim's behaviour. For instance, if they believe the victim was showing off their new clothes to make them personally feel bad, we can put it to them that perhaps the victim was just showing his clothes off because he was pleased to have them, or that perhaps he wasn't even really showing them off; it just looked that way to the bully because the bully felt jealous and he thought just wearing them meant he must be showing them off. We can talk through with the bully the explanations we can think of ourselves, and ask them if they themselves can think of other possible explanations for the victim's behaviour than the one they at first assumed to be the case.

It's best if we ask for their side of the story first without any preconceptions that they'll have misinterpreted things though, because perhaps they didn't, and if we can come across as sincere in wanting to know, the bully may come to think we're someone who wants to be fair to them and trust us, and thus they might feel we are someone they can work with.

The bully will probably want to spend all the time defending himself; but we can try to redirect his attentions away from doing that into telling us his thoughts and feelings about what he'd like to have done differently that would have avoided conflict, and what he could do differently in future. We could discuss with him different ways of handling the situation that would have meant he got satisfaction without having to bully. For instance, if a bully had bullied someone because he was resentful at being left out of a game, there could be various ways he could respond to such a situation in future that we could discuss with him, such as:

Perhaps the bully could do a combination of most of the above.


If we ask them just what they were trying to achieve by their bullying and they can come up with an answer, we can ask them in what other ways they could have achieved it. For instance, we could put it to them that some people bully for fun; some bully to feel a sense of power; some bully because they want attention and to be admired, some bully to get anger out of their system, and so on. We could ask them if any of those reasons is close to the reason they bullied, and if so, we can talk through with them whether there are any other ways they can get what they want. We could suggest some and ask them if they can think of others. For instance, if they say they want to be admired, we can discuss with them what talents they have that they could use to get themselves admired. If they say they wanted to have fun, we could discuss with them what other ways they could have fun, for instance bringing joke books into school and gathering a group of children around them and telling them jokes and all having a laugh together, and encouraging other children to bring in joke books or other funny things, or playing funny games together, for instance one where one child makes a silly face, and the other children all have to try their best to copy it.

It's important that we don't let the conversation descend into a power struggle where the bully will be getting pleasure out of seeing if they can win an argument with us or provoke us into behaving unprofessionally. So rather than focusing on arguing about the facts of the bullying incident which they'll probably dispute even if we saw them, we can move on as quickly as we can to focusing on brainstorming ways with them where they can stay out of trouble in the future. For instance, if they hit someone and are convinced the person deserved it because they were being annoying, we can discuss with them different ways they could respond, such as turning their attention to something else, asking the person not to do what they're doing, warning them that they'll tell a teacher if it happens again, making a non-malicious joke out of it, and so on.

A conversation between a bully and a teacher could, for instance, sometimes start a bit like this, in a way that shows that the teacher wants to treat the bully fairly and recognises their potential to be a good student, but at the same time wants their behaviour to change:

Teacher: Kevin, I think you've got a real talent for making people laugh and you've got a real budding gift for science subjects, but I often see you pushing Ben around in class. It needs to stop. I'm wondering if you could tell me what's going on between you and Ben?

Kevin: He's just such a pathetic weakling! He doesn't stand up for himself but just goes crying to a teacher all the time!

Teacher: People have a right to dislike others, but it's important that we find a way for you to develop a plan so you can have your feelings but you're also careful not to hurt other people because you don't like them. You need to learn that what you say and do to Ben hurts and upsets him. None of us wants to be hurt and upset. I certainly don't, and I don't suppose you do either.

A Teacher's Personal Experience of Dealing With Bullying in a Primary School

I've been speaking to someone who used to be a primary school teacher. She told me about some of the things she did to stop bullying in her classroom. She said they probably wouldn't work with older children for whom bullying was more ingrained, but with younger children, it was sometimes possible to channel all the energy they used for bullying into something else that gave them the pay-offs the bullying had, like making them feel important.

She also said the bullying wasn't that bad in her school, so somewhere where it was worse, the challenges might be greater. But still, she said some interesting things that might work sometimes:


She said that whenever she wanted to talk to someone about their bullying behaviour, she'd make sure she spoke to each pupil on a one-to-one basis, because confronting them in front of classmates would make their defences go up and they'd want to look hard in front of them so as not to lose face. So she'd wait. Then instead of telling them in front of the class later that she wanted to speak to them about their bad behaviour, she'd make them feel important, with the hope of getting their co-operation rather than making them feel oppositional, by asking them if they could do her the favour of staying behind and helping her put something away. When the two of them were alone, she'd try to subtly wean them away from their bullying behaviour rather than confronting them about what they'd done to the victim. She knew she would have to be careful about mentioning the victim, since some bullies would just make more trouble for the victim if they thought they were getting in trouble because of them. But she said sometimes, it was possible to get them helping their victim instead of bullying them, if she could make them feel important while they were helping them. For instance, she might say to certain bullies things like, "You know, so-and-so's having a rotten time of it at home at the moment; I'm wondering if you could do us the favour of getting him involved in the football team to cheer him up? He wouldn't listen to me; but you could really help him". Obviously that couldn't be said to a hardcore bully who might just take the opportunity to bully the victim more. But if she judged that the child's personality was such that they'd do a good job, she'd say something like that. That would make the bully feel important and as if they'd been entrusted with a special responsibility, so they'd be getting recognition from classmates for doing something meaningful, and a sense of importance they'd been bullying to get. So they wouldn't be motivated to bully anymore. She said that in her experience, the bullies tended to have very low self-worth, so something that made them feel significant and as if they could do something meaningful would help them feel better about themselves. And since they might have been bullying to boost their self-esteem, achieving it by another means would reduce their urge to bully to get it.

She said it was important that she didn't let any of the other children know she'd singled the bully out and asked them to help, or the bully would get made fun of by other children and called a teacher's pet. So it would look as if the bully had decided to be helpful by themselves. And that way, they'd feel important and it would give them a sense of status, but for doing something good, so they'd be getting similar pay-offs for that as they had been for bullying, so they wouldn't feel the need to get them by bullying anymore.

Annoyed boss

She said it would never do any good just to tell a child to stop bullying; you have to give them something positive to do instead, or they won't want to stop. She said bullies often bully to feel important; having power over someone makes them feel influential, and it can especially feel good if they get admiration and recognition as a tough guy from classmates because of it. She said a lot of them are basically attention-seekers. And she said she got the impression they somehow seem to have physical and mental energy most of us lack; after all, it takes quite a bit of energy to muster up the effort to bully. So she said it was possible to channel that into things where they were actually doing something positive and creative, getting the same pay-offs as they had when they'd been bullying, so they were just as satisfied and didn't feel the need to bully anymore. In other words, they'd be feeling important and getting attention and possible admiration. So, for instance, she'd ask a bully if he could help with something such as putting together the scenery for a class play. She said she used to organise a class play at the end of every term, and ask a few bullies to work together on the scenery in the background. She found it didn't work making one of them the lead character in the play, and in fact it was better if they weren't a character at all, because they would have a sense of grandeur and try to grab all the attention. But it was good getting them to work on something in the background, because then they wouldn't have the opportunity to spoil things for the rest by trying to dominate things, but they would still have a sense of importance and responsibility that would substitute for the sense of importance and significance they'd got from bullying. After all, it was crucial they got the scenery right so the play looked good, so it was an important role they had. Also, if there were a few of them working on it, it meant they had to co-operate with each other. That would mean they couldn't afford to bully, because if they didn't work together, things would go wrong. She didn't give them detailed instructions on what to do, such as telling them to make a certain bit blue or put certain bits in certain places; she left them to decide how to set everything up. That gave them more of a sense of responsibility and importance, and also meant they had to work in harmony with each other. They needed to plan together and carry out tasks together. Getting into disputes would mean they ruined things. They had to be nice to each other; and also, co-operating with each other meant they had to look out for one another and not just themselves. They had to discuss what they were going to do together, all come to an amicable agreement, taking into account each other's points of view, and then work together. So that would give them good practice for life.

Art gallery

She used the same principles when she got them to work on projects in class. For instance, she'd get the pupils to sit in little groups of about three, and get them to work together on an art project. They would all have to co-operate to make it good. They would have to discuss what to do and who was going to do what, and they'd have to stay nice to each other all lesson if they were going to achieve something they could be proud of. Also, it meant they would have to think about what the other children wanted and accommodate it to a certain extent, rather than just thinking about themselves and what they wanted, as many bullies would be used to doing. So it would help them see things from other people's points of view. So again, that would hopefully give them practise for doing that in the rest of their lives.

Child playing baseball

She said another thing that would encourage them to co-operate with each other would be getting them involved in team sports where they would have to work together to succeed. She said a classic example of that started when she was tired one day and wanted to slow the children down so they didn't wear her out so much. She decided to tell them they were going to do three-legged rounders. They had to pair up and their middle legs were tied together, and then they had to run everywhere together. That meant they had to get on with each other enough to do well. They couldn't just think about themselves. They had to coordinate themselves with the other one so they put their legs that were tied together forward at the same time, always running at the same pace as each other. That wouldn't just involve running once, naturally, but would involve them deciding what to do when for the whole game, and always making sure they were in step with each other. So they had to look out for each other, not just for themselves.

She says she'd pair bullies with victims so they'd have to co-operate with each other, although it was very important when doing that, and with everything else, that she didn't let the bullies know she was pairing them with victims and that the plan was that they'd learn co-operation and to think about the needs of other people and fit them into their plan for success because they were bullies. She said it was important they didn't feel labelled as bullies or think they were being asked to do something because they were a bully and that it was meant to help them behave better. If they'd known that, they might well have resented it and rebelled, and not learned anything but just misbehaved. So she said it was important they didn't feel as if the teacher was even conveying the message to them that they thought of them as a bully. It was best that they thought they were being treated as just another pupil.

She said she found sport was a good thing to get bullies involved in, because it would use up some of the energy they might otherwise have used for bullying.

She found another good thing to get bullies involved in was mentoring, to some extent. For instance, if a new pupil came into the class, she'd sometimes give one of the bullies the task of showing them around and telling them where all the things were and introducing them to people. That made the bully feel important and would hopefully encourage them to start liking helping people. And again, it would encourage them to think of others besides themselves. A very important thing though is that they would have to be supervised, or they would have to be judged not to be so bad a bully they'd use the privilege as an opportunity to make themselves feel powerful by humiliating someone new and inexperienced, because putting someone new and possibly shy in the hands of a bully who might use the opportunity to bully them when teachers aren't around is obviously risky. But it would probably be more of a risk with older children.


Another thing she found worked well, especially with girls, was coaching the older bullies to be mediators in the disputes of others. So if they were in the playground, for instance, and they saw two younger children angrily arguing, they'd go up to them and offer to help sort the quarrel out. Then they'd listen to both sides of the story, and help them come to some agreement. That was good because it showed them that there was more than one side to any dispute, so they could be more ready to see others' points of view in disputes of their own, not immediately jumping to the conclusion that the other person was in the wrong, but realising that things might not be quite the way they seemed from their point of view.

Another thing she'd do was role-plays, where the children acted out make-believe scenarios where the bully played the part of a victim. When the bully had to imagine what it might be like to be the victim, and if they were going to do a good job, they'd have to imagine how the victim felt so they could act out the part of someone whose feelings were hurt, it made them think about what it was like to be a victim more. The more they would identify with victims, the less they'd hopefully want to make anyone one.

One thing she made sure always to do was to give the bullies lots of praise. If she saw the slightest thing they were doing well, - and sometimes it was difficult to find things but she tried - then she'd quietly put her head over their shoulder when they were working and tell them what a good job they were doing. That way, they were encouraged to continue instead of becoming disruptive.

She would also give the children rewards by finding out what they liked doing and allowing them to do some of it if they'd been especially good, like reading in a quiet place.

One success story she had happened when a group of children started bullying a boy who was particularly good at maths. They would call him a boffin and shove his head down the toilet. One of the school staff told her what was going on. Neither the bullies nor the victim knew she knew. She didn't confront the bullies about what they were doing, since that would only have led to denial and defiance and the victim might have ended up suffering worse. But she stopped it. The ringleader wasn't very good at maths at all. He was really bullying the other child out of envy. So she coached him a bit in maths. She gave him one easy puzzle, and when he'd done it, she gave him lots of praise, saying how well he'd done. Then she gave him another easy puzzle. And when he'd done that, she praised him again. She gave him several easy things to build up his belief in his ability to do maths. She gave him different homework from the others, not telling anyone she was doing it. It was easier homework that she knew he'd be able to do. When he had, she praised him for doing well. She carried on like that, and soon the boy decided he actually quite liked maths after all. So he wanted to do more of it, and got better than he would have been if that hadn't happened. When he decided he wasn't that bad at maths after all, he stopped bullying the child who was especially good at maths. After all, he wasn't envious anymore, because he thought he was better at maths than he'd believed he was before, and there was no point in bullying someone for doing something well when you yourself could do it quite well.

Encouraging Bullies to Change Their Behaviour


When we see a child bullying, instead of just thinking of them as a pest, which might be very tempting, it's good if we can remind ourselves that this is a child who does have potential and might change their behaviour if we encourage them. So we can tell ourselves, and also tell the bully, that we're making a commitment to help them change the way they interact with others and also to help them get what they want in a non-aggressive way. We can let them know we want them, their victims and everyone else in the class to feel happy about being in the classroom.

If they're always starting arguments, a conversation between us and them might perhaps start something like this:

"James, I saw what happened between you and Brian. I'm very serious about making this classroom a good place for all my students. It seems by your actions that you're not happy with the way things are going in this class. I don't believe you want to be a bully. You don't have to be a bully to enjoy being with others in the class. I'd like to help you feel as if you're an important part of this class and to help you handle your problems with Brian better."

Bullies can often think they're being singled out and treated unfairly because they feel so sure their victims are deserving of retribution in some way; they can believe that their bullying is just a natural consequence of the behaviour of the other people, rather than taking responsibility for it and questioning themselves as to whether they're over-reacting or being unreasonable. What we need to do is to help them start taking responsibility for their actions and asking themselves whether they're really being fair to others or whether there's a better way of behaving. We can talk with them about how it can often be their own emotions, rather than the behaviour of others, that make them want to bully. For instance, if someone swears at them, they might get angry, and their anger might surge up and make them think the person needs to be punched. The person might not have done anything bad enough to deserve being punched, but because the bully's got all the anger rising up in them that's stopping them from thinking clearly, they don't realise that. We could discuss with them how if they took a little while to calm themselves down, perhaps by counting slowly to five while breathing in very slowly and steadily, they might be able to think about what's just happened and ask themselves if the person really deserves something as extreme as a punch, or whether there are other responses that would be more suitable. Perhaps we could teach them some tamer ways of challenging someone who's offended them with a rude remark or something, such as saying something that can deflect a verbal attack like that, like, "When did you begin to use bad language?"

We could have lessons where we teach pupils verbal self-defence techniques, reading up about and passing on to them ways of deflecting verbal attacks, and getting them to practice with one another.

Heated rant

If a bully complains that we're unfairly singling them out for criticism, instead of taking responsibility for their behaviour, perhaps a conversation between us could go something like this:

Teacher: Tom, I saw you deliberately trip Jack when he was walking to my desk.

Tom: That's not fair. He's always looking at me funny. You think everything's my fault. He started it. It isn't fair how you always defend everyone else.

Teacher: I can understand why it feels to you as if I'm singling you out. It does seem that I'm criticising you a lot, and I don't say as much to some of the other pupils, like Jack. That's because I often see you doing more things that hurt other students, and I can't let that happen. I want to be fair with you, which means you must also be fair with me and with the other students. I'd like to help you get on better with your classmates. I think you'd like to get on better, even with Jack, but you don't seem to know how to do that. I want you to be happier, and I think you will be when you've learned some new ways to make friends. I want to help you find better ways to work with your classmates so you don't feel picked on by me anymore and so Jack and some of the others don't feel picked on by you.

That could be the start of a conversation where the teacher and pupil discuss what ways the bully's behaviour would have to change for them to be happier as well as what they need to do to stop bullying. That way, we can give the impression we care about them. Also, if they come to see stopping bullying as something that will make them happier, they'll have more incentive to stop. We could discuss how stopping bullying could make them happier with them. For instance, it would stop us nagging them, and might help them get new friends.

If we show understanding of a bully's objections to a certain extent, but then move on to talking about the future, an argument over whether we're picking on them will have been avoided. And if they think we're willing to make an effort to see things from their point of view and that we have their best interests at heart, they may be more willing to co-operate with us and try out what we suggest.

If we show we're trying to understand things from the child's point of view, such as saying we realise it must seem as if we're picking on them even though we're not doing it maliciously, they might become less argumentative, and that'll make it easier for us when we then go on to talk with them about handling situations differently that make them feel uncomfortable in the future.

We could let bullies know they matter to us and that we believe they could become a credit to the school if they're willing to learn a few different ways of behaving when they feel provoked. We could let them know we think they're important enough for us to spend time with while we teach them a few new ways they could behave. We could tell them we think they're important and strong, but that they're using their strength in a way that isn't good. We could say we can help them learn to use their strength in good ways. This is an example of one approach a teacher could use:


Teacher: "Stephen, it looks as if you might be having some difficulty. I saw you having a fight with Andrew. I'm not sure what it was about, but there are several things we need to talk about together. First, you are much bigger than Andrew, and although you're strong, you're not using your strength in a good way - picking on other kids isn't a good way to show how strong you are. We have sports activities and other contests where you can show how strong you are. Secondly, we are clear about not causing hurt or pain to anyone. You were hurting Andrew. Thirdly, I've got a lot of confidence in your ability to learn to handle conflicts better than you did today. I want us to talk through some other things you can do instead of hurting Andrew so things can work out differently next time."

If things don't go to plan and we get opposition we didn't expect or nothing seems to be changing after a while, we can sit down and try to work out what could be going wrong. If we can, we might be able to plan new approaches that might be more successful. If we're not sure what to do, we could discuss things with other teachers or refer the situation to someone like the school psychologist, perhaps, who might have other ideas on what to do.

Other Things That Might Influence Bullies to Change Their Behaviour

Leading By Example


Children learn a lot of what they do by observing how others behave and copying them. For instance, If their father starts shouting immediately an argument starts, they'll probably automatically start doing that because they'll think that's what's done. But if they learn alternative ways of doing things, they can realise they have the option to behave differently.

Oh yes. My dad's a teacher, and I remember him once commenting that he's noticed that the tone of voice some of his children use when they're arguing is just the same as the one he uses when he's telling his boys off at school, which he probably uses at home as well.

The book says children will learn from the way their teachers behave. That must mean that if the teacher behaves respectfully, talks to them patiently and treats them as if they're important, they might realise there's a way of behaving that's better than the way they behaved before and want to behave more like that. They might even start behaving more like it automatically because they're learning without really thinking about it. They'll still have the influence of their parents, and if their parents behave like bullies, behaving like one won't be an easy habit to break; but if they're shown consistently that there is a better way and they feel cared for by the person showing them, and taught ways of dealing with conflict without resorting to aggression, then they might come to think they know better than their parents as regards behaviour when it comes to conflict, and start to change old behaviour patterns.

Motivating Children to Carry On Good Behaviour

Children can be motivated to keep up good behaviour when they're rewarded for it in some way, whether that be by being given stars on a chart or another reward for every lesson they behave well in, or given things like praise and compliments.

Walking a dog

Oh yes. I remember a television programme where a dog trainer gave relationship advice. The idea was that you can train your husband or wife to spend more time with you and be nicer to you in the same way you train a dog to perform tricks or things, by giving them little rewards every time they do something good. Because they like the reward, they'll do the thing again because they want the reward again, until they're good at doing it through practice. The dog trainer showed about six women how to train dogs by giving them little bits of meat or fish every time they did something they wanted them to do. I can't quite remember what the dogs were doing now. But the idea was that the women went home and practiced something similar to the techniques they'd used on the dogs on their husbands. In other words, they would give them tiny rewards every time they did something they liked. For instance, they'd smile at them, pet them a bit, compliment them and so on, whenever they got off their computers and spent time with them or something. They did their best not to nag their husbands to spend more time with them; they just rewarded them when they did. (Naturally, these were all non-abusive husbands; there was no suggestion a woman being abused would be able to stop it by being nicer to her husband.) But the husbands in the programme found they were enjoying themselves and soon started spending a lot more time with their wives.


That reminds me of something I read, about a little boy who had terrible tantrums and would attack his baby brother, perhaps out of jealousy that the baby got a lot of the mother's attention. The mother was very stressed out, wondering what to do. But she was advised to supervise them closely, take the child away and distract him if he looked as if he was going to hurt the baby, and make him sit outside the door for a few minutes if he did anything to the baby. At the same time though, she was advised to praise him and make much of him whenever he helped her with the baby or did anything that seemed kind to it. And he was given his own "special time" where his mother gave him some attention and said they'd do things that were too grown-up for baby, to make him feel a bit special so he wouldn't feel so jealous and left-out. The mother got the relatives involved in praising the boy. She asked him to do various things, helping with the baby in ways he could, and when he did, any relatives who were around would praise him for being so good. The combination of discipline for bad behaviour and praise for good behaviour soon made a dramatic difference to the boy, who was soon behaving very well instead of being aggressive.

Naturally it might take some time longer with some of our students and the results might not be nearly so dramatic, but if it works for some people, hopefully we'll see some results with it ourselves when we're trying to use it to change the behaviour of bullies.

Giving Praise and Encouragement

It may be that at first, we need to combine praise with some other reward, because they might not be feeling favourable enough towards us to be so glad we're praising them that they want to please us more to get the reward of our approval. For instance, if a supply teacher took the class the day before and we hear the children were all good all day, we can tell them we're impressed with them for that, and give them extra playtime as a reward. It may be that soon, praise is enough to motivate them to behave better, because they enjoy it so much and want more.


But while at first, it can be good to compliment the children by telling them how much it pleases us personally that they did something good or worked well or whatever, because it can make them pleased they're pleasing us and feel more favourable towards us because we're sending the message we approve of them and they matter enough for their efforts to be noticed by us, after a while, when they've built up some trust in us, it can be good to compliment them in such a way as to help them realise the benefits of their good behaviour for themselves. For instance, when we're getting to know them, we might say things like, "I'm pleased with the way you did that", or, for instance, in the case of a hyperactive child, "I'm impressed with the way you sat still for the whole lesson; I can tell you were making an effort there; thank you"; but when we've built up quite a good relationship with them so we know they're listening, we can say things that will hopefully motivate them to want to behave well for its own sake, because they can see how it benefits them, so even when we're not there to praise them, they'll still want to behave well. So, for instance, we might say something with a smile like, "I noticed you made the effort to sit still for the whole lesson. That meant you were concentrating on the picture you were drawing, and it's cleverly done". We could help them think about their skills more by asking how they did certain things and how they got the ideas for the colour schemes and so on, and sound admiring.


The same thing can apply to bullying-type behaviour, for instance if someone usually picks a fight with another pupil at the end of one of our lessons but one day we notice they haven't. We could maybe say to the bully with a smile, "I notice you didn't get into a fight at the end of the lesson today. It looks as if you've found some good techniques to control your temper. They'll come in useful in life."

Some more examples of the kind of compliments that illustrate the good effects students' behaviour is having on them personally when they behave well could be things like:

"You seem happy to have got a good mark in your homework. I bet it pleases you to know that if you work hard, you can do well."

"You looked as if you were enjoying helping arranging the chairs in a circle. It must make you happy to know you're being helpful."

"You're really trying hard on that tough problem, aren't you. You seem to be motivated to tackle even the hardest problems."

"I know you two find it difficult to work as partners on this project, but I feel sure you can find a way to work together and achieve something good."

Reducing Rewards Children Get for Bullying


Some of the things that can keep children bullying are the attention and admiration they get from other children, for instance if they bully in such a way that it makes children around them laugh, perhaps because the names they call the people they pick on sound amusing or something. Bullies can also bully when other people provoke them so they see it as an opportunity for a good argument or a fight. They might like arguments because they get an adrenaline rush from them and they get attention from others which makes them feel more alive. At the same time as we make it a more pleasant experience for them when they behave well by complimenting them and so on, it can be good if we make bullying less rewarding for them, by trying to observe what benefits they get and having a go at removing them, for instance by giving other students instructions not to laugh at them or provoke them.

Another thing that can reduce the benefits they get is if we speak to them about their bullying actions after the class rather than during the lesson, because there's a kind of status and a feeling of control that comes from feeling that what you're doing is so significant it's drawing the teacher's attention away from the lesson they're supposed to be teaching onto you personally. It might even be a game with some, to see how much they can distract the teacher from teaching the actual lesson, performing in front of other students in the hope of getting their admiration. So we could tell them we'll speak to them privately after the class instead. And if they misbehave again, we could maybe tell them that the more they misbehave, the longer they'll have to speak to us afterwards; and if they complain, we could say there's an easy way of stopping that happening; they just need to behave.

Finding What Will be Most Motivating to Each Individual Student to Give Up Bullying


To make giving up bullying more rewarding still, we can observe each student to see what kinds of rewards seem to motivate them most. For instance, some pupils love to receive compliments in front of the pupils nearby; some find one-to-one time with the teacher rewarding, perhaps working on things they need to learn better or talking to the teacher about their home life and problems; and some love to receive little items like pencils. We wouldn't want any students to feel others were being favoured above them, so we wouldn't want to single individuals out for special attention if they're good; but if we get an idea of what kinds of things motivate the children, we could try to do a range of them, possibly giving more of one kind of reward to one student and more of another kind to another if possible. For instance, if we find one likes playing on the computer while another likes spending quiet time alone reading children's books, we can take that into account when giving rewards for specially good behaviour.

It might sometimes be that we feel sure one thing will be effective at motivating a child to behave better, but it doesn't. In that case, it's best to stop trying to use it and try something else instead. The authors of the book say they once worked with a disruptive student and gave him points for good behaviour. When he'd got enough points, they gave him a signed jersey from a famous basketball player. He seemed disappointed though. When asked why, he said the jersey was nice, but he didn't like basketball. He said what he really wanted was some one-to-one time with the teacher.

A Few Things That Can Increase the Effectiveness of Rewarding Good Behaviour


One thing it's not a good idea to do is to tell a child that they in themselves are good or bad, for instance saying, "You're a bad boy". It gives the impression you think they're bad through-and-through. It's best to make a distinction between the behaviour and the person, saying a behaviour's bad without saying they're bad as a person. After all, they might behave well sometimes. Giving the impression we think they're bad as a person might stop them bothering to try being good, or prompt them to decide not to out of defiance. Similarly, giving them the impression we think they're good people even though they bully a lot by telling them often they're good might lead them in time to think their bullying can't be that bad after all. We can let them know that even if we think their behaviour's bad, we still believe in their potential as people to be able to change for the better and to be able to do good things sometimes already.

Telling children they're good or bad people also doesn't tell them what we liked or disliked about their behaviour, unless we tell them that as well. If we're clear about what we liked about their behaviour, it can give them a better idea of what to do more of if they want to be approved of more. So we could maybe say something like, "Samantha, I'm pleased with you for taking the time to help me clear up after the lesson."

Or if it's a bad behaviour we want to discourage, being clear about what the behaviour is will help discourage it, naturally. For instance, rather than say a boy's bad if he pushes into the dinner queue, we could say something like, "James, pushing into the queue isn't acceptable behaviour in our class."

Another thing is that it's best to give praise and encouragement or other forms of rewards for good behaviour as soon, and as often as possible after the behaviour's happened that we want to praise, while it's still fresh in the children's minds. The praise will take on more significance if it's connected with an event fresh in the mind than it will with one fading from memory. If we stop praising or encouraging the children altogether, they might well lose interest in making the effort to behave better, at least at first, before we've suggested to them often that they're getting something out of behaving better themselves, such as an increased ability to make new friends if they behaved anti-socially but have now stopped.

Another thing that can be an incentive for bullies to improve their behaviour is if we compliment people around them who didn't actually get involved in the bullying, and victims if they're not actually bullies themselves. The idea is that we want the bullies to want all the positive attention the others are getting. They'll know they'll get it for behaving well. We can point that out to them sometimes. So it might be an incentive for them to behave better.

Helping Bullies and Other Children Develop Talents

A talent

But we can try to help bullies cultivate any talents they do have and praise them for those, hoping they'll start feeling good enough about themselves to want to continue developing their talents. If they're involved in that, they'll necessarily be bullying less, since there's only so much time in the day; and also if they know they're being respected for something good, they might start thinking they don't want to lose that responsible or clever reputation by bullying anymore. The more opportunities we can create for including them in activities we know they'll be good at so we can praise them for things, the more we'll be able to compliment them, and hopefully the more they'll behave better because they like getting compliments and approval, and also because they might decide they enjoy it.

So we could find out what the bullies are good at, and whether there's anything they do very well, as well as finding out what the other children are good at, and we can try to arrange activities where the bullies do have opportunities to do things well so we can praise them for it, and so they can realise they can be admired for other things besides bullying. For instance, if they're good at speaking up about issues they feel strongly about, we could introduce the class to various things related to charities that need help and things it's worth campaigning for, trying to interest them in those, or we could discuss with the class things about the school that could perhaps do with improving, and then give them the opportunity to be a spokesman, speaking to various groups in the school or to the principal and so on. We might be able to think of several other projects we could arrange where they could develop talents they can be proud of and that we can praise them for, possibly ones that'll help them develop a caring streak in the process.

We certainly don't want to give other children or the bullies the impression we're rewarding the bullies because they're bullies though. So we need to make it clear just what behaviours we're encouraging more of, and we do need to give other children the opportunity to do things they excel in and can be praised for as well.

Catching Students and Especially Bullies Being Good

Carrying mounds of work

The authors of the book say they've met quite a lot of bullies who say the teachers only notice them when they're doing something wrong, never when they do something good. Teachers tend to know they should be complimenting children for being good when they notice them, in the hope they're encouraged to be good some more, but they find it difficult to do, for a few reasons:

  • Teachers are so busy they don't have much time for watching for good behaviour; it just gets taken for granted when it happens. Teachers are usually trying to do several things at once, and the stress of just doing that can be an enormous strain on them.
  • Teachers often have so much anger or other negative feeling towards aggressive children that it's hard to want to look for their good behaviour.
  • A lot of aggressive children don't think much of themselves, so they might wonder if the teacher's being insincere if they praise them, and they might behave even worse for a while to see just how genuine their teacher's approval is, and whether it will take just a bit more bad behaviour and the teacher's attitude will flip to being nasty. But reports say that if teachers keep on looking for good behaviour and praising it, bullies eventually gain confidence in them. After a few weeks, they might stop behaving worse, and then they might well come to value their teacher's positive feedback.

That reminds me of something I watched on an Internet forum. It's very understandable that teachers might want to write bullies off as repulsive hopeless cases not worth bothering with, who they'd rather see dead than try to help because it would have more chance of making the world a better place. But sometimes people can display softer sides unexpectedly. A young man on the forum I'm thinking about did that occasionally. He was abusive a lot of the time, especially to one female member there, making crude sexual comments whenever she criticised him about anything or playfully made fun of him, as if he couldn't respond more intelligently to challenges than that. He said he was doing it deliberately to annoy her. And he had some rather nasty views on people who criticise America. Here are some of the things he said:


Hell I would love nothing more than to watch Europeans kill each other off by the millions again. Yes that is sadistic and I am taking this to the extreme for a reason...when the world burns to the ground the finger of blame is going to come to America. Why didn't we help? Why didn't America do this? Why didn't America do that? You should this! You should That! Prime example is the humanitarian missions we do in Africa. We got bitched at cause we didn't do anything in Rwanda. Honestly I would rather we just let Africans kill eachother off. Why? Because it would be better for my nation.

Being abusive

You seriously need to get off my penis baby. It just aint gonna work.

Ya done trying to give me a blowjob?

I'm not the one thinking about my genitals(even though I need to readjust...hate it when I wear jeans that are a little on the tight side). You have wanted my throbbing memeber day 1 and you know it.

Why deny it? You want it so bad you can taste it.

I won't be bullied into sex with a fat bitch who never leaves her computer.

Lol wouldnt you like to find out about how sex is with me?

I know you want it, but I just can't give it to you. I am simply not attracted to overweight bitches.

The person he was talking to certainly didn't say anything to suggest she wanted sexual attention from him, and he well knew it. He just wanted to be nasty, and maybe he wasn't good at thinking up more intelligent things to say.


It was easy to despise him as a repulsive obnoxious character. But once or twice he did show a softer side to his nature, talking about how he'd been hurt by being dumped by girlfriends, and making an effort to be polite. And after he was criticised for saying he'd like to see millions killed because it would reduce the amount of criticism America got, or whatever his thinking was, he started a thread asking why people hate America, and responded tamely to all the criticisms, as if he was trying to prove he could take them without flying off the handle after all. So I can't help wondering whether he might have changed for the better if forum members had tried to nurture his more sensitive side instead of despising him as most did. He might not have changed at all. After all, sociopaths are capable of putting on a nice show that deceives people because it isn't genuine. Whether he was one or not I don't know. But I still can't help but wonder if his nicer side could have flourished if it had been encouraged.

The book suggests several things we could do to give children rewards for behaving especially well, although we surely need to take into account that if we seem to be favouring anyone especially, they might get made fun of by other students for being a 'teacher's pet', so we'll have to make it so anyone could get a reward if they try hard. These might work for young ones:

  • We could give a student an important classroom position, such as collector of work.
  • We could draw smiley faces on sticky notes and attach them to students' desks.
  • We could create a 'cosy corner' in the classroom and give a student 10 or 15 minutes to read something they enjoy there.

We could probably think of other things once we try, and ones more appropriate for older children. We could discuss with other teachers what they've tried that's worked well, and what they tried that didn't work so it probably won't work for us, or will, but only in certain circumstances.

The Kinds of Penalties for Bad Behaviour That Work Best

Shaking fist

School children don't just learn academic subjects when they're at school; they can learn ways of resolving conflict and solving problems, by watching others, and they learn new ways of interacting with others, by communicating with those around them, and by learning from the example of the way other people communicate with each other, including the way teachers talk to students.

They also pick up ideas on how to treat each other by the way teachers penalise them for bad behaviour. That'll be partly through copying us, and partly because of the way teachers try to get them to behave better. When pupils receive penalties and other consequences for bad behaviour, it's best if the idea isn't simply to punish them, but to teach them to behave better in the future, encouraging them to take responsibility for their actions so they don't just blame their bad behaviour on others who they claim deserved it, but they realise they need to think about the way they behave and that they might sometimes be at fault, and find ways of changing their reactions to others. Also it can give them an insight into how their own behaviour can spark off bad behaviour in others that leads them to behave worse themselves till the situation gets a lot worse. They don't have to think of themselves as just reacting to things; they can be encouraged to believe they can control their reactions to things and feel a sense of control while they hold their temper, for example. They might like losing their temper and bullying because it gives them an adrenaline rush and a sense of control over others. But if they're encouraged to think it's admirable to show to themselves that they have control over some things in their lives by controlling their temper, they can feel they get more benefits from behaving in a positive way than they realised they might before. Naturally doing that won't always keep them out of fights, because they might not give up wanting to fight altogether, and also other people might start the fights sometimes. But they might be able to take quite a bit of pride in learning they can control themselves enough not to start fights or arguments over little things that would otherwise escalate into bigger things and leave them wishing they hadn't happened.


When a bully's merely punished, they don't learn any of those lessons, and in fact they might just end up feeling resentful if they think they're punished more harshly than they deserve or that they got a worse punishment than others who deserved to be punished as much as they were. It might make them feel defiant and just more determined not to get caught next time, perhaps by bullying somewhere less well-supervised; or it might even be a punishment they like, like being sent out of a lesson they were bored of anyway. It doesn't teach them to take responsibility for their actions.

That doesn't mean bullies should never be punished, naturally; but it shouldn't be done in isolation from other approaches.

Making Sure Punishments Do Actually Punish


Sometimes, bullies actually get some reward out of the punishments they're punished with. So if the punishments they're given don't seem to be working, we could ask ourselves if they might actually like them in some way. For instance, being sent to the principal's office can give them a "tough guy" image among some of the other children in the class.

Oh yes, I remember someone telling me they had a litter-picking punishment for bullies at his school, but the bullies enjoyed it. They were sent out all together, so they had fun joking around with each other while they were being "punished".

Changing the Reputations of Former Bullies

Fed up

If a bully's behaviour changes for the better so they stop bullying, other children might still assume they're a bully and reject them or say nasty things about them. We might be able to help them become accepted more by the other pupils if we praise them for new good behaviour in front of other pupils so others in the class start to think they might have changed, and also if we put them in groups of children for classwork so the children can see for themselves that the former bully has changed. As well as demonstrating new behaviour in a small group, the former bullies might be able to demonstrate that they don't behave in their old ways any more if they're given active roles in sports or other recreational activities or class projects, where they'll be working with the others, but behaving differently from how they used to.

Part Three
Caring for Victims of Bullying


The book says teachers often say that helping victims will often make things worse for them, but it's not that simple. Insensitive interventions can make things worse for victims, perhaps where a teacher punishes a bully in a way they might think is unfair and makes it obvious they're doing it because the victim told on them, and the bully goes on to punish the victim for being a grass. But not all interventions have to be insensitive, and victims often desperately need help. Without it, they might go on being victimised for months and even years.

There are several ways victims can be helped. Potential victims can be helped if we do things to reduce bullying in the classroom and things to try to stop bullying becoming much of a problem in the first place, such as teaching children that bullying is unacceptable, and showing them ways of handling anger and other things that make them realise there are better ways of behaving than hitting or insulting people to achieve something they want, and by reducing opportunities for bullying, for instance by separating children who sit together where one likes to bully the other one a lot, and by supervising them more at times when we've noticed bullying's particularly likely to happen.

Victims can also be helped if we teach the class to be more caring. But we also need to intervene with individuals who are still bullying.

Running away

Being victimised can be terrifying. We can't assume all victims will tell us what's going on. Some might be scared of what the bullies might do, and some might have tried to get the help of teachers before who haven't known what to do or have seemed to just ignore the problem. So we need to put in place other ways of detecting bullying.

If we don't help victims, they might come to assume they aren't worth helping. But they can come to think they matter if we do. There are several ways we might be able to help:

Letting Students Know We're Available to Listen

We can let pupils know we're there for them and will be supportive. We can tell them what times we'll be available if they want to see us about a problem, for instance for twenty minutes before school starts, during lunch, and for thirty minutes after school.

Taking Action Against All Forms of Bullying, Serious and Minor

Since children see even minor bullying as still being bullying, for instance name-calling or knocking over someone's books, it's important to intervene to stop it. If teachers don't, bullies might think what they're doing is acceptable in the classroom, and try getting away with worse and worse things to see just how much they can get away with. Also, if children don't get help when minor incidents happen, they might assume they're not going to get help with bigger things either and not come for help. If they know we can intervene effectively in little situations though, they'll probably have more confidence we can sort out bigger problems.

Intervening Immediately When a Bullying Incident Happens

It's best if we show we disapprove of what a bully's doing as soon as possible, since the longer they can go on misbehaving, the more they'll become convinced they can get away with it.


When we talk with them about it, it's best if we discuss the victim's feelings with them and help them think about things from the victim's point of view. If we think they need to be punished as well, we should clearly explain the reason for the punishment and try to make it fit the offence somehow. If they can see a logic behind it, they're less likely to think it's unfair and get resentful. For instance, if they've knocked someone's books over, they could help us tidy up the classroom so they can come to appreciate the effort it takes tidying up after things have been messed up. We can explain to them how the punishment fits the offence if we can think of punishments that do.

Checking to See if the Victim has Stopped Being Bullied

After we've talked things through with the bully and given them any punishment we think necessary, it's good if we can check regularly to see if their victim's stopped being bullied by them. Perhaps we could speak to them once a day if the bullying's been ongoing, to check they're allright. If the victim doesn't seem to have been bullied for a while, we can stop checking with them, but reassure them they'll be welcome to speak to us if they have any more problems.

Ways of Intervening to Help Different Kinds of Victims

Some people who've researched regular victims of bullying have split them up into four categories, 'passive victims', who tend not to fight back much and react to bullying by feeling fearful and frustrated, which makes them more likely to be victimised because bullies think they're easy targets; 'provocative victims', who tend to attack people even though they're bigger and stronger than they are, making it almost inevitable they'll be beaten up or something else bad will happen to them; 'relational victims', who are the victims of exclusion from friendship and that kind of thing, and they can blame themselves for not being likeable enough; and 'bystander victims', who aren't bullied themselves but see bullying going on, and if they don't do anything to intervene like standing up for the victim or reporting the bullying, can feel weak and powerless and guilty, and despise themselves for being cowards. They can also live in fear of becoming the next victims of the bullying.

Passive Victims


Passive victims can benefit both by becoming less isolated so they can have the friendship and support of others, and by being taught skills that'll help them stand up to some of the more minor types of bullying, so some bullies don't think of them as such easy targets anymore.

If we know of any other teachers who are especially committed to reducing bullying, we can tell victims in our class that they can go to them if they need support when we're not around.

Another thing that might sometimes work well is a victims' support group, where several victims and former victims can get together from several different classes and share any strategies they've found helpful in combating the bullying they were suffering. It can also serve the purpose of allowing victims to report bullying in a safe place. Groups like that are led by teachers. Teachers and pupils can discuss together ways they might be able to reduce the bullying that's still going on in some of the children's lives.

Hopefully more than one teacher will be in the group. Teachers committed to reducing bullying could maybe take turns leading it. Students of different ages can take part if it's felt appropriate, since the older ones might have more experience in finding strategies to cope with the bullying they suffered that they can pass on to the younger ones to try.

Another way we could maybe help victims is by helping them change specific behaviours that make them easy targets, getting parents involved in the efforts if we can. That doesn't mean making them repress their personalities and the way they want to be, but just encouraging and teaching them to change things that aren't good things anyway.


Oh yes, I remember there was a girl at my school who would get into a temper and start making a big silly fuss every time she was teased, even in just little ways. It didn't take much to make her go like that. Her classmates thought it was amusing, and so they deliberately teased her so she'd get into that state so they could laugh at her. One of the school staff told her her behaviour was making them want to tease her and advised her to try to change.

Also, my brother said there were a group of boys at his school who used to tease him for a while. They loved to surround him and tease him, because he'd quickly get into a temper and start screaming and hitting out; but he didn't hit out with any force, so he was really just tapping them. They found it amusing, so they'd do it day after day; but he was so upset by it he once ran out of the school and tried to throw himself in front of a bus, but thankfully a couple of his friends ran out after him and stopped him. He stopped the bullying after he started learning a martial art and became fitter so he started hitting harder; but at the same time, he learned to talk back to the bullies instead of getting upset by them, saying things like, "Have you got such sad lives you haven't got anything better to do than pick on someone?"

The bullying soon stopped after that.


So parents could do several possible things to try to help. For instance, some enrol their children in martial arts classes or that kind of thing. Another thing is that if the parents are over-protecting their child, for instance doing things for them they're old enough to do for themselves so the children can come across as timid and incompetent to do some things at school they're expected to do because they're not sure how to, that can make them easy targets for bullies looking for a reason to pick on someone. So if the parents can gradually encourage their children to do more and more for themselves at home, they can become more confident and seem more competent, so they won't attract the attention of bullies anymore.

We can talk things over with the parents, tell them what we think is causing bullies to think of their child as an easy target if we think the victim's unwittingly giving the impression they are one, and try together to come up with good ideas on how we can encourage them to change.

But when we suggest to victims ways they could change their behaviour, we'll need to do it in such a way that they don't feel as if they're being blamed for the bullying, and also in a way that won't make them too optimistic about managing to stop the bullying by changing, since it is possible that even when they've changed, they'll still be bullied. We'll need to keep checking with them over the coming weeks to see if they're still being bullied and try to come up with new ideas on how to tackle it if they are, since otherwise, if they are still being bullied, they might assume that since they made an effort to change and yet they're still being bullied, there's no hope for them.

It's best if we tell the parents and each victim that we're also working with the bully to try to encourage them to change. We can also remind them that change does usually take time.

We'll also need to inform the parents that we are taking steps to try to protect their child; we're not just putting all the onus on their child to change things by changing their behaviour. We could tell them we're doing our best to come up with things we hope will work to stop the bullying and give them some idea of what we're doing. And we can promise them we'll work with them till we've succeeded.

Bullies like picking on people who don't have much confidence to fight back in any way like telling a teacher or hitting back. They like the sense of power they can have over easy targets they can bully easily. Another way we could help victims gain confidence is by pointing out their strengths and positive qualities whenever we notice them. It may be that the better they feel about themselves, the more confident they'll feel about standing up to the bullying, asserting their right not to be bullied. And if they feel they have the support of teachers and other classmates, they'll feel even more confident about taking a stand. If they take a stand and succeed, that will increase their confidence and sense of achievement even more. And if they know what they did worked, they might try it again if they're bullied again, and if it works again, they'll become even more confident they can defend themselves against any bullying that isn't too serious for them to handle.

Provocative Victims

Picking a fight

Provocative victims tend to be aggressive to bullies, and then because they're smaller or less skilled than the people they're provoking, they tend to come off worst all the time. they need to be taught not to provoke aggression and to understand how the aggression against them comes about as a result of their own behaviour. There are a few things we could discuss with them:

We can ask them just what they're trying to get out of provoking bullies: whether they think they'll be admired for it, whether they think it's fun, whether they like the attention and sympathy after they've lost the fight, whether they're really upset with the bully, or what. If they can tell us what they're trying to achieve, we can talk through with them how they could try achieving it in other ways. For instance, if they want a bit of fun and stimulation because they're bored and want to feel more alive with an adrenaline rush, we could perhaps suggest they find a group of friends they can play competitive games with in the playground in their breaktimes. If they want a bit of fun, perhaps we could suggest they look for funny children's games on the Internet they don't need any equipment for that they can play with a group of friends. If they want to express anger with the bully, perhaps we can suggest they think of polite ways of expressing themselves and first try talking nicely to the bully to see if they can be persuaded to change a behaviour of theirs, or that they write down a number of things they'd like to say, keep their letter to themselves, and read it the next day or day after, to see if they still mean everything they said or realise they were over-reacting in anger and made things out to be worse than they were. Or they can get their anger out when they feel it before they think about what to do about their annoyance with the bully each time, by playing some kind of energetic game in the playground when they can. There might be several different solutions we could talk through with them and they could try.

If they tell us about a particular person they're angry with, we could examine with them why they're angry with them, and then maybe call the person in to speak to us and help the provocative victim sort out their differences with them in a calm way.

It'll be best if we also help them see that they bring aggression on themselves, since the bullies bully them in response to their own provocation. We could ask them how they would feel if someone came up to them and said or did the things to them that they do to the bully. If it would make them angry, we can talk to them about how they can understand, in that case, how it makes other people feel angry when they do it to them. And we can ask them to describe several incidents when they've started the provocation and they've been bullied back, in the hope that it illustrates to them how their actions just make them vulnerable to bullying. Then we can ask them whether, if they understand that people are responding to their own actions when they bully them, they still think provoking them is worthwhile, or whether they'd prefer to do things that won't get them bullied.


At the same time, we'll need to make it clear that we don't hold them fully responsible for the bullying that happens to them. We'll need to clearly specify that bullies are responsible for their own actions; after all, they don't have to respond to the provocation by getting aggressive in return. We can show them sympathy if they've been hurt or upset by what bullies have done to them.

Another thing we can try to do to help provocative victims get out of the habit of being aggressive to people is talking through with them what they're good at, with the aim of thinking about things they could do in the class to give them a sense of fulfilment and help them get attention or be admired, or whatever it is they're trying to get out of bullying. We could try and think of tasks for them to do that use up some of the energy they're currently using up by provoking people. If the tasks give them a sense of responsibility, they'll feel important, and the sense of being someone who matters might mean they don't feel the need any more to try and get recognition and attention through provoking people. We could try and think of responsible positions in the class we could give them, such as helping to organise some project we're doing, if we can find a role for them that's within their capabilities.

An Example of an Intervention With a Provocative Victim

Here's an example of how a teacher might try to persuade a provocative victim to change their behaviour:


We could imagine that in the playground, a group of boys enjoy playing a ball game. The group leader's called Jim. A boy called Brian rushes to where they're playing every day and tries to steal the ball. Jim and a couple of his friends chase him, tackle him and beat him up, or shout cruel things to him. The teacher supervising has often seen this and told Jim and his friends off, but they don't stop. So then the teacher decides to try something new. He realises Brian is a provocative victim and decides to talk to him about his behaviour:

Teacher: Brian, you just ran out there and grabbed the ball from Jim and the other boys. What's going on?

Brian: Nothing. They never let me play.

Teacher: Is that what you're trying to achieve by your behaviour? You want to join in the game? Or is it that you want to get along with the others? Or what? What is it you want?

Brian: Yes, that's what I want; I want to play ball too.

Teacher: Is the way you're trying to get to play with them working? Is running out and grabbing the ball helping you get what you want?

Brian: They don't ever let me play.

Teacher: So what you're trying isn't working. Running out and grabbing the ball, and the other things you do that irritate the boys, those things aren't getting you what you want. What could you do differently?

Brian: I don't know. Nothing. They never let me play.

Teacher: Let's talk about some other things you could do. Can you think of some?

Brian: I don't know.

Teacher: I can think of some things. For example, when the class goes out to play, you could ask the boys if you can play with them. I could help you with that. Or you could ask some of the other kids who aren't part of the group if they could start a ball game with you. What do you think of those ideas?

Brian: I want to play on Jim's team.

Teacher: Well, if you want to play with Jim's team, I think we have to come up with a better way of asking to be part of the group. I could teach you a good way to ask. I could also help you work out some other ways to be friendly with the group and not get them angry with you.

Relational Victims


Relational victims are the victims of others' attempts to break up their friendships and exclude them from a group of friends, sometimes by spreading nasty rumours about them. Girls most often engage in that kind of bullying. A group of them might start refusing to eat lunch with a former group member, not invite them to their houses anymore, say horrible things to each other in whispers about them, and tell other people horrible things about them, among other things. It needs to be recognised as bullying and dealt with. There are several ways it can be handled:

One thing we can do is to tell the class we recognise this kind of thing as bullying and that we'll support anyone who reports it. We can tell the class that rumour-spreading and gossip is wrong and hurtful to the ones the stories are being told about. We could give the class some examples, for instance saying something like, "Imagine if you'd been friends with someone for a while, but one day they suddenly told you they didn't want to be your friend anymore and went off with someone else. Then imagine that person started spreading horrible stories about you, telling people you were stupid, and they'd heard your house stank of urine and your dad drank too much. Imagine all the people who'd been your friends before wanted to avoid you after that and some made fun of you. Imagine how you'd feel."

We can encourage them not to automatically believe rumours other people tell them.

We can recommend to the class that if they see someone being excluded from friendship with another group, they befriend that person and take them into their own group of friends. The idea of exclusion can sometimes be so a bully can feel big by watching someone they've chosen to reject being isolated and feeling upset. But if that doesn't happen, the bully isn't getting the reward they wanted, so it gives them less incentive to carry on bullying. Also it'll make the victim feel a whole lot better.

Angry group

Sometimes a relational bully picks on one group member after another. Some members of the group might side with them because they're scared of becoming the next target. We could recommend that if the children are in a group and one of its members starts trying to exclude another one, they all stand together with the victim and refuse to let it happen. That might be more difficult if they all like the person starting the rumours; but there are friendly things they could do to try to stop them, such as asking them nicely to stop, by saying something like, "We don't like it when you spread rumours. We want to be friends with everyone. Please don't do it anymore."

If someone reports to us a case of relational bullying that's actually going on, where one person's being excluded from a group of friends and stories are being spread about them, we could perhaps speak to the person who's being ostracised and several members of the group excluding them individually, to find out from each of them what's going on. It might be that several don't really like what's happening, or they do, but it'll be easier to change their points of view if we speak to them alone, because they won't be backing each other up, or feeling reluctant to express their true feelings in front of others in case other group members are angry with them for saying anything that agrees with us. When we've discussed it with each of them individually to find out what's going on, we could encourage them to talk to the person who's been excluded from the group to find out their side of the story or whether there's any truth in the rumours the ringleader started at all, and apologise to them for having been unkind to them. Then we could encourage them to all confront the one who started the rumours together, saying they've found out they aren't true and they don't want to exclude the person anymore.

Bystander Victims


Many people don't realise people who witness bullying will be affected by it; but some who do will be deeply affected. Some children will feel upset and guilty for not doing anything, but they don't do anything because they're scared of the bully. There are things we can do to help them:

One reason some might not try to help is because they don't think they'll be supported by anyone else; but it may actually be that quite a lot of the children are feeling the same way as they are. We could discuss with the class how lots of people can feel upset when they see bullying going on and would like to help but they feel scared of the bully. We could recommend that any children who feel that way speak to other children who see the bullying going on and find out if they don't like it either. That way, several might be able to confront a bully at the same time, making them feel braver.

We could give them the opportunity to talk in class about how they feel. Then each one of them will know it isn't only them feeling that way, and they'll have ideas on just who they can go to for solidarity if they want to stand up against a bully. Or if they know feelings like the ones they're experiencing are actually common, they won't feel so isolated, and they might have more confidence to speak up against the bullying on their own, knowing there might be people who might back them up or will at least agree with what they're doing.

Besides encouraging bystanders to get together and confront bullies, we can recommend they help victims in other ways to make them less vulnerable to being bullied, such as inviting isolated ones to join their group of friends, inviting them to join in activities they're taking part in, spending time with them, and discussing with victims how they'd like them to help, and what ways it might be possible to help. They can also be good listeners. And if a victim has done things to try and stop the bullying that have shown signs of working, a bystander can talk it over with them, pointing out what they've seen working, to try and encourage them.

An Example of the Way a Bystander Could Intervene to Stop Some Children Taunting Another


This is one example of an intervention that could work: It might happen that a group of children regularly sits at a table together for lunch, but one of them gets picked on by a couple of others who call him names, say he dresses like a girl, make fun of the lunch his mother made for him and sometimes take his food. One of the children at the table really doesn't like it. She likes the boy and wishes the two girls picking on him would stop. But no one else seems to agree. The others at the table never do anything, and sometimes laugh and join in. She's worried that if she tells them to stop, they might start picking on her. She wishes the boy would stand up for himself or that someone else would say something. Eventually she decides to tell the teacher.

The teacher is understanding about her feelings and talks through with her things she could try. They include suggesting to the boy and anyone else who doesn't like what's going on that they sit at another table with different people at lunch from then on, ignoring the bullies; or she could confront the bullies, saying something like, "You keep teasing John but you shouldn't; remember we've been talking in class about how we ought to be nice to everyone. I like you and want you to be nice to people."

The teacher could also praise children who she or he notices being nice to the boy, so they're encouraged to be nicer to him.

Ways Victims Can React to Bullying

Ignoring Insults

One thing that can work is ignoring taunts and name-calling and so on, shrugging it off, or responding very calmly. It can work because one reason some bullies bully is because they love the adrenaline rush of conflict. Arguing can make life seem more fun. And winning can bring a gratifying ego boost, making them feel superior. Or if the victim gets upset, a bully can feel powerful because they feel as if they're having an impact, and they can think that's fun, so they can want to continue. If a victim behaves as if they don't care though, it deprives the bully of rewards like that, so they can often lose interest.


It's difficult to just shrug something off under provocation. It's natural to get a surge of angry or anxious emotion and for that to spur an emotional reaction on. To feel the emotion and not to react requires a person to notice what emotion they're feeling, realise what it's prompting them to do, and stop themselves doing it, perhaps by taking a few deep breaths while they think of what they'd like to do instead. Under provocation, it won't always be easy to remember to do that. It can help if a victim practices with someone who pretends to be the bully saying horrible things while they rehearse responding calmly. That way it might come a bit more automatically in a real situation.

But it can sometimes be that if a bully sees a victim isn't reacting, they say worse things till they do get a reaction. So if ignoring taunts doesn't seem to be working, it can be best to try something else.

Calming Anger

Another way of avoiding conflict is by looking out for signs that another person's getting angry, and trying to do something to alleviate their anger before it results in an angry outburst. Again, it won't necessarily be easy. And it won't always stop the bullying. But if a victim learns to recognise that both they and someone they're talking to are getting angry so a row is brewing fast, they might be able to quickly change the subject, or respond gently in the hope of calming the other one's feelings, or calmly excuse themselves and walk away. If that results in not provoking the bully further, it can get them out of a dangerous situation, since the more they unwittingly provoke them by arguing, the more aggressive the bully might get.

Looking Confident and Being Assertive

Sometimes it might just be teasing that the bully thinks is fun. If the victim doesn't like it, sometimes just grinning and walking away leaving the bully just standing there can stop them bothering after a while.

Looking confident and saying assertive things in response to teasing can make victims seem like less easy targets as well. Sometimes bullies won't bother bullying someone who looks confident, because they assume they'll stand up for themselves so it won't be so much fun.

Even standing with head held high and a confident posture and looking people directly in the eye can make a person seem like a less easy target.

Doing Something Unexpected


Even if a victim's been used to slouching and putting their head down in embarrassment in response to taunts, if they suddenly start responding assertively, it can put the bully off. For instance, if someone's always being teased by another person for being shy and not usually making eye contact, and one day they're fed up with the taunts and instead raise their head, look directly at the bully taunting them and tell them to go and get a life, the bully can sometimes be shocked into silence or not know how to respond.

Doing something unexpected can be a good tactic victims can use. It can make them seem like less desirable targets, since bullies are often attracted by the predictability of a victim's response. For instance, if they know that when they bully a particular person, the person's going to start screaming and banging their fist on the desk and stamping their feet, and the exhibition they're making of themselves looks quite amusing, the bully will want to carry on bullying them to give themselves a laugh. But if the victim suddenly starts responding totally differently, for instance looking them directly in the eye and calmly and sternly saying, "Stop doing that, please", the bully might well stop thinking bullying them is fun.

Doing unexpected things could include being assertive, talking loudly, and a variety of other things. For instance, someone who usually trembles and cowers in a corner when someone starts taunting them could perhaps stand up straight, say to them in a sharp tone, "Can I help you with something?", and walk straight on past them.

Oh yes, I remember someone telling me a funny story about a cleaner they knew, who was on her way to work one day when some people approached her, wanting to mug her. Before she'd come out, she'd been reading a psalm in the Bible. It used poetic language, and part of it said something like, "God will cover you with his feathers to protect you". When she was about to be mugged, she said to them, "You can't do this to me; I'm covered with feathers!" The muggers said to each other in alarm, "She's mad!" and ran off.

A victim would have to be careful that what they did didn't accidentally just make them look silly though, or the bully might just laugh at them more.

Making New Friends


Making new friends is a good way for victims to try to stop the bullying, since bullies tend to pick on people who are isolated or whose friends don't stand up for them so they're easy targets. So teaching the class skills they can use in making new friends can be useful, and giving them ideas on the best places to try to go where they can be with other people rather than being alone. Approaching people and beginning to talk to them in the hope of making new friends might seem a bit daunting for some, but if we give them ideas on questions they could ask to open conversations and other advice that could help them become more confident, hopefully even shy pupils will try it.

We could ask other teachers if they've noticed any of their pupils respond to bullying in ways that put the bullies off. If they tell us about some, we could let our own pupils know.

Fighting Back

One strategy that can work although it's often inadvisable is responding to aggression with aggression. If the person trying to fight the bully is smaller or less skilled at fighting than the bully, they can just end up hurt, because when they provoke the bully, the bully will get more aggressive. After all, the bully's likely to pick on someone smaller or less powerful than them so they can get the satisfaction of an easy conquest. The bully might actually like it when less powerful people hit back, because it gives them an excuse to respond with more aggression which fuels their adrenaline, allows them to vent the frustrations of the day, and can bring them admiration from onlookers, who might also make fun of the victim for losing. We could tell the class that if they respond to bullying by getting violent with the bully, it'll often be what the bully wants, so it'll be as if they're falling into a trap. It's best if they aim for the most intelligent response they can think of if they can.

Then again, using aggression when it isn't expected can put the bully off, for instance if a girl does it when the bully expected them to just be fearful.

I've also heard people say that in their experience, fighting back put bullies off even if they lost, because the bullies would leave them alone and go in search of targets who wouldn't fight instead. And I've heard of people who've hit bullies back and the bullying stopped and they became friends after that. Still, it isn't a strategy we can really recommend.

An Activity to Encourage Children to Ask for Help When They Need it

Radioing for help

Some of the activities we do could involve puppets, that can do things we'd like the children to do, such as asking for help when they're in difficulty. We could give the children small paper bags they could draw faces on, and then they could put them over their hands and pretend their hand with the bag on it is the head of a puppet person. They could hold it up in front of them, and when they talk, they could pretend it's the puppet talking. If they like, they could perhaps put a thumb in a corner of the bag and pretend it's the puppet's arm that can make gestures. They can move the head forward and back a bit to signify nodding, or droop it forward a bit to signify hanging the head in misery or whatever.

One activity could be to do with encouraging the children to seek help when they need it.

We can tell the children we'd like them to each make a puppet who represents a person they feel they can talk to when they feel upset or if they've got a problem, whether that be a teacher, a friend, a parent, a brother or sister, and so on.

We could show them how to make the puppets by showing them one we made earlier and giving them suggestions on what to do. They could perhaps use coloured crayons, and then other things for decoration. Anyway, each of them can make their puppet by doing a rough drawing on their paper bag of someone they feel they can talk to when they've got a problem.

When they've made the puppets, we can ask for volunteers to show theirs to the class and say a bit about who they represent.

Then we could ask the class a number of questions, such as:

  • Who do you usually go to for help or to talk to about your feelings?
  • What does this person usually say or do to help you?
  • Are there others you can go to for help as well? Who do you usually go to for help at school? What about at home?
  • Are you ever a bit scared to talk to people about your feelings? If so, when?
  • How do you let other people know you need to talk?

An Activity to Help Students Become More Comfortable Talking About Being Bullied and Seeking Help

This activity involves making puppets as well. So we could bring some more small paper bags in and give a couple to each pupil, so they can draw faces on them and then put them over their hands to pretend they're puppet people.

Someone with hair on end

The idea is that we split the class up into about four groups, and give each group a feelings word, either happy, sad, angry or scared. We'll want the group we've given the word 'scared' to make scared-looking puppets, the group we've given the word 'angry' to make angry-looking puppets, and so on. Then we ask all the children to make a puppet with one of those feelings on its face. So several will be made in one group. We can ask each group to talk among themselves about how strong the feelings will be on the faces of each puppet they make. For instance, in the group doing the angry faces, one child can draw a face that just looks a bit irritated, while another one draws a face that looks as if it's in a rage. In the group doing the scared faces, one can just look worried while another one looks terrified. In the group drawing the sad faces, one can just look a bit glum while another one's crying, and the other sad faces will be somewhere in between. And so on. The group members can confer with each other about just how to draw the feelings on the faces so everyone else in the class will know what they are.

When they've made the feelings puppets, we can ask them all to make people puppets, representing people they'd be happy to go to for help if they felt they needed it. Each person in the group can make whichever one they like from a list we can give them, including people like a friend, a teacher, a parent, the principal, a neighbour and so on.

When they've done that, we can ask each group at a time to show their feelings puppets to the class and tell the others how the puppets are feeling.

We can then ask each group at a time to introduce their people puppets and say a little bit about them. Then we can have a class discussion about who it might be best to seek help from in various situations, and who they'd feel most comfortable seeking help from and why. If some of them say they don't feel happy seeking help from teachers or other school staff, we can ask them their reasons and try to reassure them where possible.

Then we can talk about the feelings puppets some more, asking questions such as:

  • What kinds of things would make a puppet experience the feelings shown on its face?
  • Which puppets look as if they might be bullies? Why? If none, what would a bully puppet look like?
  • Which puppets look as if they might be hurt by a bully? Why? If none, what would a victim puppet look like?
  • Which people puppets do you think the victim puppets or bully puppets could go to for help? Why?
  • Are there people puppets you'd prefer to go to for help? If so, why?

An Activity to Help Students Think of Alternative Ways to Handle Bullying

Scared to watch

This is an activity where the children role-play bullying situations, and think about how they could end well.

We could start the lesson by telling the children we're going to be doing group role-plays about bullying. Then we can divide the class into groups of three to five. We could give them each a role-play to perform. There are several here we could choose from. We could print them out and give the groups one each. They're not about how the play could go from beginning to end. They're just situations that start plays off, and then how the plays end is up to the children doing the play. It would only be expected to last a few minutes.

So we could give each group a role play starting a scene and ask them to think about it. We could ask them to talk among themselves about how each of the characters in it might feel, and how they'd like the play to go so none of the characters ends up with their feelings hurt. We could ask them to think about what each character in the play could do, and whether one or more group members could pretend to be new characters who could join in and help the people in the situation they've been given that starts off the play, such as a friend of the victim, a teacher, a school counsellor or whoever. We could ask them to plan out how the person manages to help, and how the play will end. Or maybe in some plays, no one will need to be asked for help, because the characters who start off the play will sort things out themselves. But they have to sort things out in a nice way.

Then they can decide which person will play which character. If they're having difficulty deciding, maybe we could talk it through with them.

Each group can first plan to show the bullying situation depicted in the scene that starts off the play, and then make up a happy ending or an ending that looks as if it's going to end up happily.

When the children have decided who is going to play which character and how their plays are going to go, we can invite one group at a time to perform their plays to the class.

After each role-play, we can ask a number of questions for the class to discuss, such as:

  • How might the person in the play who was getting bullied have been feeling?
  • What might have been the real reason the bully was picking on the victim?
  • How do you think the bully might have been feeling?
  • What could the bully have done differently to have stopped themselves wanting to bully the victim?
  • What ways might the victim have been able to sort the problem out on their own, or would it have been best for them to have asked someone to help?
  • If it would have been best for them to ask for help, who would it have been best to ask, and what kind of help might have been best? How would it have been best to have treated the bully?
  • Would it have been allright to have trusted the people the victim might have been able to go to for help? Why or why not?
  • Do you think there is a "best way" to handle bullying?

Here are the role-play scenes that start off the plays the children can invent. We can give one to each group. If they like, they can make up a name to call their play:


  1. Sherie is fatter than most of the other girls in her class. Although Sherie knows it's allright to be a bit overweight, every day Rachel makes fun of her and calls her names in front of the girls and boys in their class. Every day Sherie tries to ignore her, but sometimes it hurts her feelings so much that she feels like crying.
  2. Karl's family just moved to town from a different country. Karl can speak English, but sometimes he has difficulty with long words. Timothy, a class bully, always makes fun of the way Karl talks, tells him he is not wanted at the school, and tries to make the other children stay away from him. Karl really wants to make friends at school, but no one will talk to him.
  3. Andrew is very sensitive, just like his dad, but all the boys make fun of him and call him a sissy. Andrew doesn't like to play sports, and the other boys often laugh at him, push him around, and once even pushed his head down a toilet.
  4. Joyce is the queen of all the girls at school. She thinks she is the coolest. Joyce has picked Susan as her enemy. Every day, Joyce picks on Susan for what she is wearing, how she walks, how she talks, and even how she does her schoolwork. Joyce has got all the other girls to agree not to be friends with Susan.
  5. Gary is the class clown. He tries to make fun of people, tries to push the bullies around, and even does things like make himself trip to get a laugh. Gary really gets on Robert's nerves, so each day Robert has made it his job to shut Gary up by stealing his books, calling him names, and hitting him in the chest.

An Activity to Help Pupils Recognise Skills and Resources They Could Make Use of in Trying to Calm Conflict


We can introduce the lesson by saying we want everyone in the class to work out what skills they have that could come in useful to them in a difficult situation such as if someone wants to bully them. We can say the purpose of the lesson is so they can think of more skills and other things they could use to help them.

We can give the pupils some coloured crayons or pencils and ask them each to draw a picture of what they tend to do when they have an argument with someone or someone seems to want to be nasty to them. Or instead they could write about what they do.

We can ask them to think about how they've seen other people handle arguments or situations where someone wanted to be nasty to them, and whether they can think of any situations that were handled in a good way. If they can think of some, we can ask them what good things they might be able to learn from the good ways the situations were handled that might help them handle that kind of situation better in the future.

We can ask them to think of as many skills and ideas as they can think of that might help them when they get into a situation with another person where they're getting angry or where the other person wants to pick on them. We can ask them to write them in a list. For example, they could write things like:

  • Talk to the person about what they're doing;
  • Stay calm;
  • Ask the teacher for help.

We can get the pupils to split up into groups of three or four students each and tell each other what techniques they've written down. If they hear techniques they haven't written down and they're good ideas, they can write those down as well.

Then each group in turn can tell the class what techniques to help them handle conflict they've got written down, and all the other children in the class can write down any they haven't got so far.

We can advise the children to keep their lists of things to do so they can remind themselves what they can do if they ever think they need to.

Then we can ask them questions such as:

  • What ways did you think of of handling bullying situations?
  • Who might you ask for help with stopping bullying?
  • Would you feel comfortable going to them?
  • Did you hear about any new techniques for handling bullies today?
  • Do you think your list of ideas for handling difficult situations better will come in handy if you're bullied?

Part Four
Teaching the Children Relaxation Techniques and Learning to Use Them Ourselves

Dealing With Stress


It's very important for teachers to be good at dealing with stress in their lives, because otherwise, burn-out is much more likely, where people just can't take any more and leave the profession. Some stress can be reduced if teachers learn new and more effective ways of dealing with things like classroom misbehaviour; but not all stressors can be reduced. For instance, when it becomes a requirement that school tests become the number one priority, teachers can feel stressed and frustrated that they have to spend time cramming the information that'll help the children pass their tests into them rather than teaching a broader range of things including social skills training and so on. Stress responses to such things can sometimes be reduced though even if the main problem's still there causing problems, for instance if teachers can find time every now and then to do a few minutes' worth of relaxation exercises so they calm down a bit.

That might have a knock-on effect on pupils, because a calmer teacher might sometimes make for less classroom disruption from children who might become edgy if the atmosphere's tense.

And indeed teaching relaxation exercises to the children themselves and encouraging them to do them regularly can sometimes make for a calmer class. So it can be good if we all use the techniques.


It's best not to wait till stress is really building up before trying to change things or calm down. It's best to consider even mild stress as a signal from the body that something needs to be changed or that we need to be soothed. Emotions like depression, anger and anxiety are often a message from the brain saying something's wrong and we need to change something about our lives. That could mean finding new ways of coping with certain things in our lives, moving on to new things, or even taking a bit of time to calm ourselves down with a few relaxation exercises, doing something energetic to work off some nervous energy, or changing the way we think about certain things in our lives so they don't bother us so much.


For instance, if we're stewing over a particular child's behaviour, wondering how they can be so stupid and obnoxious, just trying to get what they want by shoving or hitting other students and saying offensive things such as that people are entitled to bully sissies, it might help us de-stress a bit if instead of just being angry that they're so obnoxious, we think about the background they might come from. Perhaps they've learned their behaviour from their parents or others at home so they don't know any different, and maybe their parents are always fighting so they don't get much sleep so they always come to school feeling irritable.

A good technique is to make a point of noticing when we're feeling a bit stressed, and then asking ourselves just what's causing our emotions of stress. Sometimes we might get the emotion without really realising its cause; but if we think back to what's been happening, we might work out what triggered the feeling off. Then we can try to work out what needs changing or what else we can do about it. For instance, if we realise the feeling came on after we spoke to a parent who absolutely refused to believe their child could be involved in bullying and just started shouting about how incompetent we must be if we let children fight in the classroom, instead of letting it ruin the next hour or so for us, we could try planning how to approach the parent the next time we try to raise the issue. Perhaps they're so sensitive to criticism of their child, and have such a negative attitude towards teachers, because they did badly at school themselves so they resent what they see as school interference; so we'd do best to reassure them first that we're not just attacking them. They might respond less negatively if we first tell them about any progress their child has made at school, both in terms of their work and any ways their behaviour has improved. They might be pleasantly surprised that we're saying something good about their child, not being used to schools doing that. Then we could say there are still things we need to work on and ask the parents if they could do us the favour of helping us help their child to improve their behaviour. Then we can tell them about the latest bullying incident and let them know what we're planning to do about it and what we'd like them to try so we can work together as a team to help their child. Perhaps the parent will respond more positively to that kind of approach.


Sometimes we might notice we're more stressed at certain times of the day. If so, we can try to work out what's going on then. If we can, we might be able to change the way we deal with it. For instance, if we notice one thing that stresses us out is children being too hyped up to settle down and get on with work at the beginning of the day, perhaps we could give them all some exercises to do before they start the class to get rid of some of their energy.

Keeping healthy as far as we can can also help keep stress in check. It can keep our bodies from feeling run-down. So having a good diet and doing regular exercise can help.


Having a teachers' support group is another good thing, because it can stop us feeling isolated in our struggles when we realise others are having the same ones, and it'll be nice to have a group of friends who seem to understand us and are willing to listen to our problems. Also, we can share techniques we've found helpful in dealing with stress or difficult children, so others in the group can hopefully make use of them.

Doing meditation or relaxation techniques can help us feel calmer as well. Even just taking a few minutes out of the day every now and then can help.

Some of the signs of stress are physical, such as a faster beating heart or feeling shaky. So those might sometimes be signs we need to take a bit of time out to think through whether there's anything we have the power to change or whether we need to do a relaxation technique to calm ourselves down as well.

Stressful Thoughts


One thing that can cause us stress is the thoughts we have that can go round and round in our heads upsetting us more the more we think them. So sometimes, trying to shift our thinking on to other topics or examining our thoughts to work out whether they're really true or whether perhaps things aren't as bad as we're thinking they are could help us. For instance, if we keep having a string of thoughts going around our heads that says something like, "This is a waste of time! No one wants to learn. Some of these bullies are impossible to cope with. I don't want to carry on teaching this class", the more we think those things, the more depressed or stressed we'll feel. The thoughts might be going round and round in the background of whatever else we're doing. But if we can take time to sit down when we can and think of each thought in turn and ask ourselves whether it's genuinely true, we might realise we've been exaggerating things, and that might help us feel calmer. For instance, if we've been thinking that no one wants to learn, we might realise when we think about it that that isn't true; there are several kids in the class who seem enthusiastic about what we're teaching them. And if we ask ourselves whether any of the class bullies is really impossible to cope with, we might realise that although they can be exasperating, they are slowly making progress towards behaving better, and there are other things we can try with them that might work better than the things we've tried so far.

It might turn out that some of the thoughts going around and around our heads are to do with things we really don't need to be worrying about at all but we've exaggerated their importance the more we've worried about them. So we might realise there are things we don't need to get stressed about after all. For instance, we might be worrying about how we looked when we made a mistake in a lesson that we soon corrected, when in reality, not many children noticed, and those that did will have probably forgotten already. Reassuring ourselves about that can help relax us.

Taking a Bit of Time Out For Enjoyment


It can be difficult to know how to find the time for relaxation in a busy day. But it's best if we think of taking a bit of time out to relax, even if it's just a few minutes now and again, as essential rather than optional, to stop our stress levels getting high enough that we're less effective and happy teaching. Relaxation doesn't just mean relaxation techniques like breathing very slowly. It can mean doing something we enjoy. If we can plan to devote a certain amount of time when we're at home to relaxing as well, that can help. It can also be a good thing if we encourage pupils to do that.

We could think about what we've enjoyed doing to relax in the past that we haven't done for a while, or things we've done recently that we'd like to do more often. Some people might enjoy sitting quietly somewhere and reading a book, or going to a coffee shop and sitting with a coffee and a magazine, or taking a long walk in the park, or going to see a film, and so on.

We could also give the pupils several hints on handling stress, since though people tend to think of childhood as a time when people don't have anything to be stressed about, a lot of young people are stressed about various things, such as parental quarrels, threats of family break-up, pressure from friends to do things they're not happy with, worries about doing schoolwork well, exposure to violence in the news and so on.

We could have a few lessons on relaxation techniques. We could tell the children about some things we do to relax, and suggest they do something they find relaxing at least three times a week. We can ask them to write a list of several things they love to do and which make them feel relaxed, and tell them to keep it so they can remind themselves of what they can do. Every now and then, we can have short class discussions where we ask the class what they've been doing to relax recently.

We could also talk about the need for relaxation with the parents, suggesting they take time out to do companionable relaxing things with their children that will strengthen the bonds between them and make them all feel calmer and happier.

Doing Specific Relaxation Techniques


There are several relaxation techniques we could do. We might find some we like on the Internet. Then we could tell other school staff, and some of them might find them helpful. We might find ones we can do for just a few minutes every now and then when we've got just a few moments spare.

I know there's one where you close your eyes if that helps you concentrate, and imagine you're lying in the shade of a tree in Autumn, with beautiful plants all around and a stream nearby. As you breathe out, you imagine you're breathing out your negative thoughts, and you imagine them blowing away in the gentle breeze and landing on Autumn leaves in the stream and being carried away on the current. Or you can imagine them blowing away on the leaves into the distance on the breeze.

Or we can imagine it's a bright summer's day, and we're lying on soft grass in the sunshine with lovely flowers all around, and every time we breathe out, we can imagine any thoughts making us stressed are being blown out of us up into the sky and floating away on little fluffy clouds or being blown away out of sight by a soft gentle breeze.

We could imagine that's happening every time we breathe out for however long we do the day-dream. The idea is that instead of getting absorbed in anxious thoughts that go around and around in our heads making us feel more and more stressed, we imagine them all going away. If we end up feeling calm, the thoughts might not bother us so much if and when they come back, because we might get them in perspective. The more emotional we feel, the more we'll worry about little things, because emotion clouds the mind so it's more difficult to weigh up how seriously to take the thoughts we have. So thoughts we wouldn't bother taking much notice of if we were calm and happy can seem much more significant.


Another technique is called mindfulness, where instead of just imagining all our stressful thoughts are blowing away, we first acknowledge we're having each thought before getting rid of it. What happens is we make an effort to focus on one particular object that we decide on before we start. Something calming. Or it could be a sensation like the feel of our breath as we breathe in and out, or a gentle movement like the rise and fall of our abdomen as we do. Or it could be a place on the body like the part just above the bridge of our nose. Or it could be a word we say like "Peace", or a phrase like "I'm doing a relaxation exercise".

Anyway, we try to focus all our attention on something like that. We try to do that for minutes. It'll be very difficult to only think of one thing for that long, so we don't have to worry if we can't. But every time we notice our thoughts wandering onto something else, instead of getting absorbed in what our thoughts are making us think, we imagine our thoughts are like cars or train carriages going past, things we notice and then they just go by and are gone. As soon as we notice them, we can think, "Oh, I'm having a thought about ... [whatever it is]" and then we pretend it's just whizzing past, and we pull our attention back to whatever we're trying to focus our attention on.

Again, that way, we don't allow our thoughts to start going round and round inside our heads making us feel worse and worse, and we imagine the ones that were doing that are just whizzing on past us and going away. We might well feel calmer when we've finished, so again, if we get any of those thoughts back, they might not bother us as much as they were before. Also, once we get into the habit of thinking thoughts and then just letting them go, we might not get so stressed because of thoughts going round and around in our brains, because we might let them go more easily all the time, except when we need to dwell on them because we need to solve a problem and we need to think of what's causing the problem and so on. But in that case, we'll be working on something with the aim of coming to a definite conclusion, not just getting more and more stressed because of aimless thoughts making us feel worse and worse.

An Activity to Help Students Learn How to Take Time to Calm Down

Nature scene

This is an activity that teaches people how to go away in their minds to a special place in a soothing day-dream, every time they feel too stressed for their liking and they've got a few minutes spare. We could tell the children that at the start of the lesson.

We can dim any lights, and then suggest that if it's easier for the children to get into a day-dream that way, they can close their eyes, or even lie on the floor if they want to, or put their heads down on their desks.

We can do our best to speak in a calm relaxing voice all the way through. We can read each instruction separately, pausing for about half a minute after each one, to let them really imagine what we're asking them to imagine. We can read each one slowly to help create a relaxing atmosphere. Here are the instructions we could give them:

  • Breathe in deeply and very very slowly. When you have, count to five, and then slowly let your breath out.
  • Do the same thing again: Breathe in deeply and very very slowly, and when you have, hold your breath to the count of five and then very slowly let your breath out.
  • Imagine a wonderful place in your mind. It can be your special place. It can be a real place, or one you can make up. But make it somewhere you really like being. It could be in town, by the seaside, in a woodland, doing your favourite thing, flying in the sky like a bird, anywhere you'd really enjoy being.
  • Look closely around your special place. Think about whether it's light or dark, and about all the things that are in it.
  • Think about whether anyone's with you in your special place. If there is, think about who it is. Maybe it's someone you know, or someone new.
  • Think about what you're doing in your special place. You might be playing, reading, just relaxing, or maybe something else.
  • Think about whether you have any special abilities or powers. If you do, imagine what they are and what it's like using them.
  • Think for a moment about what you like best about your special place. Really imagine enjoying it.
  • Imagine you're taking a picture of your special place in your mind, so you'll remember it for when you'd like to go back there again by yourself.
  • I'm going to count backwards from ten. When I get to one, open your eyes and imagine you're back here.

(We can count backwards slowly, and then remind them to open their eyes.)

After we've talked them through that relaxation exercise, we can suggest they try to remember it, and that they go to their special place for a while whenever they feel unhappy so they'll feel calmer. Then we can start a class discussion. We could ask questions such as:

  • Would anyone like to tell us about his or her special place?
  • What did it feel like in your special place?
  • Do you think you'll be able to visit your special place again when you're feeling tense or upset?

Another Activity to Help Pupils Relax


We can introduce the activity by saying it's a breathing exercise that helps some people relax when they're feeling stressed, and they can use it whenever they're upset or angry to help themselves feel calmer.

We can turn out or dim any lights in the classroom, and tell them they can get themselves comfortable, whether that be by putting their heads down on their desks, sitting on the floor or simply relaxing in their seats. They don't have to do anything special.

We can read them the instructions for the relaxation exercise slowly, one instruction at a time with a pause of about five seconds between each one. Sometimes we'll want to pause in the middle of each instruction as well when we say something they'll take a bit of time to do. We could say something like:

  • Take a moment to get really comfortable.
  • Do you have some thoughts going around in your mind? If so, imagine putting them inside a balloon. Imagine you can tuck them all inside a big balloon where they won't disturb you while you're relaxing. [We can pause to give them time to imagine that.] Now let the balloon go. Imagine it rising up out of your mind, into the sky and far, far away. [We can pause again.] Do this a few times till all the thoughts flitting around your mind have gone.
  • Now let's think about our breathing. Breathe in very very slowly through your nose, unless it's blocked of course, in which case breathe in through a partly-closed mouth. Breathe deeply, remembering to breathe very slowly. [Breathing in too much air at once can make people feel light-headed. That's why breathing in through the nose is better, because not so much air is breathed in at once that way.] Hold your breath for a couple of seconds, and then slowly blow all the air out through your mouth.
  • Some of the oxygen in the air will be pumped around in our bloodstream, giving us some nice fresh energy to use when we've finished relaxing.
  • Now take another slow, slow deep breath in through your nose. And then try and hold it while you count to five. Then slowly slowly let it out through your mouth.
  • Imagine you've got a balloon in your belly. Imagine when you breathe in, you're filling the balloon with good air. If you put a hand on your stomach, if you're breathing deeply enough, you'll feel it rise up. Try it. You can imagine you're filling a balloon up.
  • Breathe in very slowly through your nose again, imagining you're filling up that balloon in your stomach with air. Hold your breath for a few seconds, and then slowly let all the air out of your mouth, imagining the balloon's going down.
  • Now let's try again. Imagine that balloon in your stomach. [We can pause for a second or two for them to imagine it.] Breathe in very slowly, imagining you're filling that balloon in your stomach with air. If you like, count slowly while you breathe in, and try to get to five. [We can pause for a few seconds.] Now slowly, slowly blow the air out, imagining you're letting all the air out of the balloon.

After the relaxation exercise, we can have a class discussion. We can ask questions like:

  • How did your body feel when you finished the relaxation exercise?
  • Did you feel more relaxed than usual?
  • If you've ever felt that relaxed before, what were you doing at the time?
  • Do you like the way the relaxation technique makes your body feel?
  • When would be some good times for you to do the relaxation technique?
  • How could we use the relaxation technique in class?

If we're ever in class and the pupils seem unusually tense but we're not sure why, one thing we could do is to lead them through that activity to try to calm them down. Also, we could give pupils permission to ask us if we can lead the class through the activity whenever they feel stressed.

If we lead them through the activity quite often, they'll become familiar enough with it that they'll be able to take themselves through it when they're on their own; and if they like the way it makes them feel, they might do the technique whenever they feel stressed or upset as we'd like them to.

An Activity to Relax the Muscles

Muscle relaxation

We can encourage students to use this technique when they're tense, and especially when they're feeling angry.

The pupils can do this exercise lying on the floor, or just staying at their desks.

We can read out a series of instructions, remembering to read in a calm voice at a relaxed pace. We can pause for several seconds between each instruction, and sometimes during each one, for just a few seconds when we ask them to tense their muscles, but for several seconds when we ask them to relax them. It might be best if we demonstrate the actions. So we can say something like:

  • Make yourself as comfortable and relaxed as you can. Close your eyes, and take a long very slow breath in and out.
  • Open your eyes wide. Hold them like that. Feel the tension in your eye muscles and in your forehead. [Pause] Now release the tension. Think about how much nicer it feels when your muscles are relaxed. [Pause] Now open your eyes wide again and keep them there. Feel that tension in your eye muscles and in your forehead. [Pause] Now release the tension again. Think about how much nicer it feels now your muscles are relaxed again. If you like the feeling, enjoy it.
  • Clench your teeth. Hold the position. Feel that tension in your muscles. [Pause] Now relax them. Think about how much nicer they feel when they're relaxed. [Pause] Now clench your teeth again. Hold the position, and think about the tension. [Pause] Now relax them again, and again think about how much nicer they feel when they're relaxed. If the relaxation feels nice, enjoy it.
  • Raise your shoulders as high as you can. Hold them there and feel that tension! [Pause] Now let them go, and think about how much nicer it feels when they're relaxed. [Pause] Now raise them again, as high as you can, and feel that tension again! [Pause] Now relax them again, and feel how much nicer it is when they're relaxed. If you like the feeling, allow yourself to just enjoy it.
  • Make a fist. Clench it as tightly as you can. Hold it there and feel that tension! [Pause] Now slowly relax it. Think about how much nicer it feels when it's relaxed. Enjoy that feeling. [Pause] Now clench your other fist as tightly as you can. Hold the position and feel that tension! [Pause] Now slowly release the tension and think about how much nicer it feels when you're relaxed. If you like it, enjoy the sensation.
  • Stretch your arms out to the sides and hold them really tense. Stretch them out as far as they'll go. Hold that tension. [Pause] Now relax your arms; slowly bring them down, and enjoy the sensation of relaxation in them as you release that tension. [Pause] Now hold your arms out to the sides again, stretching them out as far as they'll go. Feel that tension! [Pause] Now slowly, slowly bring your arms down, releasing that tension and thinking about how much nicer it feels when they're relaxing than it did when they were tense.
  • Now pull your stomach in as much as you can. Hold it there and feel that tension! [Pause] Now slowly relax your stomach and think about how much nicer it feels when it's relaxing than it did when it was tense. If you like it, enjoy the sensation. [Pause] Now pull your stomach in again as hard as you can. Hold it there and feel that tension! [Pause] Now slowly slowly relax it, releasing that tension. Enjoy the sensation of relaxation after the tension.
  • Now make sure you've got enough space, and then stretch your left leg out in front of you as far as you can. Hold the position and feel that tension! [Pause] Now slowly slowly let your leg relax and release that tension. Think about how much nicer it feels to be relaxing it than it did when it was tense. Enjoy the sensation. [Pause] Now stretch your right leg right out in front of you as far as it will go. Hold it there and feel that tension. [Pause] Now slowly release that tension, all the while enjoying the sensation of relaxation in your leg as you feel it relaxing.
  • Now stretch out both of your legs together a bit and point your toes as far as you can. Hold the position and feel that tension. [Pause] Now slowly slowly unpoint your toes and release that tension. Think about how much nicer the sensation of relaxation feels than the tension did. [Pause] Now stretch out your legs and point your toes as far as you can again. Hold the position and feel that tension! [Pause] Now slowly slowly bring your legs and toes back to their normal position and feel how much nicer the sensations of relaxation in them are than the tension was.
  • Now stand up, and end by giving your body a little shake. Relax everything. Bounce up and down a bit and shake your arms and hands gently. Shake your head a bit if you like. Enjoy the sensation of relaxation.

After we've led the class through the muscle relaxation activity for the first time, we can have a class discussion, where we ask questions like:

  • How did it feel to let the tension in your muscles go after holding them really tense?
  • When you notice your muscles feel a bit tense, such as when you're angry and your fists start clenching up and you're subconsciously bracing yourself for action, will you be willing to do the muscle relaxation exercise on your own to calm yourself down?
  • Who thinks they can give this activity a try at home?

We could lead the class through the muscle relaxation exercise for a few minutes every day or whenever we notice the class is a bit restless or agitated if we find it helps. We might need to lead them through it several times before they're familiar enough with it to try it on their own.

Releasing Tension by Finding Things to Laugh At


It might sometimes be possible to see the funny side in some things that would otherwise just stress us out. If we can find one and laugh, it can be a release of tension.

The children need to laugh as well. Laughter can sometimes be a release of tension that might otherwise lead to aggression. Also, if the class are more cheerful, they might not feel so irritable with each other. If we can think of any ways learning can be fun, it'll be worth trying them out with the children.

Also, we could try to regularly have a few minutes of fun and laughter time, where we can encourage them to tell funny stories appropriate for children, perhaps about things that happened to them, and we could try and find funny stories to tell them. Sometimes there are funny stories in the news. Or we might hear some on the radio, or one might happen to us every so often, and so on. If the children see us laughing and enjoying some of the things we do, they might be encouraged to laugh more themselves.


We'll need to teach them what's appropriate humour though, teaching them that laughing at ourselves is OK and laughing along with others can be good, but fun and laughter should never be at the expense of someone else. Laughing can be a lot of fun, but if it would hurt the feelings of someone being laughed at, it isn't fair to laugh at them. We can give them examples of inappropriate humour so they understand, such as asking them to imagine someone makes a mistake in maths and the class laugh at them, or to imagine someone thinks it's funny to laugh at people who walk with a limp after they've sprained their ankle or broken their leg and makes jokes about them.

We can encourage them to use tasteful humour instead.

Working Off Tension or Excess Energy Through Exercise and Being Active


It'll be a good thing if we manage to do some exercise every day. It can work off anger and nervous tension, leaving us feeling calmer. Some exercise, like brisk walking, can also be an opportunity to think over the problems of the day and try to think of solutions.

The children can also benefit from doing exercise every day, if we can find a way of working it into the daily routine. A lot of them might spend hours a day just sitting around watching television or on the computer, and they might watch a lot of violent scenes, which might increase their tension, adding to the tension they feel from the stressors in their lives from the things going on around them. If we can allow them to exercise to some extent, it will at least partly make up for their inactivity at other times of the day, and also help them release the aggression they might have built up from watching violence on television or arguing with people around them and so on.

There might not be much time in the day to allow them to exercise. But even a few minutes' worth might calm them down a bit. There have been teachers who have led the class through exercise routines when the weather's too bad for them to go and run around outside, or have let them run around a bit in class, and found they're less disruptive afterwards.

Deciding on a Set Time to Do Work Out of School Hours

Fed up

Feeling work's dragging on all evening can be stressful, as can thinking we really must get around to it but wanting to do other things first and getting caught up in family life and ending up working late into the night. If we can, it can be a good policy to choose a specific time, maybe 1-2 hours during each evening, which we'll set aside as our work time. So we'll know we're going to mark papers and things then every day and have the rest of the evening free to do what we want. Knowing when we're going to do our work and not having it hanging over us all evening or doing bits here and there interspersed with other things so it takes ages to get done, will reduce stress. If we have a set time to work, we can plan which parts of the evening will be our time to rest. It'll be important that we have time to just relax and enjoy ourselves every day.


The older children in the school might very well also benefit from having a set time when they do their homework each evening. It'll mean they'll hopefully get it finished by a certain time, and then be able to enjoy themselves, knowing that time's their own for the rest of the evening, except for anything their parents want them to do. Also, if they get it done, their parents won't be trying to nag them to do their work all evening with them being reluctant to get around to it, or they won't try to start it early but continually get distracted by things they'd prefer to do so it takes them all evening sitting with it in front of them, instead of finishing it early and then having the freedom to do what they want, knowing they haven't got to get back to it. Getting it out of the way can make evenings less stressful for them.


We can ask them what time they'd prefer to have as their time to schedule their homework. Some might prefer to get it out of the way early, while others might prefer to relax first and get down to it after tea or something. We can have a time in class near the beginning of the year when we ask them all what time they'd prefer to do their homework. Then we could ask them all to draw up a contract, which could be a piece of paper they write on saying they'll do their homework every day at whatever time they've chosen; and there can be room for three signatures on it, their own, the teacher's and a parent's. They can take it home to show it to their parents so it's all agreed, or to discuss it with them in case they think a different time would be better.

One thing that's very important, whether it be when we're planning what time to do our work in the evening or anything else, is that we don't overload ourselves with too much at once. If we plan ahead, prioritise things where possible so we do the most important first, and don't try to achieve everything we want to achieve at once but plan what it's practical to try and achieve when, that'll reduce our stress and stop us feeling overwhelmed by the amount we're trying to do.

Basically, if we try to do several things in combination to reduce our stress and that of the children, we'll all maybe enjoy life more, and that in itself, apart from anything else, might help reduce bullying in our class.

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