How to Discipline Bullies at School

teacher reprimanding a student at school


Having a clear plan in place on how to discipline bullies and implement corrective measures is an essential component of school bullying prevention. Doing so helps schools ensure that they not only have clear rules about bullying, but consistently enforce those rules. In the end, this results in more successful bullying prevention.

The most successful disciplinary procedures are graduated in nature. In other words, as bullying increases in severity so should the disciplinary action.

Zero-tolerance policies are usually not effective. If a school suspension is the only consequence for any type of bullying, students and teachers may fear it is too harsh and refrain from reporting less severe forms of bullying. The result is that more bullying will take place because fewer incidents are being reported.

Instead of decreasing bullying, zero-tolerance policies often have the reverse effect. They also tend to leave students and teachers feeling like only the most severe cases of bullying are on the school's radar.

Finally, discipline must be consistent. This means that no student is exempt, including gifted students, star athletes and kids with parents who work for the school. If a school fails to apply discipline consistently, students will assume that not every student is treated equally. When this happens, bullying escalates.

If you have been charged with developing a disciplinary plan for bullying at your school, here are eight guidelines to follow when dealing with bullies.

Investigate All Bullying Complaints Immediately

Once the school receives a complaint about bullying, it is imperative that an investigation begin right away. This crucial first step demonstrates not only that you are aware of the situation, but also that bullying is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. It also shows students and parents that you take bullying seriously and that it will not be brushed under the rug or ignored.

Address Bullying Immediately

When you take immediate action, you are showing victims of bullying, as well as any bystanders, that your school does not tolerate bullying. Additionally, it communicates to bullies, and potential bullies, that the school will take action when bullying occurs.

When there are consequences for bullying at school, this helps deter bullying in the future. Meanwhile, failing to implement any type of consequences for poor choices only serves to embolden bullies to take greater risks and to target students more frequently.

Confront the Bully Privately

When you sit down with the bully, let them know that you will not tolerate bullying behavior and that if you see any sign that this was not an isolated incident, there will be additional repercussions including a call to their parents and a visit to the principal’s office.

Talking with the bully publicly may cause them to lash out at the victim again. Or, it may be the type of attention they were seeking all along.

Avoid giving the bully too much attention or increasing their credibility among their peers.

Remind the Bully That Bullying Is a Choice

Bullies need to recognize that no matter the reason behind their behavior, bullying was a choice they made. And they are responsible for his actions. You need to be sure that the bully owns their choice and accepts responsibility for their actions.

Sometimes kids refuse to take responsibility. Do not let this attitude slide. Refer the bully to the guidance office until they can communicate that they understand their responsibility. Bullies can change if they are given the appropriate skills.

Develop Logical Consequences

The disciplinary plan developed for the bully should be logical. For instance, if the bullying occurred on the bus, then the bully should lose bus-riding privileges for a period of time. Or, if the bully used their status on the football team to bully others or bullied others because they are part of a clique, then he should lose that status for a period of time.

You might suspend them from a game or two or not allow them to eat lunch with the friends they were trying to impress. If a bully is targeting students in the locker room following gym class, then do not allow the bully to use the locker room. Require them to change clothes in the office bathroom.

Every bullying situation is different, and as a result, the consequences will be different. The point is to demonstrate that bullying behavior has consequences and will not be tolerated.

Alert the Guidance Office About the Bullying

Typically, the guidance office will have ideas and resources they can pass on to bullies. If given the right skill set, most bullies can change. Provide the names of the victims so the counselors can reach out to them too.

However, it is never a good idea to have the bully and the victim in a meeting together. Mediation does not work between bullies and victims because of the power imbalance. Additionally, victims are often intimidated by being in the same room with the bully and they feel silenced.

Avoid providing bullies with situations where they can exert their power over victims.

Contact the Bully's Parents

While making a call to the parents is never an easy task, it is one that needs to happen. Explain that their child has been bullying other students and ask them to help you intervene. Ask the parents to tell their child that their behavior is unacceptable and to implement consequences at home. Stress the importance of respect at school.

While some parents will be appalled by their child's behavior, others will deny that their child did anything wrong. They may make excuses, shift blame or get confrontational. Stand your ground.

Make sure the bully still experiences consequences for their choice despite any arguing and threatening you receive from the parents. If the parents are not supportive, you will have a harder time getting the bully to change, but you still should stay the course and follow your plan of action.

Continue to Monitor the Situation

Sometimes when bullying is caught early, it won’t happen again. But do not automatically assume this is the case. Instead, monitor the bully’s behavior and continue to discipline if necessary.

It is also a good idea to check in with the victim as well. Make sure they are adjusting well and recovering. Additionally, if the bully still has a bad attitude or is not taking responsibility for their choices, continue to require work in this area.

3 Sources
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By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.