Strengthening Elementary School Bully Prevention with Bibliotherapy

By Heath, Melissa Allen; Moulton, Emily et al. | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, June 2011 | Go to article overview
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Strengthening Elementary School Bully Prevention with Bibliotherapy

Heath, Melissa Allen, Moulton, Emily, Dyches, Tina Taylor, Prater, Mary Anne, Brown, Alec, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

The consequences of bullying are both widespread and severe. In comparison to their nonvictimized peers, victims suffer lower academic achievement as well as higher rates of depression, lower self-esteem, and increased interpersonal problems across development and into adulthood (Nansel, Craig, Overpeck, Saluja, & Ruan, 2004). Over time, bullying is strongly linked to victims' anger, frustration, and violent behaviors (Nansel, Overpeck, Haynie, Ruan, & Scheidt, 2003).

Bullying also impacts bystanders. Children who witness bullying often feel powerless and fearful of being victimized. Furthermore, bullying often escalates with an audience: Onlookers may implicitly or explicitly encourage bullying by silently observing or actively participating. Particularly in school settings, bullying and bystander silence create an unwelcome and increasingly intimidating environment (Orpinas, Horne, & Staniszewski, 2003).


Data from several school-wide programs have indicated positive headway in effectively targeting and reducing bullying behaviors (e.g., Frey et al., 2005; Orpinas et al., 2003). However, large meta-analyses counter these findings, indicating that antibullying programs produce minimal change in bullying behaviors over time (Merrell, Gueldner, Ross, & Isava, 2008).

Although faced with these mixed messages, teachers and other caring adults can offset bullying's negative impact (Sprague & Walker, 2005). Research shows that adults' social support is extremely important in alleviating children's personal pain (Davidson & Demaray, 2007). Additionally, positive role modeling is crucial in curbing bullying behavior. Adults must teach and model kindness and respect, closely monitoring, protecting, and befriending those who are victimized. In particular, adults must not ignore, discount, or condone mean-spirited behavior: They must actively create and support a safe and inclusive environment (Frey et al., 2005).

Additionally, schools must empower children, particularly bystanders, to denounce bullying. Some commonly advocated steps include increasing awareness of bullying, establishing and enforcing clear antibullying rules, providing support and adequate supervision, encouraging cooperation, and rewarding prosocial behaviors (Sprague & Walker, 2005).

Although multiple strategies have targeted bullying, bullying must be understood within a social contextual framework beyond the bully-victim dyad (Orpinas et al., 2003). Most importantly, as addressed by Craig, Pepler, and Blais (2007), effective intervention must consider two important underlying factors: (a) the overall social acceptance of bullying and (b) the lack of effective problem-solving strategies, particularly for victims and bystanders (Davis & Davis, 2007). In particular, Davis and Davis emphasize the importance of focusing on the broad base of bystanders, strengthening this vast majority of students to speak up and take an active stand against bullying. To this end, bibliotherapy is recommended as a potential tool to address these factors and to create positive, supportive, and inclusive classroom environments (Oliver & Young, 1994).


Forgan (2002) defined bibliotherapy as using books to heal the mind, empowering individuals to resolve personal difficulties. Proponents of bibliotherapy rely on the leverage of a well crafted story to assist children in changing problematic thoughts and behaviors (Heath, Sheen, Leavy, Young, & Money, 2005). Although frequently used by mental health professionals as an activity aligned with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and play therapy, bibliotherapy is also recommended for teachers and parents as a teaching aid to address social skills and normal developmental challenges (For-gan, 2002; Heath et al., 2005).

Beyond merely confronting bullying behaviors and focusing on what students should not do, carefully selected books should promote healthy interpersonal relationships (teacher-student and student-student) and encourage prosocial behavior, such as kindness, inclusiveness, and empathy-critical ingredients in sensitively responding to other's feelings (Henkin, 2005).

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Strengthening Elementary School Bully Prevention with Bibliotherapy


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