Integrating Bullying Prevention into Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support

By Good, Chris P.; McIntosh, Kent et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, September 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Integrating Bullying Prevention into Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support


Good, Chris P., McIntosh, Kent, Gietz, Carmen, Teaching Exceptional Children


Bullying is often defined as unprovoked aggressive behavior repeatedly carried out against victims who are unable to defend themselves (Smith, Ananiadou, & Cowie, 2003; Whitted & Dupper, 2005). Bullying can take many forms, such as physical aggression, threats, insults, spreading rumors, social exclusion, and mocking the victim's culture, disability, or sexual orientation (Olweus, 2003). Children and youth who engage in bullying behavior may have a physical advantage, higher social status, or power in numbers, whereas those who are targeted by bullies are likely to be solitary, smaller in stature, or members of marginalized groups (Craig & Pepler, 2007). Youth who bully their peers are skilled at discovering and targeting the vulnerabilities of their victims, which may in part explain the increased likelihood that children with exceptionalities will be victims of bullying (Heinrichs, 2003) . Children with special needs may exhibit social skill deficits, verbal delays, and impulsive or anxious behaviors, all of which are characteristics of many children who are targets of bullying.

Across Canada and the United States, bullying is considered a widespread problem in schools. In a 2002 survey of 512 American youth, 52% of students reported that they knew someone who was considered a bully (Rice, 2003, as cited in Fairholm & Mader, 2006). In addition, 61% of respondents revealed that they witnessed bullying one or more times per day, a substantial increase from the 37% reported in 2001. Nearly 30% of students surveyed in a 2001 United States national study reported being involved in bullying, as either a bully or victim (Nansel et al., 2001). In Canadian studies conducted throughout the mid-1990s, 20% of children in Grades 1 through 8 had been involved in bullying (Pepler, Craig, Ziegler, & Charach, 1994). According to a recent survey by the World Health Organization, Canada and the United States ranked 12th and 15th, respectively, out of 35 countries in terms of reported prevalence of bullying behavior (Craig SiHarel, 2004).

The adverse consequences of high rates of bullying in schools are many. Targets of bullying may suffer greatly in terms of their social and emotional well-being, become anxious and depressed, isolate themselves from peer groups, and avoid school for fear of being bullied (Berthold & Hoover, 2000; Slee, 1994; Walker, Ramsey, & Gresham, 2005). High rates of bullying may affect the entire school population as well, creating an environment of fear that disrupts academic learning (Whitted & Dupper, 2005). For children with exceptionalities, learning may already be a struggle, and the co-occurrence of a disability and being a target for bullying can lead to increased rates of academic, social, and emotional problems (Mishna, 2003). Researchers have suggested that children with learning, emotional, and physical disabilities are more likely to be bullied by their peers (Cummings, Pepler, Mishna, & Craig, 2006) and are more likely to experience severe and serious forms of victimization (Heinrichs, 2003). Children with learning and emotional disabilities are not only at a greater risk of being victimized, but may also bully other children themselves because of a lack of social skills or impulse control (Curmnings et al., 2006).

Given the negative outcomes for all children and especially those with exceptionalities, reducing the prevalence of bullying is an important goal for school personnel. This article describes (a) common steps taken in schools to respond to bullying behavior, (b) why these steps may be less effective, (c) a promising approach of integrating bullying prevention into existing schoolwide behavior support systems, and (d) a case study describing and showing outcomes of this integrated approach.

Typical Responses to Bullying Behavior in Schools

Once school teams identify bullying behavior as a problem, the most common response is to implement a standalone, anti-bullying program. …

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