What Works in preventing peer mistreatment – and in preventing harm?
Since the late 1990s I have trained and consulted with schools in 25 US states, Canada, with International schools in Africa, and with schools throughout India. This experience, in addition to my thorough review of the research and 41 years of experience as a social worker and school guidance counselor, has taught me about many effective interventions to reduce peer mistreatment and to reduce the harm that mistreatment can do.
In reviewing what I have learned, I would now divide the most helpful actions into four interconnected themes or program components. All four of these program components contribute to building a positive, inclusive school climate that supports all students.
These four components are:
- Developing and implementing a shared schoolwide definition of RESPECT.
- Building positive RELATIONSHIPS for students and staff members.
- Building RESILIENCY through increasing positive connection and developing cognitive skills.
- RESPONDING effectively to negative peer actions.
Often schools want to begin with the last of these four components. Questions asked early in trainings include these:
- What should we do when we hear about an incident of peer mistreatment?
- How can we help mistreating youth change their behavior?
These are important questions, and we need effective ways to intervene in these situations. Yet the frequency of negative actions will be lower, and our responses to incidents much more effective, if we also develop a foundation of positive schoolwide behavior norms and social skills, a web of positive connections for each student and staff member, and strategies to promote resiliency in all of our students.
My books, Schools Where Everyone Belongs, Empowering Bystanders in Bullying Prevention, and Youth Voice Project: Student Insights Into Bullying and Peer Mistreatment (with Dr. Charisse Nixon), discuss these program components in depth, including a wide range of techniques for implementation. Click on the links below to read brief descriptions of each component.
Developing and implementing a shared schoolwide definition of RESPECT. Building positive RELATIONSHIPS for students and staff members. Building RESILIENCY through increasing positive connection and developing cognitive skills. RESPONDING effectively to negative peer actions.