Creating a Safe Antibullying Environment in the Classroom
A safe and supportive classroom is vital for each child to feel valued and accepted. A safe classroom environment means that each child is welcomed, respected, and ready to learn. Two major strategies for creating this type of environment are to help children develop empathy skills to be able to understand the feelings of others and practice assertiveness skills to prevent being victimized by others.
To provide an opportunity for children to (1) practice social skills, such as sharing, problem-solving, and listening; (2) express and understand feelings and emotions; and (3) build positive peer relationships.
- Building Blocks for a Healthy Future Know Kit Cards(for children 3 to 4 years oldand 5 to 6 years old) (available in Spanish).
Note: These cards can be used with the whole class or with small groups.
- Construction paper, crayons, markers, and different kinds of art materials.
Print out several copies of the front and back of appropriate Know Kit Cards, based on your students’ ages and abilities to express themselves. For example:
From My Feelings Cards for ages 3 to 4:
- “What do you do when you get angry?”
- “How do you feel when you learn to do something new?”
- “What makes you happy?”
From My Feelings Cards for ages 5 to 6:
- “What do you do when a friend hurts your feelings?”
- “What makes you laugh?”
- “What scares you?”
From My Friends Cards for ages 3 to 4:
- “What do you do if a friend takes away your favorite toy?”
- “When are you the leader?”
- “What do you do to make friends?”
From My Friends Cards for ages 5 to 6:
- “What would you do if a bully threatened your friend?”
- “Do you do everything your friends do?”
- “Why do you like each of your friends?”
- “How do you make up with a friend?”
On the First Day: Empathy Skills
- To help children develop empathy skills in order to prevent their bullying others or to help children who may be bullied, it’s important to help them identify and express their own feelings. Choose one or two appropriate cards from the My Feelings group, and use the questions on the back of the cards as group discussion starters.
Add your own questions to focus the discussion on bullying. For example:
- An appropriate followup question for “What do you do when you get angry?” would be “How does it feel when friends or family take their anger out on you?”
- Or, for “What do you do when a friend hurts your feelings?” you might ask children to talk about the times they have hurt someone else’s feelings. What did they do? How did it make them feel? How did the other person feel? How did they make things better?
After the group discussion, guide students to see that even though each of them is different from the others, their feelings are the same. Each of them can feel angry, sad, happy, or scared.
Remember to model empathy by talking about how you or other students find ways to help another friend who may be feeling sad, upset, or angry. A special bulletin board can be created to showcase the different kind actions displayed by the students.
- Give small groups of students art materials and a printout of one of the cards used in the discussion. Have the children create pictures to illustrate what different feelings look like to them—happy, angry, or sad faces; actions that cause them to feel happy or angry; or colors that might represent different feelings. Help children label the feelings represented by their artwork. Post these around the room to help continue the class discussion on feelings and empathy.
On Another Day: Assertiveness Skills
- To help children develop assertiveness skills in order to avoid submitting to bullying tactics, such as bossiness or discriminating acts, it’s important to help them understand how to work and play with friends. Choose one or two appropriate cards from the My Friends group.
Have two or three children stand up, and then ask, “What would you do if a friend takes away your favorite toy?” Or ask, “What would you do if a bully threatened your friend?” Guide them to role-play the situation. What would they say to each other? What would they do to help? Where could they go if they can’t work it out themselves?
- Begin a class list of positive ways to play with friends. For example:
- Learn to say “no” politely, but let your friends know you mean it;
- Accept “no” as an answer when friends say it to you;
- Speak clearly and directly to your friend so you are not misunderstood;
- Ask for things from your friends by using “please”—don’t just take things;
- Share things with your friends, but tell them when you would like those things back;
- Listen to your friends when they are speaking to you;
- Don’t do things just because others are doing them;
- Stand up for your friends if others are hurting them; and
- Know where to go for help if there’s a problem you can’t solve.
- Look for books on bullying in your library, and share these as the occasion arises. While reading, pause and ask the children, “How would you feel?” and “What would you do?”
- Print out appropriate copies of the Building Blocks for a Healthy Future Know Kit Cardsfor children to take home and talk about with their family.
- Create a Positive Ways To Play With Friends bulletin board in the hallway or media center. Start the list, but ask others to add their ideas, too, with words and/or pictures.
- Find more Building Blocks for a Healthy Future resources to support your efforts to help prevent bullying in your classroom:
Remember: If you have any concerns about a particular child’s unexpected change of behavior, talk with that child’s parents or caregivers to see if any recent changes have occurred in their family. Talking early allows parents to be aware of any issues and make adjustments immediately, if necessary. Note that educators have a duty to ensure that all students have a safe learning environment.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Stopbullying.gov is a website with resources, tools, and videos to educate parents, children, and community members to prevent and address bullying. The following are two informative articles:
- Build a Safe Environment provides teachers and school administrators with tips for creating a safe and supportive school climate; and
- Teaching Social Skills to Prevent Bullying in Young Children identifies three types of social skills for young children to learn and practice to avoid bullying situations when they occur.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
SAMHSA provides a variety of materials on preventing bullying:
- The SAMHSA Blog, October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, provides information about bullying and its impact, as well as strategies on how everyone can and should take action against bullying.
- 15+ Take Time to Listen, Take Time To Talk … About Bullying cards encourage parents and caregivers to spend at least 15 minutes a day listening and talking with their children to prevent youth violence.
- Me, You, and Wally Bear: A Building Blocks for a Healthy Future Mobile Application guides adults in building positive relationships and open lines of communication with young children (can be downloaded for free from the SAMHSA website and Apple’s App Store soon).
The following online resources provide excellent tips, information, and resources for educators, parents, and caregivers:
Education Development Center, Inc.
Eyes on Bullying Toolkit: What Can You Do? provides parents and caregivers of preschool and school-age children specific insights, strategies, activities, and resources to prevent bullying in children’s lives.
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