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Bullying Prevention at All Ages and Stages

A 2013 national survey shows that as many as one in five high school students was bullied in 2012.1 However, bullying and associated behaviors can begin well before high school. They can start in elementary school and even in early childhood. That’s why efforts to prevent bullying must take place at all ages and stages of development.

Bullying Defined

Examples of Programs and Approaches to Prevent Bullying

Bullying is unwanted, often-repeated, aggressive behavior among school-aged children. It involves a real or perceived power imbalance and includes behaviors such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. When this aggression occurs through email, text, or social media, it is cyberbullying.2

Examples of Programs and Approaches to Prevent Bullying

  • HALO—Healthy Alternatives for Little Ones—for use in preschool, teaches children ages 3–6 years how to make healthier life choices. One aspect of the program aims to improve children’s sense of self; communication skills; ability to recognize, label, and express feelings appropriately; and acceptance of cultural diversity.
  • Zippy’s Friends, a mental health promotion program, teaches children ages 5–7 years how to cope with everyday problems; explores feelings and how to talk about and deal with them; and encourages children to help other people with their problems.
  • The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, widely used in elementary, middle, and high schools, helps prevent bullying by improving peer relations and the social climate of the classroom.
  • The Framework for Restorative Practice helps schools manage conflict and tension by repairing harm and building relationships as a way to build community. Students increase social-emotional skills, learn to value themselves and others, and build capacity for resolving problems. 

Periodic aggression among toddlers and preschools is a typical aspect of child development. At the same time, promoting young children’s social and emotional development is critical to their success in school and in life, including relationships with others. Common victims of bullying behaviors include students of color, students with disabilities, those who are overweight, and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ).3

What We Can Do to Prevent Bullying

The best way to prevent bullying is talk about it starting from early childhood through high school, build safe school environments, and create community-wide prevention strategies.4 While there are a multitude of programs to address bullying, most have similar approaches and principles.

There is a growing body of knowledge around bullying in early childhood. Additionally, there are new efforts to translate what works for children into tips and prevention strategies for young children.5 In early childhood, the emphasis is on promoting social and emotional health and development. The goal is to promote infant mental health and help young children develop empathy and other skills to learn how to value another person’s feelings. Specific strategies for this age group involve increasing positive parent-child interactions, modeling empathy and kindness, discouraging exclusionary play and encouraging relationships between and among peers as developmentally appropriate and adopting a relationship-based framework for service delivery.

For school-aged children, most bullying prevention takes place at school. Recognizing the high prevalence and serious consequences of bullying, all 50 states have passed legislation that requires public schools to put in place and carry out anti-bullying activities. Effective strategies include creating school policies and rules that address bullying behavior, building bullying prevention into the curriculum, training teachers on anti-bullying policies and approaches, and engaging parents in the effort. Creating a safe school environment is also essential—and that includes establishing a culture of acceptance, tolerance, and respect.
In many schools, these strategies are integrated into larger efforts to address social-emotional development, mental health, and safe spaces. 

For more information about bullying and strategies to prevent it, visit these resources:





1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding Bullying. Retrieved October 2015 from: 
2. Bullying Definition. Retrieved October 2015 from: 
3. Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center. Bullying Statistics. Retrieved October 2015 from: 
4. Prevent Bullying. Retrieved October 2015 from: 
5. Gartrell, Dan with Julie Jochum Gartrell. 2008. Guidance Matters: Understanding Bullying in Beyond the Journal:  Young Children on the Web. Retrieved October 2015 from: