Viewing Bullying through the Lens of Trauma

Article 1 of the IBPA Trauma Series
Originally posted June 27, 2019
In August 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services released Bullying as an Adverse Childhood Experience on its site. This fact sheet calls for all involved in bullying prevention efforts to have a strong understanding of trauma, to see the relationship between trauma and bullying, and to develop a shared vision of how bullying prevention might become a part of trauma-informed practices. 
What is trauma? Trauma is an experience that leaves a person feeling hopeless or helpless, perceiving a tremendous loss of safety and fear for survival. The details of a traumatic event itself are not important; instead, the focus must be on the way people experience the event.  When the brain perceives threat to safety, whether that threat is real or imagined, the most instinctual part of the brain (often called the reptilian brain) goes into survival mode. This powerful automatic response is often catego…

The Effects of Childhood Bullying into Adulthood

When the Center for Disease Control named bullying an "Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)" in 2017, it validated the 30-year effort examining the long-lasting effects of childhood bullying into adulthood. The research efforts have suggested these principles: bullying is prevalent, being a target of bullying has a multi-symptom, negative impact, and the impact of being a target is long-lasting. Professors Patricia McDougall and Tracy Vaillancourt reviewed the literature in order to determine how far the negative impact can reach and which effects have the deepest impact.

The researchers selected 17 prospective studies to review. Prospective studies take a population and look at effects of over a long period of time, and so these studies looked at the effects of painful childhood experiences, including bullying, into adulthood.  The following are some of the findings:

Mental Health. McDougall and Vaillancourt found a "direct" pathway between childhood bullying and me…

Looking at School Discipline from a Community Lens: More on Restorative Practices

The International Institute for Restorative Practices defines Restorative Practicesas "an emerging social science that studies how to strengthen relationships between individuals as well as social connections within communities." This focus on communities shifts how we look at behavior and discipline at school, zooming out to see the impact of actions and words on the community as a whole. 
Looking specifically at discipline, Restorative Practices remains focused on the community. The goals of Restorative Discipline, articulated by Lorrainne Stuzman Amstuz and Judy Mullet, are marked shift from focusing on the individual alone. They have been adapted here: To understand the harm and develop empathy for both those who have been harmed and those who have engaged in harmful behavior. This is a shift from a punitive stance where the focus is on the student and his/her behavior. Restorative discipline also takes into account the harm to people and relationships and seeks to unders…

The Social Capital Window of Restorative Practices

The goal of Restorative Practices is to build and strengthen strong school communities. Eighty percent of the efforts is for building the relationships that provide the backbone of strong school communities; 20% of the efforts aims to restore and heal those relationships that are harmed.

At the basis of Restorative Practices is the Social Capital Window, a broad categorization of school or classroom environments. The University of Michigan's Professor Wayne Baker defines social capital as the resources available within networks. including information, ideas, cooperation, support, and power. The Social Capital Window, also called the Social Discipline Window, categorizes social norms and behavioral expectations into four types of environment, based on degrees of support and control and reflecting the impact of different types of leadership. The Social Capital Window is an adaptation of Diane Baumrind's Parenting Styles from the 1960s. 

The degree of Support is indicated by th…

Integrating Restorative Practices and Bullying Prevention

We have reached an understanding that effective schools have one common and critical characteristic: a safe and supportive school community. We also know that a safe and supportive school community is the heart of restorative practices and that bullying cannot flourish in these environments. Despite this common understanding, we remain unsure how to integrate restorative practices and bullying prevention within a comprehensive school-wide initiative.

Restorative practitioners, bullying prevention experts, mental health practioners, and policymakers came together to provide this direction. The result of their two-year effort is the white paper entitled Integrating Bullying Prevention and Restorative Practices in Schools: Considerations for Practitioners and Policymakers. With the goal of connecting research- and evidence-based bullying prevention programs with restorative practices, the workgroup first described the problem of bullying, shared best practices in bullying prevention, an…

Restorative Practices as a Promising Approach to Bullying Prevention

In October 2016 the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released Preventing Bullying through Science, Policy, and Practice, the results of a study commissioned by the NAS to determine what we know and what more we need to know about bullying behavior and its impact. Restorative practices is mentioned in the chapter focusing on the research on preventative interventions. In short, despite the growing interest in implementing restorative practices as a way to prevent bullying, little research supports its effectiveness. The panel calls for research in this area in order to support this claim.

That call is being answered. RAND, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, is currently engaged in the first randomized control study of the effectiveness of restorative practices on improving school culture and in addressing behavioral issues. The study will also examine changes in suspension rates, staff and student attendance, student achievement, and more. …

The State of the Science of Bullying

The mission of, a website created through a partnership of the United States Departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, and Education, is to provide "information from various government agencies on what bullying is, what cyberbullying is, who is at risk, and how you can prevent and respond to bullying."  The website is the most comprehensive online resource for bullying. The "Facts about Bullying" page reflects the most current knowledge about bullying, including definition, statistics, bullying and suicide, and laws and policies. Also on this page is the section "The State of the Science."

While bullying research remains a growing field of inquiry, studies have shown the impact of bullying during childhood and adolescence into adulthood and have confirmed the complex nature of bullying. Even though unanswered questions remain, studies have provided conclusive evidence about bullying. Common understanding includes the prevalence …