LSLS – Bullying Prevention Part 2: Tips for Students Exhibiting Bullying Behavior

Excerpted and adapted from Dr. Lori Ernsperger’s book Recognize, Respond, Report: Preventing and Addressing Bullying of Students with Special Needs, the suggestions shared here will help teachers provide effective support for all kids, no matter which side of the bullying equation they’re on. This is a three-part blog. Part 1 included tips for students who are bystanders. Part 2 includes tips for students exhibiting bullying behavior. Part 3 will include tips for students who are victims of bullying.

Model caring and respectful language. Don’t label students as “bullies.” When you model respect for all students, you discourage rejection of students who may exhibit aggressive behaviors.

Investigate the causes. There are many factors that can contribute to students exhibiting bullying behaviors. They may lack understanding of acceptable, age-appropriate social behaviors because of an intellectual disability or impairment of social-communication skills. They may have learned negative attention-seeking behaviors from their peers, or violent and aggressive behaviors from poor role models in their home life. A negative and unsupportive school climate may also be a contributing factor to bullying behaviors. Investigating and understanding the root causes of the bullying will help you choose appropriate solutions, from adjustments to the student’s IEP to a concerted effort to improve the school climate.

Use graduated consequences. In this model, students who exhibit bullying and harassment behaviors are held accountable for their actions, but harsh, zero-tolerance punishments aren’t doled out at the first offense (research shows they increase dropout rates and negatively impact the overall school climate). Rather, the consequences grow increasingly serious with repeated and egregious offenses. Dr. Ernsperger provides this example of what graduated consequences might look like:

  • Verbal reprimand or warning
  • Contract with the student to “cease and desist” and have no contact with the victim
  • Parent phone call to alert them of the incident
  • Conference with parent and teacher
  • Additional counseling or meetings with the administrator or school counselor
  • Alternative lunch detention or in-school lunch suspension
  • Student restitution/compensation for damaged items
  • Community service
  • Loss of extracurricular privileges
  • Before-or after-school detention
  • Referral to the school resource officer

Consider a referral for specialized services. Students who persist with bullying behaviors and don’t respond to traditional measures may have more severe psychological problems that require the expertise of a mental health professional. Cognitive behavior therapy, stress management interventions, and counseling to manage anger and aggression and can increase students’ coping skills and help them amend their thoughts and behavior.


Life Skills Educator? Join our Region 13 Google Community to connect with other Life Skills Educators across our Region and receive tips and resources from your Region 13 Autism and Low Incidence Disabilities Specialists!

Contact:  Darcy Schiller at or 512-919-5224.

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