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Reducing Bullying Through Relationship Building with Harmony


October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

The statistics are alarming: one out of every three students is a victim of bullying. It’s an age-old problem that can impact children emotionally, physically, and academically. Anti-bullying legislation and campaigns can help, but educators must invest time to foster social-emotional competencies essential for a school culture of acceptance, tolerance, and respect. Harmony strategies, lessons, and activities are designed to build healthy relationships and combat bullying. Research indicates that Harmony reduces stereotyping, teasing, and bullying while increasing school connectedness, empathy, and student achievement.

Margaret Johnson is a former principal and director of curriculum and staff development who now serves as a Product Specialist and Trainer for Harmony program. In a recent interview, she shares the importance of building healthy relationships among children and how Harmony is helping educators prevent bullying and aggressive behavior in schools.

Q: What is bullying?

A: A student is bullied when he or she becomes a repeated target of deliberate negative actions by one or more students who possess greater verbal, physical, social, or psychological power.  Verbal bullying involves threats, name calling, teasing or spreading rumors and cyber-bullying. Physical bullying involves hitting, pushing, or destroying items that belong to others. Bullying also includes repeated social isolation when children are purposefully excluded from groups. Bullying has devastating effects such as school avoidance, loss of self-esteem, increased anxiety, and depression.

Q: Why does bullying occur?

A: Childhood and elementary school is a dynamic time of new experiences and forming relationships with diverse peers. Students come to school with diverse backgrounds and cultures, a variety of languages, different temperaments, communication skills, and maturity levels. During elementary school, children are still learning a great deal about how to get along with others. Some students are less prepared to share and solve problems with their peers. Unfortunately, some students resort to aggression to solve problems, rather than more effective ways to resolve conflicts.

Q: Are there certain characteristics of bullies?

A: Students more likely to bully others may be well-connected and enjoy social power among their peer group, be hyper-concerned about their popularity, and like to dominate groups. Other students tend to be more isolated from peers, not feel connected to school, have low self-esteem and may be anxious or depressed, be unaware of others emotions and feelings, and be easily pressured by peers.

Children who bully may also have the following factors:

  • Less parental involvement or experience family issues at home
  • Low options and tolerance of others
  • Difficulty following rules
  • Interested in violence
  • Aggressive or easily frustrated
  • Friends who bully others

Q:  What are the characteristics of a child who is victimized by bullies?

A:  There is no single descriptive profile to identify those students at risk for being targeted by bullies:  One indicator may be the absence of friends in a child’s life.  Children who are socially isolated are easier targets because they lack a friendship network to back them up and support them against a bully’s actions. They may be new to the school, struggle academically, be perceived as different from their peers in appearance, and not “cool.”

Students who are bullied may be passive or provocative victims. Passive victims may be physically weaker than most classmates, less assertive, experience learning difficulties and be more anxious than their peers. Lacking friends, these children are an easy target for bullying. Proactive victims may be both anxious and aggressive.  They may also lack social skills and tend to irritate or alienate their classmates. Bullies may provoke these provocative victims into an outburst through taunts or teasing and then sit back and watch as the teacher reprimands the victim for disrupting the class.

Q:  How does Harmony combat bullying?

A: The everyday practices of Meet Up and Buddy Up provide students with opportunities to interact with peers and participate in conversations and problem solving about issues related to your classroom community. Meet Up and Buddy Up teach your students essential relationship-building skills that combat bullying.

Setting Harmony Goals lays the foundation for the entire Meet Up process.  Creating goals establishes agreements for how the classroom will function is key to developing respect and equity among students. Regularly visiting goals and problem solving helps provide a common language to support and hold one another accountable. As students share commonalities and celebrate differences they are empowered to step into the shoes of their peers and learn to avoid hurting or bullying others.

Buddy Up creates opportunities for students to engage with diverse peers. By pairing students with a different peer each week students develop connections and social responsibility toward each other. When students know one another they are less likely to isolate, tease, or bully and more likely to support one another if they are bullied.

Harmony lessons and activities foster self-awareness and self-regulation skills and help students develop strategies to prevent bullying. Grades 3-5 lessons, activities, and games engage students in role-playing and problem-solving discussions to develop an awareness and prevention of bully behavior. Battle the Bullies is a popular game that helps students examine the roles of the bully, victim, and bystander and increases their awareness of effective and ineffective approaches for resisting victimization and providing victimized peers with support.

Harmony Pre-K-2nd grade storybooks introduce important relationship-building concepts to younger students.  The stories validate children’s feelings and help them recognize and manage their own emotions so that they do not harm themselves or others.

Q: What are teachers sharing about Harmony?

A: Teachers have embraced Meet Up and Buddy Up as effective practices to build supportive and respectful learning communities. Harmony teachers share they’re no longer putting out discipline fires all day as students are solving problems without staff intervention. Teachers are observing increased empathy and inclusion, cooperation, and supportive peers who are standing up against teasing, aggression, and bullying.  In Harmony classrooms teachers can teach and children can learn!

Q: What can parents do to help build healthy relationships?

A: Family and community investment in social emotional competencies enhances the Harmony experience. Parents want to know that their children feel included and accepted in their classroom. Harmony teacher kits include home school communication activities to share with families. Grade level manuals share a variety of strategies, lessons, and discussions appropriate for families. Our Harmony website also introduces parents to Harmony and provides supportive video teaching modules of Harmony in action. is an excellent resource for everyone invested in eliminating bullying:

Younger Students: to learn how friends deal with kids who bully.

Upper Grade Students: Check out our “Be More Than a Bystander” section at and learn how you can be exceptional role models in your school.

Teachers and School Administrators:

Take the new online course:  This free online course will walk you through the basics you need to know about bullying and bullying prevention.