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Why Does Inclusion Matter for Bullying Prevention?

60-second answer

Inclusion is defined as the practice of bringing all individuals into the social life of the community, from big events to simple daily interactions. When all members are included and valued in the life of a community, feelings of belonging and connection to others increase. Bullying is less likely to occur as students will often look out for one another and care about those who are vulnerable, therefore making them more aware of their own negative behaviors and the negative behaviors of others. When there is more social connection in a peer group, students feel less isolated and better supported when problems arise. For this reason, inclusion is an important part of a comprehensive bullying prevention plan in any childhood setting: school, sports, theater, or other community groups.

Research shows that social isolation is a significant risk factor for becoming a target of bullying.


Imagine this: It's your first day at a new school. You walk into the cafeteria and you don't know anyone. You quickly grab your lunch and sit down at the first open table you see, but someone says you can’t sit there and puts their backpack down to save the seat. You find another table and start eating, hoping that someone will say hello or even just return a smile, but during the entire lunch period no one sits next to you. You don’t feel welcome or like you belong. Does anyone care that you are there? You feel so invisible and alone.

Now imagine that everything is different. You walk into your new school’s cafeteria during lunch and it's filled with unfamiliar faces. As you sit down at a lunch table, three new peers come up and sit with you. They ask what your name is, where you're from, and what classes you're taking. They wave over other students to join the group and introduce them to you. This is a great example of what inclusion can look like and why it's an important part of a bullying prevention program.

Many parents and students wonder what causes a child to be targeted by bullying behavior. They think about the reason someone was chosen to be bullied and worry if a certain child will be “next.” While there are many risk factors to becoming a target of bullying, one of the highest risk factors is social isolation. In contrast, when the culture around children emphasizes inclusion, it increases a sense of belonging among individuals as they come to know one another. This knowledge is a critical first step in learning to care about what happens to another person. It then becomes more difficult to accept behavior that belittles or hurts others in the group. As children are accepted and actively included, they are less likely to be isolated from their peers and the likelihood of bullying decreases.

In addition to the peer-to-peer connection, when students and adults in their community are connected, students are better able to reach out to adults to get the help they need to solve problems like bullying. When speaking of bullying prevention, inclusion is an authentic collective connection between students, educators, administrators, and parents.

Connectedness between community members creates a safety net for students who may be isolated from their peers or at a higher risk of being bullied for other reasons. Because students are often the first to know who is vulnerable to bullying behavior or who is isolated from their peer group, it is essential to empower them to reach out and connect with their peers who are not integrated into the social life of the school. An inclusive community does not just happen, though. Adults in the community also need to model and promote social behaviors like inclusion so that children know how to reach out to others who are new or different. Educators and school personnel, as well as parents and caregivers, can help structure social interactions and activities that ensure inclusion is practiced every day.

Inclusion opportunities for students should be developmentally appropriate and allow for positive social interactions with some degree for success. Inclusion doesn’t have to be big gestures, it can be small, simple actions between peers. Here are some examples of activities and simple acts that promote inclusion:

  • Encourage students to invite new peers to sit with them at lunch or play with them at recess
  • Teach students to notice those who are alone and help them practice inviting others to join their games or group
  • Create a welcoming group of 3-4 peers for each new student who is entering the school
  • Role-play introducing students to one another and students to adults
  • Educate the school community on children with differences that are observable and differences that are not, so that peers can interact happily and healthfully
  • Start a club or lunch group where anyone can belong and all are welcome
  • Encourage and model for students ways to give each other meaningful compliments and support
  • Decide that whatever activity or positive behavior you encourage will become a part of the school culture and be intentional about that culture shift every day

Inclusion helps foster a sense of “belonging” for all and increases the possibility that students will find meaningful connections among their peers, as well as support when they need it. When all are included and valued in the life of a community, bullying is less likely to occur. Students will be more likely to look out for one another and care about those who are vulnerable. For this reason, inclusion is an important part of a comprehensive bullying prevention plan in any childhood setting: school, sports, theater, or other community groups.

Posted April, 2022

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