Bullying Prevention as a Trauma-Informed Approach

By: Julie E. McDaniel-Muldoon, PhD

Article #4 of the IBPA Trauma Series

In using the lens of trauma, the effects of bullying are better understood for their widespread impact on all involved in a bullying situation. This lens then allows for a systems-level approach to bullying prevention through trauma-informed practices.

The foundation of trauma-informed practices is a safe and supportive school community where students have a strong sense of belonging. Dr. Caelan Soma and Derrick Allen of the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC) have developed 10 steps for creating trauma-informed schools. 

  1. Provide school-wide childhood trauma awareness and understanding of how trauma impacts children’s learning and behavior. Any person can help students thrive when they understand the impact of stress and trauma on learning.
  2. View trauma as an experience rather than an incident or a diagnostic category. When bullying or any traumatic event occurs, it marks the beginning of an experience that may last for months or even years.
  3. Believe the link between private logic and behavior. Private logic is described as the way individuals view themselves, others, and the world around them. Based on this logic, they act according to that perception.
  4. Establish the experience of physical and emotional safety. We must ensure that students experience hope, empowerment, choice, security, structure, and consistency to build resilience.
  5. Foster connections. Students who feel connected to their school are more likely to stay in school, have strong attendance, and achieve at higher levels.
  6. Prioritize social and emotional skills. Among the most important of these skills is self-regulation: it provides the foundation for self-development, relationships, and learning.
  7. Promote play. Research confirms that unstructured play improves concentration, problem-solving capabilities, and more. 
  8. Collaborate with families and community. Bullying, like all traumatic experiences, tends to isolate the individuals who need connection more than most. Family and community partnerships are essential components of safe, supportive, and effective schools.
  9. Support staff. Whether it is a bullying situation or another type of trauma, school professionals hearing details about or witnessing a traumatic event are susceptible to vicarious trauma. Self-care is an essential practice for trauma-informed practitioners.
  10. Collect and share outcome data. By collecting baseline and outcome data on culture, behavior, attendance, and more, schools are able to show the impact of trauma-informed practices.

A traumatic experience such as bullying is experienced at the most instinctual and sensory part of the brain. Trauma interventions, then, happen at both the systems level and with the individual. While trauma interventions must be conducted by trained professionals, there are activities and strategies that any adult can do with children and young adults to help heal trauma effects while also building resilience. Sensory-based, mind-body activities have proven their effectiveness, like those found here: https://www.weareteachers.com/mind-body-skills/

The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reminds us that all trauma-informed practices must adhere to the following principles, rather than to a prescribed program:  

  • Safety
  • Trustworthiness and transparency
  • Peer support
  • Collaboration and mutuality
  • Empowerment, voice, and choice
  • Cultural, historical, and gender issues

Julie E. McDaniel-Muldoon, PhD

Social Media Director, International Bullying Prevention Association (IBPA)

Student Safety and Well-Being Consultant, Oakland Schools (Waterford, Michigan)

Advanced Practitioner and Trainer, National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC)


For more information:

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)


The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative’s (TLPI) 

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