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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Responding to bullying: Counselling or punishment? …part 2

One approach to responding to bullying is what has been called the “restorative justice” approach. The aim of this approach is to use supportive communities to hold individuals accountable for their actions and increase student’s sense of safety within their community.

Researchers studying this approach have found it has had some success. However, like any other approach, it is not going to address all types of bullying.

Restorative justice: The key principles as seen in Morrison (2002)

This approach is about using what Morrison (2002) calls “adaptive shame”. This basically means the child who is bullying another is confronted with the effects of their behaviour on the child who is being bullied. They are also confronted with the feelings and emotions of their own friends, family, supporters and the school community. If this is done supportively, then the shame of what they are doing and how they are affecting others will lead to a change in behaviour.

However, this only works if the key principles or beliefs outlined by Morrison drive the process. These principles are:
1 - Bullying behaviour can be changed
2 - It is the behaviour, not the whole child, that is being put down
3 - The harm done by the bullying needs to be acknowledged and repaired.
4 - Both the child who is bullying, and the child being bullied, are valued members of the school community.

If these principles are not adhered to, then the child who is bullying another is more likely to be stigmatised than supportively shamed into changing their behaviour. And stigmatisation will lead to a cycle of increased bullying due to feelings of rejection and loss of self-esteem.

Restorative justice may not work if….
#The supportive network (family and friends) of the child who is bullying another reinforce rather than reject the behaviour

#The child who is being bullied and their support network feel threatened by the support network of the child who is bullying.

# There is a significant, underlying emotional, behavioural or social issue/disorder that is contributing to the bullying behaviour and limiting the effects of “adaptive shame”.

What are the alternatives?

In-school suspension may be the best option for both protecting the child who is bullied and catering to the needs of the child who is bullying if the above factors come into play. It may also be used to protect the child who is being bullied as the process of restorative justice is followed.

In-school suspension means that the student who is bullying others is not fully excluded from learning. But it does mean they are excluded from any social situations at school that provide them the opportunity to bully the other student.

This may also need to extend to transport to and from school if they travel on the same bus as the student being bullied.

Counselling and behaviour intervention may be an essential component of addressing the bullying behaviour. For example, if a student is bullying others due to their need for power over “weaker” students, then it is likely that they have significant issues with self-esteem. Their may be things going on at home, in the community or at school that need to be identified and addressed in order for the student to feel empowered to change their behaviour.

There are many different approaches to dealing with bullying. But in the end, whatever we do, we need to try and balance the need to keep our children safe with the need to address the reasons behind the bullying behaviour. And we need to do all this within the bounds of the standards set by law.


Morrison, B. (2002). Bullying and Victimisation in Schools: a Restorative Justice Approach. AIC Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, February 2002. Online at

Or find her book:

Other useful information: These are the guidelines for NSW public schools on dealing with bullying.


Sue July 4, 2009 at 10:01 AM  

Hi Amanda,
I use Restorative Justice Circles with my group of 9-11 year old special needs kids, many of whom have Austism Spectrum Disorder. We have adapted the method a fair bit so that it is very visual for the students. We place the 'offenders' name is a box in the middle of a white board and have the people who have a claim against the bully's name in boxes around the oustide in a circle formation with lines connecting them to the 'offender's box'. We ask each child with a claim to explain why their 'trust or friendship' of/ with the offender has been broken and we represent this by making a break in the line that connects their two boxes. When the issue has been worked through to the satisfaction of both parties the line is made whole again. I put a picture of a bandaid on it because my kids have trouble moving on but they understand that a bandaid helps something to heal even if it still hurts ( emotionally and physically).
It seems to work well for my group.
Restorative Justice is great in my setting because quite often our staff get hurt (physically) due to the challenging behaviours of our students. So it also provides a means for staff to feel heared, valued and respected.

Amanda July 4, 2009 at 10:10 AM  

Thanks so much for sharing that, Sue. It is great to hear how it is being used in a practical sense in diverse classrooms.

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