AUTHOR: Deborah Stephens and Matt Villano

The IEP: Addressing Bullying with a Child’s IEP

Individualized Education Programs offer opportunities to combat bullying


Although they may be targets, children who are bullied do not have to remain victims. With the appropriate tools and support systems in place, a child can be a part of changing the situation. One critical tool available to parents is the Individualized Education Program or IEP.

A child’s team – parents, educators, therapists and/or psychologists and school officials – should work together to make the IEP reflect the child’s unique needs in school. A school psychologist may be involved in writing social-emotional goals that are measurable and relevant. Including the child in the IEP decision-making process, if appropriate, can also lead to better outcomes.

Goals for the IEP team to consider include:

  • Social skills work, both individual and group
  • Speech and language skills
  • Self-advocacy skills
  • Self-awareness and strength building skills

The following are examples of IEP goals and interventions that can directly or indirectly help address bullying issues:

  • Improve social understanding by having goals focused around sharing, taking turns or thinking before acting (PACER Center, 2003). Use concrete “real world” situations. The focus of this goal should not be to teach the child to be less “teaseable,” but should be interpersonal skill building.
  • Participate in a social skills group. By being given the opportunity to practice social situations, role playing, social stories and other techniques, with school peers, under adult supervision, the child may better identify and understand difficult situations when they occur. Groups such as this one can also facilitate friendships and a sense of not being alone.
  • Increase self-advocacy skills so that the child can say “stop that” or walk away.
  • Help the child develop and learn a brief/non-confrontational verbal response to the bully. Practice both direct and indirect ways to react to, handle or avoid bullying behavior.
  • Speech and language goals should be set with the help of a speech and language specialist. These goals should focus on articulation, speech intelligibility and language pragmatics.
  • Increase the child’s self-awareness about their disability. Learning their strengths and feeling proud of who they are and their accomplishments, while also understanding how their disability may impact them, particularly in social situations, is often important.
  • Help the child identify bullying as well as how and to whom to report it. Keep in mind that some children may have a difficult time determining that they are a target of bullying behavior.
  • Goals that help educate the child on the difference between reporting an incident and ratting/tattling as well as identifying the difference between playful teasing and hurtful teasing/bullying may be needed.
  • Teach the child a signal system to use when in need of friend or adult intervention.
  • Identify and facilitate a relationship with a school staff person who can help the child make reports of incidents and who will provide the child with additional intervention and support.

If social situations are impeding the child’s ability to access their education, then it must be appropriately remedied. Being the target of bullying can bring some children’s social needs into sharper focus. In addition to new goals, a new assessment may be appropriate.

What if you don’t agree with your child’s IEP?

Other supports, accommodations and strategies for the IEP team to consider are as follows:

  • Monitor and supervise unstructured time. Increase hallway, bathroom, lunchroom and playground monitoring by staff. Adult monitored “safe zones” or having an adult ‘shadow’ the child during these times is sometimes necessary.
  • Educate the staff and other students about the child’s assistive technology, 1:1 aide, interpreter and other items that are ‘different.’ Create a better understanding of the child’s disability and the necessary support that go with it with staff.
  • Avoid certain situations or locations that can be ‘loaded’ for a student.
  • Keep the child away from the bully, or the bully away from the child, until things are resolved.
  • Consider seating the student away from students who might tend to bully. Remember, that being proactive can prevent incidents from occurring in the first place.
  • Allow the child to leave class early to avoid hallway incidents.
  • Take recess or lunch in a different setting, but still with some peers.
  • Be aware of your child’s classroom environment. 
  • Consider keeping the child from highly charged competitive situations.
  • Designate a peer buddy or have the classroom teacher foster a friendship between the child and a ‘safe’ child. A classroom with cooperative learning activities is one mechanism to facilitate positive social interactions.
  • Set-up regular appointments with the school’s psychologist, or another “safe” person on the campus, with whom your child can ‘check-in’ as an outlet, allow for classroom breaks (either in or out of the classroom).

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