Kids & Company Blog

Raising “Upstanders”: What Difference Can One Word Make for Bullying Prevention?

This blog is written by our guest author Ulrica Jobe, a Parenting Coach with The Giving Tree Centre, a children’s mental health clinic comprised of an experienced team of mental health professionals (child psychologists & psychotherapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and parent coaches) who help kids and families develop the awareness, skills and capacity to heal, grow, learn and thrive. Learn more about The Giving Tree Centre and Ulrica here.

A single word can be a game changer. 

What if I told you the actions of one person could stop a bully in their tracks more than half the time?  What if I told you this one person could help eradicate or, at the very least, significantly reduce the occurrence of bullying?  What If I told you that this one person could be you or your child?

FACT:  In 87% of bullying interactions, peers are present as onlookers or bystanders and play a central role.

Research has shown that when “upstanders” intervene or interrupt, bullying behavior stops within 10 seconds, 57% of the time.

Read that one more time.  

So, What is an “Upstander”, You Ask?

You may be familiar with the terms “bully”, “victim” and “bystander” (please see footnote below for the actual definition of bullying). However, today I would like to introduce you to a word that only became approved in the Oxford Dictionary in 2016. That word is UPSTANDER.  

The term “upstander” was first coined by Samantha Power in 2002, an American journalist, diplomat and government official. In 2015, two young women in high school petitioned to have the word added to the Oxford Dictionary. They were working on an anti-bullying campaign for their school and recognized the potential impact of this single word.

Let’s start with the definition. According to the Oxford Dictionary, an upstander is a person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.

In other words, an upstander does something about a problem, such as bullying - someone who takes action. Upstanders consciously make a choice to act, even when it is not a convenient or easy thing to do. Upstanders exist and can be found in classrooms, playgrounds, sport teams and workplaces.  The problem is, there aren’t enough of them around.    

It is likely that each of us has been in a situation where we have witnessed someone being bullied. There are typically three ways we react and respond: staying quiet and doing nothing, reinforcing the actions of the bully by participating or cheering on the bully’s actions, or taking action in support of the victim. The first two responses are examples of a bystander, and the third is an example of an upstander.

It is definitely easier to be a bystander. Why choose to be an upstander?

  1. A bully loves an audience and when an upstander takes action, the bully loses their audience.
  2. Research has shown that when one person steps up, others will follow. Upstanders empower and motivate other witnesses to take a stand and stop the bullying, further eliminating their audience.
  3. When a victim senses support, it reduces the short- and long-term effects of trauma.  
  4. Although it can feel daunting, being a positive influence during a bullying episode feels good!
  5. In 85% of bullying cases, there is no adult present to intervene, so when an upstander takes action, it sends the message that bullying is not acceptable amongst their peers and something will be done about it.

Evidence shows that the #1 reason children don’t come forward is because there is a code of silence that doesn’t allow them to be comfortable doing so. No one wants to be known as the “snitch”. Adults don’t always create an environment where it feels safe for a child to speak up. Sometimes the adult is not equipped to handle the situation, and can even make things worse.

How can you encourage your child to be an upstander and foster a safe environment for them to speak up and be heard?

  1. Create a safe, comfortable space and provide them with the opportunity to share their day-to-day life with you. More importantly, actively listen to your child as they share their stories.
  2. Talk about bullying and discuss the difference between tattling, snitching and reporting. Explore what bullying looks  and sounds like, helping your child grasp these concepts.
  3. Be a good role model – our children learn by watching and listening to adults, so leading by example is crucial.
  4. Promote early anti-bullying habits. Encourage empathy, kindness, and standing up for what’s right starting at a young age.
  5. Learn to recognize the signs if your child is bullying or being bullied. Early detection is key to getting the proper help or coaching needed.
  6. Role play with your child and practice using an assertive voice. Research shows that most people who are bullies will stop within 10 seconds when someone (either a victim or an upstander) tells the perpetrator to stop in a strong and powerful voice.
  7. Promote the idea of being an upstander! Upstanders don’t just choose to take action when it comes to countering bullying. Upstanders are the ones who say good morning to their teachers, ask someone on the playground sitting alone to join in on their games, and make sure everyone feels included in a group. They act as human connectors and protectors. The world needs more human connectors and protectors and anyone can choose to be an upstander.  

There is No Time like the Present.

National Bullying Prevention Month takes place each year in October. October 2, 2023 marks the 17th annual World Day of Bullying Prevention. Although we should all be focused on fostering an anti-bullying culture year-round in our homes, schools and community, there’s no better time than to start today. Make 2023 the year you raised one more upstander in the world.

Definition of Bullying

For a behavior that is as old as time, bullying is still not well understood by many people. The definition of bullying is as follows: It entails the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. Bullying can take on physical, verbal or psychological forms. It can happen face-to-face or online, known as cyberbullying. People may be bullied for a number of reasons, including reasons such as their physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, or sexual orientation.

The Giving Tree Centre was founded in response to the children's mental health crisis that has worsened as a result of the global COVID pandemic. They provide comprehensive services which include individual psychotherapy, play therapy, parent-child therapy, family therapy, group therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, behaviour therapy, and parent coaching. Assessments include psychological tests and evaluations to develop an in-depth understanding of each child and family’s specific needs, strengths and challenges. Visit for more information and for a free consultation.

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