Using Restorative Practices to Address Bullying and Conflict in Schools

Bullying remains a critical issue in schools, posing significant challenges to student well-being, school climate, and academic achievement. Traditional disciplinary actions, while necessary in certain instances, often lack the holistic approach required to address this complex problem fully. Restorative Practices (RP), a paradigm rooted in empathy, communication, and community, present a transformative way to address bullying effectively and proactively.

The Limitations of Traditional Approaches

Traditional anti-bullying efforts have primarily focused on punitive measures. However, punishment alone often fails to address the underlying causes of bullying or promote lasting behavioral changes. Bullying is a relational problem, and traditional approaches may not adequately repair relationships, leaving victims without proper closure and bullies without understanding the full extent of their actions’ impact.

Restorative Practices: A Comprehensive Approach

Restorative Practices provide a comprehensive framework that addresses not only the symptoms of bullying but also its root causes. RP aims to build relationships, cultivate empathy, and foster a sense of community, reducing the conditions that allow bullying to thrive. This approach empowers all parties involved — the victims, the bullies, and the wider school community — by involving them actively in the resolution process.

Quantifiable Benefits of Restorative Practices

The transformative impact of Restorative Practices on anti-bullying efforts is well-supported by research. A study conducted by the International Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP) showed a significant reduction in bullying incidents and an overall improvement in school climate following the implementation of RP. Moreover, schools using restorative approaches have reported lower suspension rates, improved student engagement, and increased sense of safety among students.

Restorative Practices and Results

  • Fostering Empathy: Restorative circles, a key component of RP, provide a safe space for open dialogue where students can share their feelings and experiences. These circles foster empathy as students get to understand the impact of their actions on others. Schools that regularly use restorative circles have reported improved relationships among students and a decrease in recurring bullying incidents.
  • Promoting Accountability: In RP, individuals who have caused harm actively participate in the process of understanding the impact of their actions and making amends. This cultivates a genuine sense of accountability. A report from the American Institutes for Research showed that RP participants demonstrated greater recognition of personal responsibility and were less likely to repeat harmful behaviors.
  • Building Resilience: RP empowers victims by giving them a voice in the resolution process, contributing to their healing and resilience. Additionally, peer mediation programs provide an avenue for students to resolve their issues constructively, reducing the instances of victimization.
  • Engaging the Community: Restorative Practices emphasize the involvement of the wider community in resolving conflicts. Engaging parents, staff, and local community members creates a consistent, supportive environment for students, reinforcing anti-bullying efforts both inside and outside of school.

1. Bullying Is a Learned Behavior that Can Be Unlearned: Research has shown that bullying is often a learned behavior. Children and teenagers can adopt aggressive behaviors due to various factors, including exposure to violence, lack of emotional understanding, or mimicking behavior from influential figures in their lives. The promising aspect is that these behaviors can be unlearned, and RP can be instrumental in this process. By fostering empathy and understanding through restorative dialogues, RP helps students unlearn aggressive behaviors and replace them with more constructive ways of dealing with conflicts.

2. Restorative Practices Can Reduce Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying is a growing concern with the increasing use of digital platforms among teenagers. It presents a unique challenge as it can occur at any time and place, making it harder for schools to address. However, RP has been effective in reducing cyberbullying as well. A study in New Zealand found that after implementing Restorative Practices, schools reported a significant decrease in cyberbullying incidents. The principles of empathy, responsibility, and open dialogue in RP can be applied to online interactions, making students think twice before posting harmful content.

3. Restorative Practices Benefit ‘Bystanders’ Too: The impact of RP isn’t limited to the direct victims and perpetrators of bullying. It has a positive effect on bystanders as well. Often, students who witness bullying can feel helpless, fearful, or even guilty. The inclusive nature of restorative practices ensures these students also have a voice and an active role in resolving conflicts. It encourages them to stand against bullying and fosters a sense of solidarity and responsibility among the student body. As a result, schools implementing RP have reported an increased willingness among students to intervene in bullying incidents.


Restorative Practices represent a shift from punitive and reactive measures to proactive, relationship-centered approaches. The benefits of implementing these practices in the context of anti-bullying efforts are considerable, ranging from reduced bullying incidents to a more positive and inclusive school environment. By adopting Restorative Practices, schools can effectively combat bullying while fostering an environment of empathy, respect, and community.