British Columbia

B.C. anti-bullying program 'WITS' receives top marks from Dalhousie researchers

Researchers examined seven anti-bullying programs in Nova Scotia schools and elsewhere and found that B.C.'s program for K-grade 6 was the only effective one.

'Like we teach French early ... we should also teach [children] how to manage emotions'

The WITS program was developed in the 1990s by Victoria-area educators and UVic professor Bonnie Leadbeater. (Facebook.com/witsprograms)

A bullying prevention program developed in Victoria in the 1990s and used in B.C. schools has been given top marks by researchers from Dalhousie University.

Researchers from the Halifax university reviewed seven popular bullying prevention programs used in Nova Scotia schools and elsewhere in the country and found that only B.C's program WITS was truly effective.

WITS stands for walk away, ignore, talk it out and seek help.

More benefit, lower cost: researchers

"We found that WITS delivers stronger effects than other programs at a lower cost, and shows long‐term benefits," said Ashley Chisholm, master's candidate in the Department of Community Health & Epidemiology, in a media release posted on the university's website.

The researchers -- who were investigating programs to recommend to Nova Scotia's school boards -- found that the other six programs were heavy on resources but didn't offer considerable reduction in bullying perpetration or victimization.

The WITS program was developed in the 1990s by Victoria-area educators and University of Victoria psychology professor Bonnie Leadbeater.

"After Reena Virk was killed there was a lot of concern about youth violence and a lot of thinking that this should be something we prevent early, that we think about this in little children," said Leadbeater, co-developer of the program.

"Like we teach them French very early, we should also teach them how to manage their emotions and how to resolve conflicts with their friends."

Program is 'proactive': co-founder

When the program first started it was geared towards Kindergarten to grade three, and has since expanded to grades up to grade six. It is used in 280 schools in the province.

"In contrast to some of the anti-bullying programs that really focus on detecting bullies and having bystanders stand up for victims, the WITS program is … much more proactive," Leadbeater said.

She said children are taught that they can use any of the four WITS, in any order, and can help quickly get them out of a difficult situation.

Use your WITS

"Walking away and ignoring sounds kind of passive, but when  kids are doing it using their WITS it's quite an active thing. You're really saying, 'I ignore you, what you're doing is really not that important to me, I'm walking away, I'm out of here'," said Leadbeater.

"Bullies feed off of people who cry or react to them, but people who don't react and walk away get very little response from a bully."

With files from CBC's All Points West


To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: B.C. anti-bullying program 'WITS' receives top marks from Dalhousie researchers

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