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This content was last updated on 10/31/2023

What is bullying?

When children in school pick on someone in a serious way, it might be bullying. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people. To be considered bullying, the behavior needs to be repeated or be able to be repeated over time. It also must be aggressive and have an imbalance of power. This means that the “bully” might  be physically stronger, be more popular, or might have embarrassing information about the other child. Bullying can be things like:

  • making threats
  • spreading rumors
  • attacking someone verbally or physically or
  • leaving someone out of a group on purpose.

Bullying is different from conflict because children in conflict usually self-monitor their behavior. This means that children are usually very good at noticing social cues that let them know when they cross a line with negative behavior, and when to stop. But bullies don’t stop. There is uneven power. It might be social or physical power, but the bully knows how to use the situation to get what they want.

What are common types of bullying?

What are common types of bullying?

  • Verbal
    Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things. It is the most common and easiest kind of bullying. It is things like:
    ▪ Teasing
    ▪ Taunting
    ▪ Name-calling
    ▪ Making sexual comments
    ▪ Making threats against someone or threatening to cause harm
    ▪ Spreading rumors
  • Physical
    Physical bullying is often the easiest type to notice because it’s the most visible. It can be things like:
    ▪ Hitting
    ▪ Kicking
    ▪ Pushing
    ▪ Taking or damaging property, and
    ▪ Unwelcome contact like spitting, pulling hair, or throwing things

    Physical bullying can start with children as young as 4 or 5 years old but is not considered bullying until the child realizes their actions are causing pain. To be considered bullying, there has to be a belief that someone is trying to intentionally hurt someone else.

  • Emotional (Social)
    Emotional bullying is the most sophisticated. This is because it is usually well planned out and often done in groups. Children who are emotionally bullied may not understand they are being bullied.

    Emotional bullying makes it hard for a student to learn, grow, and succeed. It also hurts by damaging or threatening to damage their relationships with friends or other children their age. It can also make them feel like they don’t belong. Emotional bullying damages feelings of social acceptance. It can be things like:
    ▪ Ignoring or alienating someone or leaving them out of groups
    ▪ Talking other children into not letting someone into a group
    ▪ Damaging someone’s reputation
    ▪ Publicly making fun of how someone acts or looks
    ▪ Doing things that make someone feel anxious or worried about what might happen next

    Emotional abuse tends to peak during middle school years. This is when children start to experiment with social boundaries and learn about the power of including and excluding others.

    The behavior is considered bullying when the reason for it is to hurt somebody else and to assert social control.

  • Sexual
    Sexual bullying is often the hardest to talk about for both children and parents. It can be things like:
    ▪ Sexual comments
    ▪ Looking at someone in a way that is vulgar or not okay
    ▪ Physical contact that is not okay
    ▪ Showing private body parts (called exhibitionism or indecent exposure)
    ▪ Sexual assault
  • Cyberbullying
    Cyberbullying is when the internet, cell phones, or other devices are used to send or post texts or images that are meant to hurt or embarrass another person.Cyberbullying can be a range of things like:
    • sending emails or text messages after being asked to stop contacting them
    • threats
    • sexual harrassment
    • hate speech
    • making fun of someone publicly in online forums and on social media

Studies show that boys are more likely to post mean photos or videos. Girls are more likely to spread rumors or post mean or hurtful comments.

Cyberbullying is dangerous because it can be done anonymously. The bully doesn’t have to “face” the person they are bullying. Children don’t always realize that once something is posted, there is a record of it forever. People can access it over and over again, which can cause an ongoing cycle for the victim.

How can adults and parents make a difference in preventing bullying?

The best thing you can do is to be able to recognize bullying when it is happening to a child. A basic rule is to let children know that if a behavior hurts them, either emotionally or physically, it is bullying.

If a child does not want to talk about being bullied or does not have a way to communicate it well, you need to watch for changes in your child’s behavior. Signs that your child might be a victim of bullying are things like:

  • They want to stay home from school
  • Their anxiety has gotten worse.
  • They get stomach aches or headaches for no reason
  • They become withdrawn
  • They damage personal things
  • There is a change in their sleep routine
  • Their moods or how they usually act changes
What can parents do?

There are several things that parents can do to help if their child is a victim of bullying.

  • Keep Records

If your child is a target of bullying, it is important to write down the things that happen. This gives you a record of what is happening to your child and a clear timeline of events. It can also help track if the bullying has gotten better or worse over time. Make sure your record is true and based on actual events. Do not keep track of opinions or emotional statements.

Write down things like:

▪ The date it happened
▪ Who was part of it
▪ Any information you have about what happened/a summary of what happened
▪ Your child’s account of what happened
▪ Details about any communication you or your child had with teachers, administrators, etc.
▪ The date of those communications
▪ What the teachers or administrators said about what happened
▪ What action they took (what they did about it)
▪ Reports filed by the school with the school district if what happened is against school policy or state law

  • Let the School Know in Writing
    Contact the school every time your child tells you they have been bullied. Send a letter to let them know what happened and that you want them to do something about it. The letter should state facts and not include opinions and emotions. Keep a copy of the letter for your records.
  • Talk to your child about the bullying
    Acknowledge and pay attention to your child’s feelings and reactions. Focus on the issue and not the emotion.

    You need to:
    ▪ Listen
    ▪ Believe
    ▪ Be Supportive
    ▪ Be patient
    ▪ Look at different ways to help stop the bullying

What should I NOT do if my chid is being bullied?

Parents often react in 1 of 3 ways when they hear their child is being bullied:

  1. Telling the child to stand up for themselves. But this can make the child feel that they are alone and have to figure this out by themselves. Talk to your child about solving this as a team.
  2. Telling the child to ignore and avoid the bully. This usually doesn’t work. Also, the child has probably tried this already and it hasn’t helped. It might make the bullying get worse.
  3. Parents wanting to take things into their own hands. Confronting the parent of the bully usually doesn’t work and can cause more problems.
How can I help my child if they are being bullied?

The best way to help your child if they are being bullied is to teach them self-advocacy. Self-advocacy means helping your child learn the skills they need to speak up for themselves and communicate what they need adults to do to help. As a parent, make sure you let your child know that you are there for them. Say things to them like, ‘you are not alone’, ‘no one deserves to be bullied’, ‘Let’s work together to find a solution’ and ‘the bullying is not your fault’.

Let your child know that all students have a right to feel and be safe at school and should expect adults to keep them safe and speak up when they are being bullied. Your child should know that if one adult can’t help, don’t give up! They should find another adult who will listen and help.

Materials provide by Children’s Law Center
For more information, visit their website at

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