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What is bullying?

Bullying is a relationship problem. It requires relationship solutions.

Bullying is mean behaviour that happens over and over again. Bullying is done on purpose. A person who bullies wants to hurt the other person. The person who bullies has more power. He or she might be older, bigger, more popular, or stronger than the person who gets bullied. Sometimes a group of children will get together to bully another child.

There are different types of bullying:


Physical bullying

  • pushing, hitting, or kicking someone
  • throwing things at someone
  • taking or breaking someone’s things
  • making fun of people
  • calling someone mean names
  • teasing someone in a mean way
  • threatening to harm someone

Social bullying

  • spreading rumours
  • breaking up friendships
  • leaving someone out on purpose
  • telling people not to be friends with someone

Cyber bullying

  • taking pictures of someone without asking and posting them on the internet
  • sending mean instant messages, e-mails, or text messages
  • posting mean messages on social networking sites
  • creating a website that makes fun of someone

Racial/ethnic bullying

  • treating people badly because of their racial or ethnic background
  • saying bad things about a cultural background
  • calling someone racist names
  • telling racist jokes

Sexual bullying

  • leaving someone out, treating them badly, or making them feel uncomfortable because they are a boy or girl
  • making sexist comments
  • touching, pinching, or grabbing someone in a sexual way
  • making crude comments about someone’s sexual behaviour
  • spreading sexual rumours
  • calling someone mean names because of their sexual orientation

Signs and symptoms of bullying

Children who are bullied often show a change in behaviour and/or emotions:

  • not wanting to go to school
  • not wanting to participate in extra-curricular activities
  • anxious, fearful, over-reactive
  • low self-esteem
  • threatens to hurt himself/herself or others
  • lower interest and performance in school
  • loses things, needs money, reports being hungry after school
  • injuries, bruising, damaged clothing, broken things
  • unhappy, irritable, little interest in activities
  • headaches and stomach aches
  • trouble sleeping, nightmares, bedwetting

Children who bully may show signs that they are using power aggressively:

  • little concern for others’ feelings
  • does not recognize impact of his/her behaviour on others
  • aggressive with siblings, parents, teachers, friends, and animals
  • bossy and manipulative to get own way
  • possesses unexplained objects and/or extra money
  • secretive about possessions, activities, and whereabouts
  • holds a positive attitude towards aggression
  • easily frustrated and quick to anger

Causes and Risk Factors

Children who are bullied

Children who are bullied may have few friends. Sometimes they have overprotective or restrictive parents. Children who are repeatedly bullied can become trapped in abusive relationships. They need help shifting the power dynamics so they can be safe.

Children who bully

Children who bully others often experience power and aggression from those close to them. They learn to use power and aggression to control others. These children tend to have the following in common:

  • Parents may show power and aggression by yelling, hitting, or rejecting the child.
  • Parents may show power and aggression with each other.
  • Siblings may bully the child at home.
  • The child may have friends who bully and are aggressive.
  • The child may have trouble standing up to peer pressure.
  • Teachers or coaches may show power and aggression by yelling, excluding, or rejecting.

Prevention of bullying

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Remain calm and supportive. Trust your child and listen carefully to what they have to say.

Ways to help the bullied child 

Children who are bullied need to be encouraged to report bullying. Adults must show that they want to know about the child’s experiences. It is the adult’s job to make the bullying stop.

Children who are bullied need to be protected from those who are bullying them. They also need protection from the peers who support the bully by watching and joining in.

It may help to teach these children how to anticipate when bullying might occur. Then they can rehearse ways to address and avoid such situations. They should be given opportunities to make new friendships. Having one friend can really help.

They need to receive support from their parents, teachers, other adults in their lives, and their peers.

Ways to help the child who bullies

Children who bully need to learn how to:

  • use their power in positive ways
  • build positive relationships
  • stay cool when having a problem
  • think of how the other person feels
  • remember expectations

They need consistent messages and supportive interventions from their parents, teachers, and the other adults in their lives.

Ways to help children who see bullying

Children who see bullying without intervening or reporting it may not realize the role they play in making bullying worse. They need to be taught to intervene when they see bullying if it is safe to do so. They should be encouraged to report all bullying incidents to a trusted adult.

What to do if you are bullied or you see bullying

Here are a few tips to tell your child.

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Try to stay in a group and use your friends, siblings, and peers for support.

What to do if you are bullied:

  • Tell your parents.
  • Tell an adult at school.
  • Be assertive: Stand up to the student doing the bullying. Tell the child to stop bullying. It’s not fair!
  • Do not be aggressive: Do not fight back as this can make the bullying worse. Children who fight back tend to experience prolonged and more severe bullying.

What to do if you see bullying:

  • Tell your parents.
  • Tell an adult at school.
  • Help the student being bullied.
  • Get someone to help you stop the bullying.
  • Stand up to the student doing the bullying if you feel safe. Tell the child to stop bullying.

Key points

  • Bullying is a problem with how children relate to each other. All children involved need support in learning how to have positive relationships.
  • Children who bully learn to use power and aggression to control others.
  • Children who see bullying without reporting it may not know that they are helping to make the bullying worse.
  • Adults need to encourage children who are bullied, and children who see bullying, to report it.
  • Children who are bullied should be assertive and tell the bully to stop. They should not fight back because this can lead to more severe bullying.
  • All adults involved with children are responsible for their safety. Children involved in bullying in any role are not safe. They need support to build positive skills and healthy relationships.

Debra J. Pepler, PhD, CPsych


AD Pellegrini, JD Long. A longitudinal study of bullying, dominance, and victimization during the transition from primary school through secondary school. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 2002; 20: 259-280.

Bullying: A PREVNet Assessment Questionnaire for Teens. Toronto: Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet), 2010.

DL Harlow, DJ Pepler, WM Craig. Naturalistic observations of peer interventions in bullying. Social Development 2001; 10: 512-527.

DJ Pepler, WM Craig, JA Connolly, et al. A developmental perspective on bullying. Aggressive Behavior 2006; 32: 376-384.

DJ Pepler. Bullying interventions: A binocular perspective. Journal of Canadian Acadamic Child Adolescent Psychiatry 2006; 15: 16-20.

D Pepler, D Jiang, W Craig, J Connolly. Developmental trajectories of bullying and associated factors. Child Development 2008; 79: 325-338.