Bullying is defined as ‘behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, which intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally’ (DfE definition). Repeated bullying usually has a significant emotional component, where the anticipation and fear of being bullied seriously affects the behaviour of the victim.
It can be inflicted on a child by another child or an adult. Bullying can take many forms (for instance, cyber-bullying or online bullying via text messages or the internet), and is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups, for example on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or can be because a child is adopted or has caring responsibilities. It might be motivated by actual differences between children, or perceived differences.
It can take many forms, but the three main types are:
- Physical - for example, hitting, kicking , shoving, theft;
- Verbal - for example, threats, name calling, racist or homophobic remarks;
- Emotional - for example, isolating an individual from activities/games and the social acceptance of their peer group.
Cyber-bullying/online bullying is defined as ‘the use of Information Communications Technology (ICT), particularly mobile phones and the internet, deliberately to upset someone else’ (DfE definition). It is another form of bullying which can happen at all times of the day, with a potentially bigger audience.
Bullying often starts with apparently trivial events such as teasing and name calling which nevertheless rely on an abuse of power. Such abuses of power, if left unchallenged, can lead to more serious forms of abuse, such as domestic violence and abuse, racial attacks, sexual offences and self-harm or suicide.
Bullying is a type of behaviour which needs to be defined by the impact on the victim rather than the intention of the perpetrator.
The Child Victim
The damage inflicted by bullying can often be underestimated. It can cause considerable distress to children, to the extent that it affects their health and development or, at the extreme, causes depression and self-harm.
Children are often held back from telling anyone about their experience either by threats, a feeling that nothing can change their situation, that they may be partly to blame for the situation or that they should be able to deal with it themselves.
Parents, carers and agencies need to be alert to any changes in behaviour such as refusing to attend school or a particular place or activity, becoming anxious in public places and crowds and becoming withdrawn and isolated. Parents should be provided with information as what they should do if they are worried that their child is being bullied - i.e. where they can obtain advice and support including keeping safe on the internet.
Any child may be bullied, but bullying often occurs if a child has been identified in some ways as vulnerable, different or inclined to spend more time on his or her own. Bullying may be fuelled by prejudice - racial, religious, homophobic and against children with special education needs or disabilities or who are perceived as different in some way. In cases of sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying, schools must always consider whether safeguarding processes need to be followed. This is because of the potential for this form of bullying to be characterised by inappropriate sexual behaviour and the risk of serious violence (including sexual violence).
Children living away from home are particularly vulnerable to bullying and abuse by their peers.
The Child Bully
Children, who bully, have often been bullied themselves and suffered considerable disruption in their own lives. The bullying behaviour may occur because the child is unhappy, jealous or lacking in confidence.
Work with children who bully should recognise that they are likely to have significant needs themselves.
Any change in behaviour which indicates fear or anxiety may be a potential indicator of bullying. Children may also choose to avoid locations and events which they had previously enjoyed - changes in attitude towards schools or organised activities are particularly significant.
Behaviour such as:
- Being frightened of walking to and from school and changing their usual route;
- Feeling ill in the mornings;
- Beginning truanting;
- Beginning to perform poorly in their school work;
- Coming home regularly with clothes or books destroyed;
- Becoming withdrawn, starting to stammer, lacking confidence, being distressed and anxious and stopping eating;
- Attempting or threatening suicide;
- Crying themselves to sleep, having nightmares;
- Having their possessions go missing;
- Asking for money or starting to steal (to pay the bully) or continually 'losing' their pocket money;
- Refusing to talk about what's wrong;
- Having unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches;
- Beginning to bully other children/siblings;
- Becoming aggressive and unreasonable.
Incidents of bullying should be taken seriously and the behaviour discussed between parents/carers and schools.
4. Protection and Action to be Taken
All settings in which children are provided with services or are living away from home should have in place anti-bullying strategies and procedures on how to refer to Children’s Social Care, if safeguarding children concerns are identified. See Referrals Procedure and Assessment Procedure. This includes youth clubs and all other children’s organisations as well as all schools.
- Support should be offered to children for whom English is not their first language to communicate needs and concerns;
- Children should be able to approach any member of staff within the organisation with personal concerns.
In order to maintain an effective strategy for dealing with bullying, the traditional ideas about bullying should be challenged, e.g.
- It’s only a bit of harmless fun;
- It’s all part of growing up;
- Children just have to put up with it;
- Adults getting involved make it worse.
Clear messages must be given that bullying is not acceptable and children must be reassured that significant adults involved in their lives are dealing with bullying seriously. Some acts of bullying could be a criminal offence.
A climate of openness should be established in which children are not afraid to address issues and incidents of bullying.
Consideration should always be given to the existence of any underlying issues in relation to race, gender and sexual orientation. This should be addressed and challenged accordingly.
Where a child is thought to be exposed to bullying, action should be taken to assess the child’s needs and provide support services.
If the bullying involves a physical assault, as well as seeking medical attention where necessary, consideration should be given to whether there are any child protection issues to consider and whether there should be a referral to the Police where a criminal offence may have been committed.
Where appropriate, parents should be informed and updated on a regular basis. They should also, when applicable, be involved in supporting programmes devised to challenge bullying behaviour.
Creating an anti-bullying climate that is conducive to equality of opportunity, co-operation and mutual respect for differences can be achieved for example by:
- Low Tolerance of Minor Bullying – dealing with incidents at the earliest sign;
- Never ignoring victims of bullying, always showing an interest/concern;
- Publicly acknowledging the bullied child’s distress;
- Organising quality groups/circles, which allow children to work together to identify their own problems, causes and solutions with sensitive facilitators.
Practitioners may often be in the position of having to deal with the perpetrators as well as the victims of bullying. It should be borne in mind that bullying behaviour may in itself be indicative of previous abuse or exposure to violence.
It is important when addressing bullying behaviour by another child to avoid accusations, threats or any responses that will only lead to the child being uncooperative, and silent.
The focus should be on the bullying behaviour rather than the child and where possible the reasons for the behaviour should be explored and dealt with. A clear explanation of the extent of the upset the bullying has caused should be given and encouragement to see the bullied child’s points of view.
A restorative approach and the use of restorative enquiry and subsequent mediation between those involved can provide an opportunity to meet the needs of all concerned. The child who has been bullied has the chance to say how he or she has been affected. The opportunity is provided for the child doing the bullying to understand the impact of his or her actions and to make amends.
Both the child engaged in bullying behaviour and those who are the target of bullying should then be closely monitored. The times, places and circumstances in which the risk of bullying is greatest should be ascertained and action taken to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Whatever plan of action is implemented, it must be reviewed with regular intervals to ascertain whether actions have been successful by consideration whether the target of bullying now feels safe and whether the bullying behaviour has now ceased. Consideration should also be given to lessons learned in order to constantly review and improve practice.
Where bullying exists in the context of gang behaviour, there should be an institutional, as well as an individual, response to this.
6. Further Information
- The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA): Founded in 2002 by NSPCC and National Children's Bureau, the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) brings together over 100 organisations into one network to develop and share good practice across the whole range of bullying issues;
- Kidscape: Charity established to prevent bullying and promote child protection providing advice for young people, professionals and parents about different types of bullying and how to tackle it. They also offer specialist training and support for school staff, and assertiveness training for young people;
- The Diana Award: Anti-Bullying Ambassadors programme to empower young people to take responsibility for changing the attitudes and behaviour of their peers towards bullying. It will achieve this by identifying, training and supporting school anti-bullying ambassadors;
- The BIG Award: The Bullying Intervention Group (BIG) offer a national scheme and award for schools to tackle bullying effectively.
- ChildNet International: Specialist resources for young people to raise awareness of online safety and how to protect themselves;
- Internet Watch Foundation: (for reporting illegal images and content);
- Think U Know: Resources provided by Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) for children and young people, parents, carers and teachers;
- Digizen: Provide online safety information for educators, parents, carers and young people;
- Advice on Child Internet Safety 1.0: The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) has produced universal guidelines for providers on keeping children safe online.
- EACH: A training agency for employers and organisations seeking to tackle discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation;
- Schools Out: Offers practical advice, resources (including lesson plans) and training to schools on LGBT equality in education;
- Stonewall: An LGB equality organisation with considerable expertise in LGB bullying in schools, a dedicated youth site, resources for schools, and specialist training for teachers.
- Mencap: Represents people with learning disabilities, with specific advice and information for people who work with children and young people;
- Changing Faces: Provide online resources and training to schools on bullying because of physical difference;
- Cyberbullying and Children and Young People with SEN and Disabilities: Advice provided by the Anti-Bullying Alliance on developing effective anti-bullying practice.
- Show Racism the Red Card: Provide resources and workshops for schools to educate young people, often using the high profile of football, about racism;
- Kick it Out: Uses the appeal of football to educate young people about racism and provide education packs for schools;
- Anne Frank Trust: Runs a schools project to teach young people about Anne Frank and the Holocaust, the consequences of unchecked prejudice and discrimination, and cultural diversity.
Please note that internal servers may block access to some of these sites. Schools wishing to access these materials may need to adjust their settings.