How and when does bullying show itself?

We want our children to become capable of bouncing back after a setback and making a place for themselves in the world. To help, we need to decide when to deal with day to day rough housing, and when we should take action.

Look at the following list of behaviors and select the ones that you think require adult attention:

  1. Repeated name calling
  2. Always being chosen last in group activities
  3. Being shunned by other kids and having to sit alone in the lunch room
  4. Having belonging taken by another child
  5. Being whispered or laughed at by a group of children
  6. Coming home with a demand for money to buy friends or safety
  7. All of the Above
  8. None of the above

A-F are all examples of bullying behaviors that demand our attention, as describe below.

Dealing with bullying in middle and high school occupies much of the news and also presents a problem in the K-5 years. Bullying causes direct harm to young children and can begin a pattern that carries on through adolescence and early adulthood. Caregivers should identify and address it at the earliest moment.

The Bullying Environment: School and Home

Bullies pick on others, the victims, who stand out in some way from other children. Targets include children with unique language, appearance, behaviors, belongings, or even illnesses. Those who watch what happens can actually be the most effective agents, in stopping bullying. They should learn to speak out against bullying.

Also, adults should quickly identify, stop, and notify the parents of bullies and victims. In addition, they should teach expected behaviors as alternatives to bullying.  

The home environment of some bullies also sometimes has difficulties providing effective social skills and supervision, especially to impulsive and irritable kids. The repeated use of physical discipline like spanking to manage misbehavior contributes to bullying.

How does Bullying show itself?

Bullying uses power to abuse, assault, or belittle others. Bullying behavior in younger children often includes impulsive behaviors such as grabbing a toy or kicking or hitting.


Bullying behaviors include threatening others with consequences if money, candy, toys, etc. are not provided.


Bullying behaviors include name calling, belittling, making fun of a physical characteristic, or dress, and prodding other kids to join in.


Bullying behaviors include refusing to let a child join an activity or group, and also engaging in whispering phrases to other kids just out of earshot.


Bully-victims have conflicted emotions

Bullying includes bully-victims who in some situations behave like bullies, and in others like victims. Bully-victim behaviors depend on their level of power in the situation. These children experience anxiety and fearfulness, as well as limited verbal and social skills.


Most schools have anti-bullying programs. Parents should seek to understand them and participate. Conferences with teachers, counselors, and discussions with other parents provide both prevention and conflict resolution opportunities.

For bullies, the cornerstones of changing behavior include immediate consequences, practicing alternative collaborative behaviors, and teaching conflict resolution strategies. It may also help to talk with the bully to have him or her understand how the victim experiences bullying. Studies suggest that bullies lack a “theory of mind” to understand the feelings and thoughts of the victims.

Caregivers should help victims develop social skills, like sustaining friendships, using communication, and practicing assertiveness. In addition, peer support helps avoid or interrupt bullying situations.

Long Term Behaviors

Children who persist in bullying during their childhood years are at risk for abusive and criminal behaviors as adults. Those who persist in both bully-victim behaviors, or in experiencing repeated victimization in childhood are at risk for depression and anxiety illnesses in adulthood. Because of these possible outcomes, caregivers must identify and address both bullying and victimization in order to prevent it from becoming a disruption of life goals and achievements.

Finally, caregivers should consult with a mental health professional when questions about underlying psychiatric issues exist, or in cases where other interventions fail.

To read more on this topic, learn more about the book that Psychology Today calls The Most Important Book Ever Published on School Bullying by Psychology Today entitled Bully Nation: Why America’s Approach to Childhood Aggression is Bad for Everyone.