Bullying: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Bullying is a very serious issue and we feel it is something that no child should ever face. However it is important to understand what bullying really is and what it is not. 

In recent years there has been a trend to label any conflicts that arise between children as bullying. Whenever one child does or says something to another we will often receive an email, a call, or a classroom visit where the word “ bullying” is freely used.

According to Stop Bullying “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” So, bullying is a repeated aggressive behavior toward another. An example of this would be a 5th grader who calls a third grader unkind things for a long period of time. Another example would be a 2nd grader, without special needs, who hits their classmate over and over again. When the behavior does not stop it is considered bullying. 

Bullying is not a child who calls a child a name once or twice. Bullying is not a child, who in frustration, pushes or puts their hands on another. We are not saying that either of these things are correct or acceptable. They are not ok, and the school should take steps to stop them from occurring again. However, they are not bullying. These are common conflicts that occur and should be handled with care and taken as learning opportunities. Children should be able to make learning mistakes without being labeled a “bully.” 

We know that it is hard for children to experience unkind behaviors from others. And it is really hard for parents to see children hurt or upset. Just know that all children will experience someone who doesn’t want to play with them, someone who says something mean to them, or a friend that betrayed their trust. These are hard growing pains of childhood and adolescence. They are also a necessary part of learning that enables children to navigate these types of challenges that they will have to face throughout their lives. 

As hard as it is, we can tell you that it doesn’t help children when parents and educators solve all of their problems for them. It does a disservice to real bullying situations when we over label things as bullying. We have to make it clear to our children what bullying is and what bullying is not. And when a situation is not bullying, we need to equip our children with the tools to navigate these challenging social dynamics instead of trying to step in and save the day. 

If your child comes to you with a social challenge, here are some things you can ask them:

How many times has this happened?

Have you told this child to stop the behavior?

Have you talked to your teacher about it?

Take some time to monitor the situation and if it does seem to be a repeated behavior that isn’t stopping, then contact the teacher. But if it is a safe situation, it is better for the child to talk to the other child to try to solve it, and if that doesn’t work, you can encourage them to talk to their teacher on their own. You can even email the teacher to give them the heads-up that your child will be coming in to talk to them, so that the teacher can make themselves more available. Children really love to solve their own problems when given the opportunity. It can be very empowering and help give them confidence. Many times, it’s just a matter of giving them tools on how to handle a new situation.