School Bullying

There is a plethora of information available on the topic of bullying. There are many different types of bullying including; child or school based (schoolyard) bullying; workplace bullying; cyber bullying; military bullying and hazing. The purpose of this article is to focus on child or school-based bullying as opposed to any of the other types of bullying.

There is one significant difference between child bullying and any other type of bullying, and that is that a child is still in their formative years of development. If a school aged child is demonstrating bullying behaviours and appropriate intervention is applied then many child bullies (with the exception of those with a conduct disorder) can be educated through the counselling process to learn more appropriate ways of socialising, behaving and interacting with other children (Bully Online, 2005).

It is therefore important that as counsellors we understand what constitutes bullying, the effects on the victim, reasons why a child may become the bully as well as know and be able to apply appropriate intervention skills through the counselling process to either the child victim or bully.

If left unresolved in childhood there can be significant implications for these children as they grow and become adults. For example, research suggests that child bullies who do not receive support or guidance on alternative ways of behaving can become adult bullies exerting their dominance and control in the workplace and having dysfunctional intimate relationships or even violent relationships (Anti-bullying Center, 2006).

Victims of childhood bullying who have had no treatment or intervention often remain passive, detached and lacking social competence and skills needed to have healthy, functional interactions with others as an adult.

Further, “if aggressive behaviour tendencies are not challenged in childhood, there is a danger that the bullying may become habitual. Indeed, there is research evidence to indicate that bullying during childhood puts children at risk of criminal behaviour and domestic violence in adulthood” (Anti-bullying Center, 2006).


According to Rigby (2006), bullying is the intentional act of causing harm and unhappiness to others through harassment, physical assault, cyber assault, or other more subtle methods of coercion such as manipulation.   Further, the harassment can be verbal, physical and/or emotional.

Bullying is a general term applied to a pattern of behaviour whereby one person (the bully) who has uncontrolled anger, resentment and/or aggression (and lacks interpersonal/social skills) chooses to displace their aggression, social dominance and power onto another (the victim). Bullies use tactics, such as criticism, manipulation, ridicule, exclusion, isolation and teasing to ridicule or incite the victim (Masheder, 1998).

Bullying can occur in any setting where individuals interact together (such as school, home and workplace). It can also extend to affect social groups, social classes and between countries, this is known as military bullying (Connor, 1990).

Within the school environment, bullying usually occurs in areas with minimal or no adult, teacher supervision. It can occur in or around the school buildings, though it more often occurs in outside classes like sports, at lunch breaks, in toilets, the playground, in and waiting for buses, and/or during after-school activities (Elliott, 1991).

Bullying in school can sometimes involve a group of students taking advantage of, or isolating one student in particular, by outnumbering them.

Who is considered a child bully?

A child bully, according to Strange (2005), is a child who enjoys and chooses to push more submissive children around. They have a negative and/or an underdeveloped self concept.

As a result a bully will become aggressive with other children at the first hint that they are not in control and power. Bullies often have learning problems or dysfunctional parental relationships (Strange, 2005).

Identifying bullying behaviour

Bullying can be divided into two categories: direct and indirect bullying. Indirect bullying is also known as social aggression (Slee, Phillip & Rigby, 1998).

Direct bullying involves applying physical aggression such as pushing and shoving, hitting, strangling, kicking, biting, scratching, throwing objects intentionally and punching with the intention to harm another.

In comparison, indirect bullying is characterised by forcing the victim into submission by socially isolating them. Social isolation is accomplished by the bully through tactics such as spreading gossip or untruths, refusing to socialise with the victim, bullying other children so they don’t socialise with the target child, ostracising the victim, criticising their appearance, dress, race etc (Slee et al, 1998).

Ross (1998) also describes other, more subtle forms of indirect bullying as name-calling, silent treatment, arguing, manipulating, staring, laughing and joking at the expense of the victim. According to Tattum, Delwym and Lane (1989) bullying can manifest in a variety of forms. These include:

  • Verbal – which involves a bully using insulting language, persuading another person to insult or abuse, name calling, spreading malicious rumours, ridicule, anonymous phone calls, teasing or taunting, cyber bullying, eg., offensive SMS and emails.
  • Physical – by striking, kicking, spitting, unfairly excluding someone, throwing objects, removing and hiding a child’s property, using items as weapons ie sharp pencils, rulers for hitting etc.
  • Gestural – by using threatening motions, repeatedly turning away to isolate the victim, staring fixedly to show that someone is unwelcome.
  • Racial bullying – when the bullying is directed at someone because of their racial identity.
  • Sexual bullying – when bullying, either verbal or physical has negative sexual or gender implications. Sometimes this is called sexual harassment or sexual coercion.
  • Cyber bullying – is a rapidly expanding form of abuse or bullying amongst school children. A great deal of it is conducted outside the school, although it often involves children who attend the same school. There is no doubt that those children repeatedly targeted with offensive and threatening messages can become very distressed and need help. It often involves the internet, chat rooms and mobile phone text messages (Tattum et al, 1989).

How a child reacts to bullying

Bullying is about social dominance and submissiveness and as such the effects of bullying for a victim can often be considered significant and life altering. There are a range of observable behaviours that counsellors can look for to assist them in identifying a child who is suspected of being bullied at school.

Bullying can affect a victim’s social, emotional, psychological and physical growth. Bullying can affect a child on each of these levels separately or at worst on all of these levels (Elliott, 1991).

How a child actually reacts is dependant on a variety of factors, including self esteem, resilience, confidence and coping ability.

A child who is bullying others is usually asserting a high level of social dominance, control, influence and power over other children that they perceive to be powerless, weak and submissive (Strange, 2005).

If a child exhibiting bullying behaviour attends counselling, the questions a counsellor can ask themselves include:

“Why does this child have a lot of internal aggression?”
“Why does this child have a need to displace their internal aggression onto other children?”
“Why has this child not learned how to interact with other children in a non-violent manner?”

(Craig & Statham, 1998)

Victims of childhood bullying are commonly withdrawn and passive in their communication style, often eager to avoid conflict and confrontation at all costs. One of the biggest problems for child victims of bullying is that they are taught from a young age that they are different from other students and this can lead to dysfunctional ideas of self esteem, self image and self worth (Ross, 1998).

Victims of bullying will often experience acute anxiety and associated psychosomatic symptoms such as upset stomach, headaches, unexplained body pains, nausea and vomiting.

If a counsellor identifies that a client is experiencing any of these signs, medical and possibly psychiatric or psychological intervention may be called for.

Counselling will assist the victim to learn more effective coping skills in order to break the cycle of victimisation and bullying. If an intervention is not accessed then the cycle of bullying is likely to continue.

Why do children become bullies?

According to Bully Online (2005), there are a range of reasons why children bully. As a counsellor, when dealing with a child bully it is essential for you to attempt to identify the underlying reasons or causes as to why your client has chosen to be a bully at school.   Some of these reasons are described below:

Frustration – a child is impaired in some way and is frustrated and resentful because the source of their difficulty has not been identified – problems can include deafness, dyslexia, autism, allergy, being left-handed, undiagnosed PTSD or some unidentified learning difficulty – nevertheless the child is expected to perform at the level required by the school and no attempt is made to identify the source of the frustration.

The child is being bullied, the responsible adults have repeatedly failed in their duty of care, so the child slowly and reluctantly starts to exhibit aggressive behaviours because that’s the only way to survive in this bullying-entrenched climate or school culture.

Poor or no role model – the child has no role model at home, or a poor role model for one or both parents and has never had the opportunity to learn behaviour skills.

Abuse at home – the child is being abused and is expressing their anger through bullying.

Neglect at home – similar to abuse as the child’s emotional and behavioural development is being retarded.

Undue influence or peer pressure – the child has fallen in with the wrong crowd.

Conduct disorder – the child has a conduct disorder, the precursor to antisocial, psychopathic or other personality disorder.


  1. Anti bullying center, (2006), retrieved on 8 October, 2007 from
  2. Bully online (2005), retrieved on 8 October, 2007 from
  3. Connor, M. (1990). Sticks and stones; videorecording. London; Central Independent Television.
  4. Craig, Y., & Statham, D. (1998). Advocacy, counselling and mediation in casework. London: J. Kingsley.
  5. Elliott, M. (1991). Bullying: A practical guide to coping for schools. Harlow: Longman.
  6. Masheder, M. (1998). Freedom from bullying. Rendlesham; Green Print.
  7. Ross, P. N. (1998), Arresting violence: A resource guide for schools and their communities, Toronto: Ontario Public Schools Teachers Federation
  8. Slee, Phillip, T., & Rigby K. (1998). Children and peer relations. New York: Routledge
  9. Strange, K. (2005). Bullying. Retrieved on 7 October, 2007 from
  10. Tattum, Delwym & Lane (1989). Bullying in schools. London: Trentham Books in association with the Professional Development Foundation.

This article is an extract from Mental Health Academy’s School Bullying professional development course.