Bullying is when individuals or groups seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone who is perceived to be vulnerable (Oxford English Dictionary, 2021). It can involve people of any age, and can happen anywhere – at home, school or using online platforms and technologies (cyberbullying). This means it can happen at any time.
Bullying encompasses a range of behaviours which may be combined and may include the behaviours and actions we have set out below.
- saying nasty things to or about a child or their family.
- hitting a child
- pushing a child
- physical assault.
- making threats
- undermining a child
- excluding a child from a friendship group or activities.
- excluding a child from online games, activities or friendship groups
- sending threatening, upsetting or abusive messages
- creating and sharing embarrassing or malicious images or videos
- 'trolling' - sending menacing or upsetting messages on social networks, chat rooms or online games
- voting for or against someone in an abusive poll
- setting up hate sites or groups about a particular child
- creating fake accounts, hijacking or stealing online identities to embarrass a young person or cause trouble using their name.
Bullying can be a form of discrimination, particularly if it is based on a child’s disability, race, religion or belief, gender identity or sexuality.
Impact of bullying
The emotional effects of being bullied include:
- sadness, depression, and anxiety
- low self-esteem
- social isolation
- suicidal thoughts and feelings (Bainbridge, Ross and Woodhouse, 2017).
Bullying can affect children's performance and attendance at school. They may find it hard to concentrate on schoolwork and homework or be too afraid to go to school.
Bullying can happen at any time or anywhere - a child can be bullied online when they are alone in their bedroom trying to relax or do homework - so it can feel like there's no escape. This can make it even more difficult for children to cope with being bullied. If a child is being bullied online, they may not know who is bullying them (the bully may have created an anonymous online account). This can be extremely frightening.
Children who have witnessed another child being bullied may also be distressed. They may not know the best way to help the person being bullied.
Why children bully others
There are many reasons why children bully others and it's not always a straightforward situation. Some of these include:
- peer pressure and/or wanting the approval of others
- wanting to feel powerful over someone with a perceived disadvantage
- being bullied themselves
- being worried, unhappy or upset about something
- lacking social skills or not understanding how others feel.
Children who bully others may not understand that they are making life difficult for another child and may find this realisation very distressing. It can be difficult for them to get the support they need to change their behaviour.
When posting online, children may not consider the impact their actions will have on others. Some children may be more likely to engage in bullying behaviour online as they can create anonymous accounts which may make them feel as if they can’t be 'found out'.
Any child can be bullied. Children who are seen by others as ‘different’ in some way may be targeted. This might be because of their:
- physical appearance
- faith or culture
- gender identity
- disability or additional needs.
Or it could be because they:
- appear anxious or have low self-esteem
- lack assertiveness
- are shy or introverted.
It may also be because of a child's family circumstances or home life, for example if they are adopted or in care (Department for Education, 2017) or receiving free school meals (Anti-Bullying Alliance, 2019).
Recognising and responding to bullying - signs and indicators
Indicators that a child could be experiencing bullying include:
- being reluctant to go to school
- being distressed or anxious
- losing confidence and becoming withdrawn
- having problems eating and/or sleeping
- having unexplained injuries
- changes in appearance
- changes in performance and/or behaviour at school.
Adults may notice that a child isn't spending time with their usual group of friends, has become isolated or that other children's behaviour towards a child has changed.
If you have a concern about bullying, you should follow your agency’s anti-bullying procedures as soon as possible.
If you think a child is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999. If you're worried a child is at risk of serious harm but they are not in immediate danger, you should share your concerns.
- Follow your agency child protection procedures Contact your local Children’s Social Care Service.
- Contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Our trained professionals will talk through your concerns with you and give you expert advice.
- Contact the police.
Responding to incidents
All organisations that work with children should have a consistent approach to how they respond to bullying, which should be outlined in an anti-bullying policy. This should be linked to your child protection policy.
When responding to incidents or allegations of bullying it's important for staff and volunteers to:
- listen to all the child/children involved to establish what has happened
- record details of the incident and any actions you've taken
- inform your nominated safeguarding lead
- inform parents and carers (unless doing so would put a child at further risk of harm)
- provide support to the child/children being bullied, children who witnessed the bullying and the child/children who has been accused of bullying
- ask the child/children who have been bullied what they would like to happen next
- continue to monitor the situation even if the situation has been resolved.
It’s important to review your anti-bullying policies and procedures regularly in the light of any incidents that have taken place, any new information learned and best practice.
It's important for agencies to create a culture where it is clear bullying will not be tolerated and children feel they can tell someone if they have a problem. This might include:
- talking to young people about healthy relationships and challenging unhealthy behaviours
- promoting sources of help and information such as Childline. CHECK LINK
A whole-school approach is key to preventing and tackling bullying (Department for Education (DfE), 2018a); this includes bullying that happens outside school and online.
Schools should work to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment where children, young people and adults treat each other with respect. As part of this, staff and volunteers should challenge inappropriate behaviour or language and not dismiss it as ‘banter’ (DfE, 2018a).
It’s good practice to nominate a member of staff who will co-ordinate the school’s response to bullying. The school should make sure that incidents are recorded centrally so that any concerning patterns of behaviour can be identified.
Buddying systems in primary schools and peer mentoring in secondary schools can be effective ways of supporting children who are experiencing or at risk of bullying.
Involving the student council can be a good way to shape realistic anti-bullying policies and practices and ensure children and young people’s views are heard.
Review Date: November 2024