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2.1.4 Bullying


Preventing and Tackling Bullying - Advice for Headteachers, Staff and Governing Bodies (Department for Education, 2014)

Cyberbullying: Advice for Headteachers and School Staff (Department for Education, 2015)

Advice for parents and carers on cyberbullying (Department for Education, 2015)


Section 1, Definition was updated in December 2016 with further information regarding cyberbullying. Links were also added to Preventing and Tackling Bullying - Advice for Headteachers, Staff and Governing Bodies (Department for Education, 2014), Cyberbullying: Advice for Headteachers and School Staff (Department for Education, 2015) and Advice for parents and carers on cyberbullying (Department for Education, 2015).


  1. Definition
  2. The Child 
  3. Action and Prevention
  4. Dealing with Incidents of Bullying by Children

1. Definition

Bullying may be defined as deliberately hurtful behaviour, involving an abuse of power and usually repeated over a period of time, where it is difficult for those bullied to defend themselves.

It can be inflicted on a child by another child or an adult. 

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;
  • Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using technology. Whether on social media sites, through a mobile phone, or gaming sites, the effects can be devastating for the young person involved. There are ways to help prevent a child from being cyberbullied and to help them cope and stop the bullying if it does happen. It is another form of bullying which can happen at all times of the day, with a potentially bigger audience. By its very nature, cyberbullying tends to involve a number of online bystanders and can quickly spiral out of control. Children and young people who bully others online do not need to be physically stronger and their methods can often be hidden and subtle.

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 abuse, racial attacks, sexual offences and self-harm or suicide.

2. The Child 

2.1 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, self-harm or suicide.

Children are often held back from telling anyone about their experience either by threats or by a feeling that nothing can change their situation.

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 seriousness of violence (including sexual violence) that these forms of bullying is characterised through inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Children living away from home are particularly vulnerable to bullying and abuse by their peers.

2.2 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.

3. Action and Prevention

All settings in which children are provided with services or are in commissioned placements living away from home should have in place anti-bullying strategies. This includes schools as well as all youth clubs and all other children's organisations where the anti bullying strategies should be rigorously enforced.

  • A sense of community will be achieved only if organisations take seriously behaviour which upsets children;
  • Promotion of all children within the setting counters isolation of individuals by others, nurtures friendships between children and, where it is a residential setting, supports them to adapt to their living arrangements;
  • 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.

A range of active listening techniques which provide a more helpful response include:

Technique Suggested Response
THE LISTENER: Listening patiently with full attention, encouraging, clarifying, restating, reflecting, validating, summarising.
THE DETECTIVE: Investigating the situation sensitively and patiently.
THE SUPPORTER:  Seeing their side, acknowledging and allowing expression of their feelings.
THE COACH: Checking out what help is being asked for and offering practical, realistic help.

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.

4. Dealing with Incidents of Bullying by Children

Creating an Anti-Bullying climate that is conducive to equality of opportunity, co-operation and mutual respect for differences can be achieved by, for example:

  • Low Tolerance of Minor Bullying - “Nipping in the bud” the incidents at the earliest sign;
  • Never ignoring victims of bullying, always showing an interest/concern;
  • Publicly acknowledging the bullied child’s distress;
  • Organising peer support groups/circles, which allow children to work together to identify their own problems, the causes and the solutions;
  • Contacting the Local Authority's Anti Bullying coordinator for advice.

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 bully 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.

The children (bully and bullied) should be carefully assessed and 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 after the above issues have been identified, the plan must be reviewed with regular intervals and amended if necessary to ensure that the bullying has 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.