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Definition

Bullying is defined as ‘behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, which intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally’ (DfE definition). Repeated bullying usually has a significant emotional component, where the anticipation and fear of being bullied seriously affects the behaviour and well-being of the victim. Bullying is the abuse of power by one person over another.

Under the Children Act 1989 a bullying incident should be addressed as a child protection concern when there is ‘reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm’.

Although bullying in itself is not a specific criminal offence in the UK, some types of harassing or threatening behaviour – or communications – could be a criminal offence.

Bullying can be inflicted on a child by another child, or by an adult. Bullying can take many forms (including cyber-bullying), and is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups, for example on grounds of race, religion, gender / gender identity, sexual orientation, special educational need or disability or because a child is adopted or has caring responsibilities. It might be motivated by actual differences between children, or perceived differences.

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;
  • Cyber - 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. The Department for Education have issued guidance for school staff and parents and carers on how to recognise signs of cyberbullying and support children who are being bullied in this way (see Preventing Bullying (GOV.UK));
  • Upskirting - Upskirting, which involves taking a picture under a person’s clothing without them knowing, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks to obtain sexual gratification, or cause the victim humiliation, distress or alarm; is a specific example of abusive behaviour which has been linked to online bullying and grooming. Upskirting is a criminal offence and should be reported to the Police.

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 violence and abuse, racial attacks, sexual offences and can have devastating results such as self-harm or suicide.

Bullying is a type of behaviour which needs to be defined by the impact on the child being bullied rather than the intention of the perpetrator.


Risks

The Child Being Bullied

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 anxiety, depression and self-harm.

Children are often reluctant to tell anyone about their experience either because of threats, a feeling that nothing can change their situation, that they may be partly to blame for the situation or that they should be able to deal with it themselves.

Parents, carers and agencies need to be alert to any changes in a child’s 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, carers and agencies should also encourage and support children and young people to tell a trusted adult if they are being bullied. 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 or perceived to be different by their peers 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 and agencies that provide service for children must always consider whether safeguarding processes need to be followed and whether other agencies need to be involved.

The Child Engaging in Bullying Behaviour

Children who bully other children, may have experienced considerable disruption or trauma within their own lives. The bullying behaviour may occur because the child is unhappy, jealous or lacking in confidence, or that they lack social skills or understanding around healthy relationships.

Work with children who bully should recognise that they are likely to have significant needs themselves.


Indicators

Any change in behaviour which indicates fear or anxiety may be a potential indicator of bullying. Children may also choose to avoid locations and events which they had previously enjoyed - changes in attitude towards schools or organised activities are particularly significant.

Behaviour such as:

  • Being frightened of walking to and from school and changing their usual route;
  • Feeling ill in the mornings or refusing to go into school;
  • Beginning truanting;
  • Beginning to perform poorly in their school work;
  • Coming home regularly with clothes or books destroyed;
  • Becoming withdrawn, starting to stammer, lacking confidence, being distressed and anxious and stopping eating;
  • Attempting or threatening suicide;
  • Crying themselves to sleep, having nightmares;
  • Having their possessions go missing;
  • Asking for money or starting to steal (to pay the bully) or continually 'losing' their pocket money;
  • Refusing to talk about what's wrong;
  • Having unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches;
  • Beginning to bully other children/siblings;
  • Becoming aggressive and unreasonable;
  • Being secretive about what they are doing online.

should be taken seriously and the behaviour discussed between parents/carers and schools.


Protection and Action to be Taken

All settings in which children are provided with services or are living away from home should have in place anti-bullying strategies and policies, including information about how to refer to Children’s Social Care, if safeguarding children concerns are identified. See Referrals and Enquiries Procedure and Assessment Procedure. This includes youth clubs and all other children’s organisations as well as all schools.

  • Support should be offered to children for whom English is not their first language, or for those with additional needs, to communicate needs and concerns;
  • Children should be able to approach any member of staff within the organisation with personal concerns;
  • Clear and accurate records should be made when a child, parents, carer or agency raises a concern about bullying, including any investigations and actions taken.

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.

Schools are the agency most likely to become aware of bullying and schools have statutory obligations to respond. Every school must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils. These measures should be part of the school’s behaviour policy which must be communicated to all pupils, school staff and parents

Headteachers also have the ability to discipline pupils for poor behaviour even when the pupil is not on school premises or under the lawful control of school staff.

Clear messages must be given that bullying is not acceptable and children must be reassured that significant adults involved in their lives take 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 or sexual orientation. This should be addressed and challenged accordingly.

Where a child is being bullied, action should be taken to assess the child’s emotional wellbeing, any further needs and to provide support services.

If the bullying involves a physical assault, as well as seeking medical attention where necessary, consideration should be given to whether there are any safeguarding or child protection issues to consider and whether there should be a referral to the Police if a criminal offence may have been committed. This may also be the case for any cyber based bullying, for example sexting.

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.


Issues

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

  • Early intervention – dealing with incidents at the earliest sign;
  • Never ignoring victims of bullying, always showing an interest/concern and demonstrating that you have taken the appropriate action;
  • Organising quality groups, interventions or sessions, which allow children to work together to identify their own issues, build tolerance, promote healthy relationships and resolve any conflicts in an appropriate manner.

Practitioners may often be in the position of having to deal with the perpetrators as well as the victims of bullying. Professionals should always consider that bullying behaviour may in itself be indicative of previous abuse, trauma 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 bullying behaviour rather than the child and,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 they have been affected and the opportunity is also provided for the child who has displayed the bullying behaviour,to understand the impact of their actions and to make amends.

Both the child engaged in bullying behaviour and those who are the target of bullying should then be 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, it must be reviewed at regular intervals to ascertain whether actions have been successful and whether the bullying behaviour has ceased. These reviews should include all the relevant parties, including the child or young person. Where bullying exists in the context of gang behaviour, there should be an institutional, as well as an individual, response to this.


Further Information

See also:

Specialist Organisations:

  • The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA): Founded in 2002 by NSPCC and National Children's Bureau, the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) brings together over 100 organisations into one network to develop and share good practice across the whole range of bullying issues;
  • Kidscape: Charity established to prevent bullying and promote child protection providing advice for young people, professionals and parents about different types of bullying and how to tackle it. They also offer specialist training and support for school staff, and assertiveness training for young people;
  • The BIG Award: The Bullying Intervention Group (BIG) offer a national scheme and award for schools to tackle bullying effectively.

Cyberbullying:

  • ChildNet International: Specialist resources for young people to raise awareness of online safety and how to protect themselves;
  • Think U Know: Resources provided by NCA-CEOP for children and young people, parents, carers and teachers on how to stay safe on a computer, tablet or phone;
  • Digizen: Provide online safety information for educators, parents, carers and young people;
  • Internet Watch Foundation (for reporting illegal images and content);
  • Advice on Child Internet Safety: The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) has produced universal guidelines for providers on keeping children safe online;
  • Sexting: How to Respond to an Incident: The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) an overview for staff on how to respond to incidents involving sexting.

LGBT:

  • Ditch the Label: Resources to use when tackling gender stereotypes;
  • EACH: A training agency for employers and organisations seeking to tackle discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation;
  • Schools Out: Offers practical advice, resources (including lesson plans) and training to schools on LGBT equality in education;
  • Stonewall: Resources to help schools, colleges and other settings ensure they are LGBT inclusive;
  • The Proud Trust.

SEND:

Racism:

  • Racist and Faith Targeted Bullying: Information on racist and faith targeted bullying including top tips for schools, advice countering intolerance and prejudice, promoting shared values and what the law says;
  • Show Racism the Red Card: Provide resources and workshops for schools to educate young people, often using the high profile of football, about racism;
  • Kick it Out: Uses the appeal of football to educate young people about racism and provide education packs for schools;
  • Anne Frank Trust: Runs a schools project to teach young people about Anne Frank and the Holocaust, the consequences of unchecked prejudice and discrimination, and cultural diversity.

Please note that internal servers may block access to some of these sites. Schools wishing to access these materials may need to adjust their settings.


Amendments to this Chapter

This chapter was updated in April 2021 with new links added to resources for addressing bullying linked to race/faith, and resources to help make schools, colleges or other settings LGBT inclusive. See Further Information.

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