Bullying and Children; Why do Kids bully, what are the effects, and how can we help?

Bullying occurs in all cultures across the globe, but why do kids do it, what are the effects of bullying, and how can you help your child effectively respond to a bully?


Almost everyone could say that they have felt bullied at some point in their lives. Bullying is characterised by repeated behaviour that is intended to hurt another person – whether it be emotionally or physically. This can include harming another person with physical violence, spoken words, or through the use of online platforms such as social media.  Bullying can have a very real impact on a child or adolescent, so it is important to understand the impacts of bullying and how to appropriately manage a situation that involves a bully.

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Bullying can have long term effects on someone’s emotional wellbeing so it’s important to know how to respond to it.

What is bullying behaviour?

Bullying can include a very wide range of behaviours, including but not limited to:

–     Physical assault

–     Teasing and name-calling

–     Threatening

–     Excluding someone from a group, game or event

–     Spreading rumours about a person

–     Damaging property

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–     Cyberbullying – including posting embarrassing pictures, posting false information about a person or sending insulting messages.

–     Picking on one person

These behaviours can be either very obvious or extremely subtle so being aware of what bullying can look like will help you recognise the signs and intervene early. For a comprehensive list of bullying warning signs, visit the following website: Warning Signs for Bullying | StopBullying.gov.

What are the effects of bullying?

Being bullied can certainly have a very significant and lasting impact on a child’s life. In the short term it can cause feelings of shame and embarrassment and the child might even feel scared or unsafe. Over time, bullying can have a wide range of psychological and physiological impacts on a person, including:

–     Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness

–     Loss of appetite

–     Difficulties focusing or concentrating

–     Difficulties with school work

–     A feeling of general unwellness or sickness

–     Strong emotions, such as sadness, anger or confusion

–     Difficulty sleeping and nightmares

–     Headaches

–     Avoiding going to school

–     Bedwetting

–     Unexplained cuts or bruises

–     Depression, anxiety or panic attacks

It’s important to know and recognise the signs of bullying because even though it may be subtle, the effects can be just as damaging.

Experiences of being bullied can lead to a child or adolescent developing depression, and even lead to thoughts of suicide. It can also impact on that child’s ability to develop positive and trusting relationships with others as they grow. Bullying can indeed have a strong and lasting negative impact on a child’s life. The Kids Helpline provides a range of useful information on childhood bullying here: Bullying | Get Support Today | Kids Helpline.

Bullying in Child care; how can it be managed?

Bullying is not something that only occurs in schools, bullying behaviours can begin at quite a young age and it is not uncommon to find it becoming an issue in preschool and child care environments.

Much like schools, child care centres will have strategies and procedures for preventing and responding to bullying. For children this young, they are often experimenting with new-found independence and likely won’t necessarily understand how their behaviour is impacting on others. Thankfully, raising awareness and teaching children about bullying from this young age can help reduce the likelihood that they will become a teen or adult who bullies. The best way to do this is by raising an awareness of feelings and emotions and how our actions can have a direct effect on how others feel.

Child care centres often have their own anti-bullying policies to make it clear where the service stands in relation to bullying. If you feel that your child is being bullied at child care, speak with your child’s educators and perhaps request a copy of their anti-bullying policy. Maintaining open and honest communication with your child’s educators will help them best support your child to deal with any bullying behaviour whilst they are in their care.

Causes of bullying?

Unfortunately, there are no clear reasons that explain why bullying occurs. An extensive range of factors can be viewed as contributors that can increase the likelihood of a person bullying others – but this is a complex and complicated issue. We do know that a person who bullies may have had experiences of being bullied themselves and sometimes bullying behaviours can be a way of expressing anger or frustration when other coping strategies have not been learnt. Being exposed to games and movies that contain violence is another potential risk factor and sometimes children have just not been taught how to be empathetic towards the feeling of others.

We also know that in some cases, bullies like to assert a sense of dominance and power over another person. This can become extremely problematic within schools or workplaces that have a toxic culture and this is why anti-bullying and harassment policies and procedures are a very good idea. Ultimately, no matter what the reason for the behaviour, despite appearing powerful and confident, a bully usually has some underlying vulnerabilities that they are hiding. By starting early and teaching kids to consider the feelings of others, we can reduce incidents of bullying behaviour and prevent children who bully growing into adults who bully.

Do schools have to have an anti-bullying policy?

Each state and territory across Australia has it’s own bullying prevention policies and programs. In all schools, bullying is very common so it is important to have detailed policies and procedures that set out clear expectations in relation to addressing and preventing bullying. The Bullying No Way website provides an overview of what policies, procedures and programs are available in each state and territory to respond to and prevent bullying in schools : Legislation and policy (bullyingnoway.gov.au)

How do I teach my kids to deal with bullies?

It is likely that every child will have an experience with a bully at some point. Helping your child develop a toolkit of ideas and responses to use in these kinds of situations will help them to respond better in the moment. Practicing some phrases to respond with and role-playing various scenarios can help prepare your child for facing a bully.


Sometimes making a statement such as ‘yeah, whatever’ and walking away might help prevent the situation from escalating but there are other situations where your child might need to be more assertive. Teaching your child to speak in a strong, firm voice is a good idea as many bullies enjoy it when a child starts to cry. A positive sense of self will also help your child feel less affected by a bully. You can help your child build confidence by encouraging them to pursue things they are good at and recognising and acknowledging their efforts and not just their successes.

Checking in with your kids regularly is a good idea to help you know if there might be some concerns about bullying. Make sure they know and understand that their safety and wellbeing is important and that there is no shame in seeking advice and support from an adult to help deal with a difficult situation.

Whilst bullying can be extremely problematic for a child, it can be helpful to explain that in most cases, if a bully is not getting the response they want from you then they will likely move on. Here is a brilliant video that demonstrates this point extremely well. You might like to share it with your child or teen.  (993) How to Stop A Bully – YouTube.

What do I do if I find out my child is bullying others?

Whilst it can be very upsetting to hear that your child is being bullied, it can be just as upsetting to realise that your child is actually the bully. If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to recognise that this is a sign that your child needs help. Positive social and emotional development involves learning how to treat others respectfully so responding quickly and appropriately is very important.

If your child is bullying others, it is important to remain calm about it. Your child might not really understand what bullying is so talking with them and explaining it is a good place to start. Try not to blame your child, but instead listen to their perspective. There is always a reason why children engage in these behaviours so getting to the root issue will help you address it better.

It is really important that you try to help your child understand how their actions and behaviour can impact on others. Making statements such as ‘how would you feel if someone said that to you?’ can help them develop a sense of empathy and understanding for the other person.

Your child’s school can also help you manage bullying behaviours. If they put into place strategies and consequences for bullying behaviour, it is important that you support the school when they enforce these. If you are aware that your child tends to bully, it is also a good idea to closely oversee their use of internet and phones to make sure that cyberbullying is not occurring as well.

There are a range of reasons for bullying but some of the most common ones include:

–     Children who bully have often been bullied themselves.

–     Sometimes children will bully to avoid being bullied.

–     Some children engage in bullying behaviour after exposure to certain TV shows, movies or games.

–     Many children bully to feel more in control or because they have low self-esteem.

Whatever the underlying reason, it is best to do something about it as soon as possible. As a parent, you have the greatest influence over your child’s behaviour. For more information and support for parents whose child is engaging in bullying behaviours, visit the following website: My Child is a Bully | Signs of Bullying | What Makes a Bully | Child Mind Institute

What is covert bullying?

Bullying that is easy to see and involves actions such as physical violence, name calling and insulting is known as overt bullying. Although this is the most widely understood form of bullying, it might not necessarily be the most common. Covert bullying is far more discreet and can involve actions such as whispering, threatening looks, turning your back on a person or rude hand gestures. Often, those who engage in covert bullying will pass off their actions as ‘joking’ or ‘just having fun’ and at school, this kind of bullying can be harder to address. Indirect covert bullying involves seeking to damage another person’s reputation, relationships and self-esteem and can cause significant psychological harm to the victim.

Cyber bullying and children; what is it and what can we do about it?

Cyberbullying is the term used for bullying that occurs through the use of technology. This can include through the internet, via mobile phone, or using a camera to hurt or embarrass somebody. Cyberbullying can be from someone you know or from a complete stranger, and social networking sites such as Facebook and Snapchat are a haven for cyberbullies. Some bullies will even set up fake accounts to post messages or pretend to be someone else – hoping to remain anonymous whilst harassing and taunting others.

It’s important for parents to understand the real risks of cyberbullying when kids have access to devices, the internet and social media.

Cyberbullying is particularly prevalent for adolescents, however with younger and younger children having access to technologies such as phones and ipads, it is becoming increasingly common for younger age groups.

When dealing with cyberbullies, it is important for children and adolescents to understand how they can keep themselves safe. This knowledge only comes with education and many schools now implement cyberbullying awareness programs to help keep kids safe. Some simple strategies to remain protected from cyberbullies include:

–     Never share your private information, such as password, name, address and phone number with people you don’t know.

–     Never share photos of yourself, friends or family with people you don’t know.

–     Avoid responding to messages when you are feeling angry or hurt.

–     Remember that you can block, delete or report anyone who is harassing you online.

–     Keep a record of calls, messages, social media posts and emails that are hurtful to you.

–     Use the privacy options on your social media networking sites.

–     For parents, know what your kids are doing online. Encourage them to maintain open and honest communication with you around their cyber activities.

It is also helpful to know that LawStuff provides confidential and legal advice for teenagers and young adults to help them understand their legal rights. You can find specific information related to cyberbullying and find out how to access advice and support here: Cyberbullying | Youth Law Australia (yla.org.au). Of course, they always recommend that if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, don’t hesitate to phone 000.

What are the cyber bullying laws in Australia?

Many people don’t realise that in some cases, cyberbullying can be a crime. In Australia, there is a national law that makes it illegal to use the internet or a phone in any way that is harassing, menacing or offensive. When these behaviours have a serious impact on a person who is targeted, then cyberbullying can be considered a crime.

Cyberbullying can also be criminal if it includes stalking or intimidating a person to incite fear. Threats to kill or seriously harm a person or encouraging them to commit suicide can also be considered criminal behaviour. Sending images to a person that are nude, sexual or embarrassing without their permission is known as image-based abuse and this is a crime against our national laws in Australia. There are also some other criminal laws that may apply in circumstances where a person logs onto someone else’s online account without their permission.

In addition to being against criminal laws, some incidents of cyberbullying can breach certain civil laws. Cyberbullying can be considered defamation in some circumstances if a person’s reputation is damaged due to untrue things being shared about them. You can learn more about defamation of character here: https://yla.org.au/nsw/topics/courts-police-and-the-law/defamation/

The legal consequences of cyberbullying can be quite severe so it is important to know that these behaviours can be criminally prosecuted. The penalties for cyberbullying offences can involve up to 10 years in jail – so, our legal system certainly takes these matters very seriously.

My child has a disability; how do I manage bullying behaviour towards them?

Children who have disabilities are at an increased risk of being bullied. Disabilities – including those that are physical, developmental, intellectual, emotional or sensory – place a greater level of vulnerability on a child and others are more likely to tease or make fun of them. Often, this kind of bullying behaviour occurs out of a lack of understanding or fear due to having limited knowledge about people with disabilities. Since children with special health care needs often have greater difficulty communicating, getting around and navigating social interactions, they can be perceived as being different, which increases their risk of being bullied.

Children and young people with special needs can benefit from specific approaches that reduce the likelihood of them becoming the target of a bully. Schools play a very key role in supporting children and students with special rights to develop strategies that help them participate and succeed amongst their peers. Some of these strategies might include:

–     Providing up-front information to peers about the kinds of support that a child with special rights requires.


–     Creating a system of peer support for the child with special rights.

–     Implementing social-emotional learning activities.

–     Including adaptive strategies into the classroom to support all students to participate.

–     Support students to develop understandings about the needs of others.

–      Rewarding positive and inclusive behaviour.

Children with disabilities are often at higher risk of being bullied, so they may need specialised support.

For parents, it can be extremely difficult to know that your child is being bullied, especially when they are a child who has additional challenges to face in life. Maintaining strong and open communication with your child’s teacher is very important as they will be the ones implementing strategies whilst your child is at school. It is a good idea to keep notes to document your concerns because if the situation becomes a legal matter, this will be a key piece of evidence. Familiarise yourself with the laws that protect children with disabilities and don’t be afraid to advocate for your child. Finally, it is so important to reassure your child that it is not their fault that they are being bullied and keep talking to your child and the school, remaining persistent at seeking a resolution.

Bullying and Resilience

A strong sense of resilience sets children up to cope with anything in life that doesn’t quite go the way they were expecting. Children who are less resilient are often more likely to experience bullying because they tend to quickly react to the teasing and taunts in a way that satisfies the bully – and therefore they keep doing it. A child with a strong sense of resilience will be able to disregard or ignore minor bullying without it impacting on their self-esteem. For some great tips at raising a resilient child, check out the following link: 13 Ways to Build Resiliency and Prevent Bullying (verywellfamily.com). You can also read my article on Kids Resilience; Why Is it Important and How can we help build kids resilience, here.

One of the best ways to support your child in responding to a bully is by building their resilience

Empowering your child around bullies

Whilst it may not be possible to completely eradicate bullying from society, there are some things we can do to protect our children from its effects. Perhaps the best way to keep your child safe from the impacts of bullying is by raising them in a loving home where respectful relationships are modelled and encouraged. Discipline methods that use power over a child teaches them to use power over others. Compassionate and responsive parenting focuses more on understanding, communication, and kindness.

Children who are lonely are also more likely to be bullied and they can be more reluctant to communicate what is happening to their parents. Maintaining a strong sense of connection with your child will help them to know that you are a safe space they can come to with anything, and that communication is a key factor in resolving any kind of problem with others.

Whilst you want to raise a child who shows kindness, it is also important that they recognise that there are times when a more assertive approach is needed. Being able to confidently say ‘stop that’ or ‘I don’t like being called that’, is an important skill for children to have and once again you can teach this through role modelling respectful, yet honest communication yourself.


Whether your child is being bullied or your child is the bully – raising awareness about this extremely common set of behaviours is the key to overcoming it. I really love the following anonymous quote, ‘blowing out someone else’s candle won’t make yours shine any brighter’. Bullying is never ok – but there is plenty you can do about it.  You might like to encourage your child’s school to register for the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence to help raise awareness and fight bullying together. You can find the registration form here: Subscribe (vision6.com.au).

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