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Peer Conflict? Mean Behavior? Or Bullying? What are the differences?

September 28, 2018

What is bullying?

Bullying has four key features, and all must be present to be considered bullying:

  1. Deliberate (on purpose)
  2. Repeated (more than once)
  3. Power imbalanced (unequal power)
  4. Aims to harm/hurt another

There are four types of bullying:

  1. Verbal (words): yelling, taunting, insulting
  2. Physical (actions): pushing, hitting, kicking
  3. Relational (friendships): excluding, spreading rumors, turning friends against you
  4. Cyber (social media): sending hurtful messages or images by Internet or cell phone

Also, multiple people can be involved in the situation:

  1. Victim (individual who receives the bullying)
  2. Bully (individual doing the bullying)
  3. Bystander(s) (individual(s) watching the bullying occur)

Article: 'Teaseproof' Your Kids

Peer Conflict Mean Behavior

Bullying Behavior

Conflict between peers is a natural part of growing up.  Children will have times when they disagree and can't solve their own problems.  They may even become so upset that they say or do mean things.  Children may act impulsively or assert themselves by saying mean things or doing unkind things.  This could include making fun of others, using a hurtful name, acting in a physically aggressive way, taking something without permission, or leaving a child out. 

Bullying is serious behavior that has four key features.  All must be present for the situation to be considered bullying: 

  • Intentional
  • Repeated over time
  • Power imbalance
  • It aims to harm or hurt another person

If it's a peer conflict, you will be aware that these children: 

  • Usually choose to play or hang out together
  • Have equal power (size, age, social status, etc.)
  • Are equally upset
  • Are both interested in resolving the issue
  • Will be able to work things out with adult help

If it is mean behavior, usually: 

  • It is not planned and seems to happen more spontaneously or by chance
  • It may be aimed at any child who is nearby
  • The child being mean may feel badly when an adult points out the harm they have caused

If it is bullying, you will see:

  • Repeated acts of cyber, verbal, physical, or relational aggression
  • Intentional harm to the victim
  • The victim will feel bad, but the bully doesn't seem to care
  • The bully is trying to gain something such as power, status, friends, or possessions
  • The bully does not take responsibility and may not try to solve the problem

Adults can respond by:

  • Helping the children talk it out or problem solve
  • Assisting the child to see other people's perspective or point of view and what each child wants

If this persists, your next step is to talk with your child's classroom teacher or school guidance counselor. 

Adults can respond by:

  • Acting quickly, firmly, and respectfully to stop the behavior
  • Letting the child know that their words or actions were hurtful
  • Re-directing the child to a more positive behavior or interaction
  • Help the child to take action to repair the situation
  • Consider using consequences as appropriate
  • Monitor behavior to make sure it doesn't become bullying

If this persists, your next step is to talk with your child's classroom teacher or school guidance counselor.

Adults can respond by:

  • Addressing it immediately
  • Ensuring targeted child's safety
  • Reassure any bystanders that the adults are taking care of it
  • Report to the appropriate authority
  • Providing support for the victim
  • Providing education and support to the bully
  • Continue to monitor the bully's behavior

If this persists, your next step is to talk with your child's principal.


Parent Resources:

Eyes on Bullying website and Toolkit

Stop Bullying


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