As we’ve pointed out in earlier chapters, every student agrees that bullying is a major problem but nobody admits to doing it themselves. It seems that bullying is always something the other kids do. The reason for this is because it’s easy to justify hostility, and “justified” aggression doesn’t feel like bullying, it simply feels like sticking up for your friends or “putting someone in their place.”

Thus the first step in bullying education and prevention is making sure that kids are aware of the multitude of behaviors that can qualify as bullying. Follow these guidelines to have a discussion with them about the different forms that bullying can take:

Teaching youth about physical bullying

Physical bullying doesn’t have to result in bodily harm in order to qualify. Tripping someone, nudging or bumping into them in the hallway, shoving, spitting, throwing things – any physical action designed to harass or injure qualifies as bullying. Ask them to give you their own examples.

Teaching children about gossip bullying

Gossip bullying involves initiating, forwarding, or repeating something that is intended to cause embarrassment to the subject in question, and is a message they would find offensive and hurtful if said to their face. Be sure to emphasize that forwarding a scornful message or regurgitating hurtful gossip, even if they didn’t create it, can be just as hurtful as taunting someone directly. Teach children this rule: never gossip or spread stories about others unless it has a positive message, and encourage them to imagine how it might feel if they were the focus of this information. Do role play scenarios with kids to help them understand the difference between talking with others about your life and negative gossip.

Teaching kids about verbal bullying

People shouldn’t say mean things that will hurt the feelings of others, but yet we all do this from time to time. This isn’t right, but it isn’t bullying. The thing that distinguishes normal name-calling during arguments from verbal bullying is that during bullying someone is saying cruel things to a person over and over again with the sole intent of being mean, or when someone puts others down without any provocation.

Teaching children about exclusion bullying

This is when you exclude someone or make them feel unwelcome in a certain place just because you want to be mean. Ask them to give you examples of things that might make someone feel unwelcome.

Go over different bullying scenarios with kids:

The best way to teach kids about what qualifies as bullying is to go over different scenarios with them. You can get examples from the different types of bullying given in our bullying examples section, and have a discussion about some of the different talking points below:

A) What if all the other kids start calling one child a nickname rather than her real name…say they start calling a girl curly because she has curly red hair. How would they discern whether or not this was bullying? (If the girl seems unbothered by the nickname, it might be fine, but if she seemed to be hurt or annoyed when others called her this, then continuing to do so would be bullying.)

B) Sometimes bullying emerges from arguments that escalate. During a dispute, we all get angry. And when angry, we tend to say hurtful things that we shouldn’t. This isn’t right for us to do, but it’s not the same thing as bullying. At what point, however, would a disagreement or feud turn into bullying? Ask the kids to ponder this and give you some examples.

C) You’re really frustrated. Rebecca and you have been fighting. You’re talking with your friends and venting about what is going on. What types of things would be OK to tell them, and what could you say that might cross the line and turn into gossip that might be considered bullying?

We would also encourage parents and teachers to use the free resources that can be found online on our bullying resources page.