How to tell the difference between bullying & everyday conflict

The definitions of bullying aside, we’ve created a list of measures to help parents and teachers determine what is bullying versus what is normal fighting and conflict between kids. There is no clear and defining line, but bullying behaviors will share certain characteristics:

Indicator #1: Bullying tends to emerge out of an absence of contact

What is bullying: Bullying tends to involve a child targeting another student that has never been an associate of the other child. In other words, the two were never friends, did not interact together before and don’t really know each other well now. When conflict arises without contact, it’s baseless behavior and clearly qualifies as bullying.

Normal conflict: Conflict, on the other hand, arises out of natural interaction, and requires the students to have been either friends before or were familiar with each other prior to the hostilities starting. Natural conflicts require there to have been a prior relationship for the conflict to arise from.

Indicator #2: Bullying behavior is lopsided

What is bullying: Bullying tends to involve one child who is consistently the aggressor while the other child tends to avoid or wants no part of the conflict. Bullying involves one child continually being hurt whereas the other child usually does not pay any emotional price. Look for signs that one child is trying to avoid the other.

Normal conflict: Conflict is a less lopsided back and forth between people who are both hurt or feel unsettled by the conflict. Neither enjoys it, and both pay an emotional price.

Indicator #3: Bullying involves the exploitation of power

What is bullying: Bullying involves a power imbalance, whether real or perceived, physical or social. One child has the capacity to hurt another and uses that power imbalance. It also frequently revolves around the goal of power: gaining social status, control, or power over others.

Normal conflict: Involves equal balance of power, and any power imbalances which do exist are not readily exploited to cause injury.

Indicator #4: Bullying is ongoing, has no end point

What is bullying: Bullying behavior is not contained in the moment; it’s part of an ongoing pattern. A bully will re-ignite hostilities anew every time they encounter that child in the future.

Normal conflict: Normal conflict takes place but dissipates. Even if hurt feelings persist, the students involved are generally not looking to fuel the flames every time they meet.

Indicator #5: Bullying is devoid of compassion

What is bullying: Bullies tend to show no remorse and little or no compassion for the other child. They’ll often refuse to take responsibility for the hurt they cause, and may even blame the victim.

What is normal conflict: Conflict between peers or friends tends to lead to remorse and guilt by both parties. They loose their temper, say something mean, then feel guilty about it afterwards.

Indicator #6: Bullies have no goal or purpose

What is bullying: Bullying behavior has no clearly defined goals or objectives, other than aggression. Hostility IS the goal, as opposed to a byproduct of competing goals.

Normal conflict: Conflict focuses around a specific dispute.