Bullying is a hot topic in schools these days, with a wealth of resource geared towards identifying it, preventing it, and mitigating the damage that can be caused to vulnerable youngsters when they are victimized by bullies. However, all children have natural trends towards competitive behavior, teasing, and sharpening their teeth on their peers to determine their own social positioning and establish their role in the overall educational and familial hierarchy. So, how do we know when the line between harmless teasing and competition and full-blown bullying has been crossed?
Spotting the signs of bullying in children
The definition of bullying is technically when one person uses strength or force to make another person act against their will. However, anyone who works in education and has seen bullying firsthand understands that in fact, the act of bullying is by no means so simplistic or easy to categorize. Bullying takes a myriad forms, from small acts of unpleasantness right through to full-blown unchecked violence, and children have evolved more and more sophisticated ways of intimidating each other. Because of this, we need to be ever more vigilant in spotting the signs and understanding when innocent teasing or friendly rivalry changes and becomes bullying in its truest sense.
Bullying is about impact, more than intent
An easy way to establish whether or not children are bullying is by assessing the impact which it has on the child who is the focus of attention. If the child in question is being adversely affected in any way by the behavior of peers, then the likelihood is the actions could be categorized as bullying. Teasing is fine, as long as the person on the receiving end is able to take it in their stride, and respond in kind. However, if teasing is causing undue distress in the child, then this shows a shift in to bullying and needs to be addressed.
The problem with the bullying ‘label’ is that, what could be wholly natural, acceptable and funny for one child could be distressing for another. Most children have nicknames picked up throughout their school days, and are proud to sport them. However, nicknames chosen with cruel intent can be devastating for the person being teased with them.
The subtle shift from play to violence
Similarly, play fighting is natural, acceptable and commonplace among children. It is only by assessing the impact of the fighting on the child that we are able to ascertain whether the boundary between play and bullying has been overstepped. In essence, bullying varies enormously across different ages, demographics and cultures, but the effect of it is always the same. This is how we will establish whether a child is being victimized, and intervention is required. Bullying only exists because of the reactions, impact and effect which it has on its victims, and it is this which we can use as professionals to determine whether we need to intervene when we see children being adversely affected by the behavior of their peers.