This chapter was updated in December 2021, with new links added to resources for addressing bullying linked to race/faith, and resources to help make schools, colleges or other settings LGBT inclusive. See Section 5, Further Information and Sources of Support.
Bullying is behaviour by an individual or group, repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally. Repeated bullying usually has a significant emotional component, where the anticipation and fear of being bullied seriously affects the behaviour of the victim.
Under the Children Act 1989 a bullying incident should be addressed as a child protection concern when there is ‘reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm’.
Although bullying in itself is not a specific criminal offence in the UK, some types of harassing or threatening behaviour – or communications – could be a criminal offence.
Bullying can take many forms and is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups, for example on grounds of race, religion, gender / gender identity, sexual orientation, special education needs or disability or because a child is adopted or has caring responsibilities. It might be motivated by actual differences between children, or perceived differences. It can be inflicted on a child by another child or an adult.
Bullying can take many forms but the main types are:
- Physical Assault - for example, hitting, kicking, shoving, theft;
- Verbal - for example, teasing, making threats, name calling, racist or homophobic remarks;
- Emotional - for example, isolating an individual from activities/games and the social acceptance of their peer group.
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using technology, including social media sites, through a mobile phone, or gaming sites. The effects of cyberbullying can be devastating for the young person involved. There are ways to help prevent a child from being cyberbullied, and to help them cope and stop the bullying if it does happen. It is a form of bullying which can happen at all times of the day, with a potentially bigger audience. By its very nature, cyberbullying tends to involve a number of online bystanders and can quickly spiral out of control. Children and young people who bully others online do not need to be physically stronger and their methods can often be hidden and subtle. The Department for Education have issued guidance for school staff, parents and carers on how to recognise signs of cyberbullying and support children who are being bullied in this way.Upskirting, which involves taking a picture under a person's clothing without them knowing, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks to obtain sexual gratification, or cause the victim humiliation, distress or alarm; is a specific example of abusive behaviour which has been linked to on-line bullying and grooming. Upskirting is a criminal offence and should be reported to the Police.
Bullying often starts with apparently trivial events such as teasing and name calling which nevertheless rely on an abuse of power. Such abuses of power, if left unchallenged, can lead to more serious forms of abuse, such as domestic violence, racial attacks, sexual offences and self-harm or suicide.Bullying is a type of behaviour which needs to be defined by the impact on the child being bullied rather than by the intention of the perpetrator.
2. Identifying and Supporting Children Being Bullied
2.1 The Child Being Bullied
The damage inflicted by bullying can often be underestimated. It can cause considerable distress to children, to the extent that it affects their health and development or, at the extreme, causes anxiety, depression and self-harm.
Children are often reluctant to tell anyone about their experience either because of threats, a feeling that nothing can change their situation, that they may be partly to blame for the situation or that they should be able to deal with it themselves.
Parents, carers and agencies need to be alert to any changes in a child's behaviour such as refusing to attend school or a particular place or activity, becoming anxious in public places and crowds and becoming withdrawn and isolated. Parents should be provided with information and advice on what they can do if they are worried that their child is being bullied - i.e. where they can obtain advice and support including keeping safe on the internet.
Any child may be bullied, but bullying often occurs if a child has been identified in some ways as vulnerable, 'different' or inclined to spend more time on their own. Bullying may be fuelled by prejudice - racial, religious, homophobic and against children with special education needs or disabilities or who are perceived as 'different' in some way. In cases of sexist, sexual and transphobic bullying, schools must always consider whether safeguarding processes need to be followed. This is because of the potential for this form of bullying to be characterised by inappropriate sexual behaviour and the risk of serious violence (including sexual violence).
Children living away from home are particularly vulnerable to bullying and abuse by their peers.
2.2 Indicators that a Child is Being Bullied
Any change in behaviour which indicates fear or anxiety may be a potential indicator of bullying. Children may also choose to avoid locations and events which they had previously enjoyed - changes in attitude towards schools or organised activities are particularly significant.
Behaviour such as:
- Being frightened of walking to and from school and changing their usual route;
- Feeling ill in the mornings;
- Beginning truanting;
- Beginning to perform poorly in their school work;
- Coming home regularly with clothes or books destroyed;
- Becoming withdrawn, starting to stammer, lacking confidence, being distressed and anxious and stopping eating;
- Attempting or threatening suicide;
- Crying themselves to sleep, having nightmares;
- Having their possessions go missing;
- Asking for money or starting to steal (to pay the bully) or continually 'losing' their pocket money;
- Refusing to talk about what's wrong;
- Having unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches;
- Beginning to bully other children/siblings;
- Becoming aggressive and unreasonable.
All incidents of bullying should be taken seriously and the behaviour discussed between parents/carers and schools
2.3 The Child Engaging in Bullying Behaviour
Children who bully other children have often been bullied themselves and may have experienced considerable disruption in their own lives. The bullying behaviour may occur because the child is unhappy, jealous or lacking in confidence.
Work with children who bully should recognise that they are likely to have significant needs themselves.
3. Strategies to Prevent Bullying and Encourage Reporting
All settings in which children are provided with services or are living away from home should have in place anti-bullying strategies and procedures on how to refer to Children's Social Care if safeguarding children concerns are identified. Every school must have measures in place to prevent all forms of bullying. Youth clubs and all other children's organisations should also have anti bullying strategies which are rigorously enforced. Staff should fully understand the principles and policy of the anti bullying strategy and receive training as required:
- It should be easy for children to report bullying, and they should be assured that they will be listened to and their concerns acted on;
- Support should be offered to children for whom English is not their first language to communicate needs and concerns;
In order to maintain an effective strategy for dealing with bullying, the following traditional ideas about bullying should be challenged:
- It's only a bit of harmless fun;
- It's all part of growing up;
- Children just have to put up with it;
- Adults getting involved make it worse.
Schools are the agency most likely to become aware of bullying and schools have statutory obligations to respond. Every school must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils. These measures should be part of the school’s behaviour policy which must be communicated to all pupils, school staff and parents.
Headteachers also have the ability to discipline pupils for poor behaviour even when the pupil is not on school premises or under the lawful control of school staff.
Clear messages must be given that bullying is not acceptable and children must be reassured that significant adults involved in their lives are taking bullying seriously. Some acts of bullying could be a criminal offence.
By openly discussing differences between children and young people that can motivate bullying, such as religion, ethnicity, disability, gender / gender identity, special educational needs or disability or sexuality, and children with different family situations, such as looked after children or those with caring responsibilities, organisations can help to prevent bullying. A climate of openness should be established in which children are not afraid to address issues and incidents of bullying.
Consideration should always be given to the existence of any underlying issues in relation to race, gender / gender identity, special educational needs or disability and sexual orientation. This should be addressed and challenged accordingly.Where a child is being bullied, action should be taken to assess the child's needs and provide support services.
Under the Children Act 1989, a bullying incident should be addressed as a child protection concern if there is 'reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or likely to suffer, Significant Harm'. Where this is the case, a referral should be made to Children's Social Care Services. Even where safeguarding is not considered to be an issue, it may be appropriate to draw on a range of external services (for example Early Help or specialist organisations) both to support the child who has been bullied and to tackle any underlying issues which are thought to have contributed to the child engaging in bullying behaviour.
If the bullying involves a physical assault, as well as seeking medical attention where necessary, consideration should be given to whether there are any safeguarding or child protection issues to consider and whether there should be a referral to the Police if a criminal offence may have been committed.
Where appropriate, parents should be informed and updated on a regular basis. They should also, when applicable, be involved in supporting programmes devised to challenge bullying behaviour.
4. Dealing with Incidents of Bullying by Children
Creating an Anti-Bullying climate that is conducive to equality of opportunity, co-operation and mutual respect for differences can be achieved by, for example:
- Low Tolerance of Minor Bullying - "Nipping in the bud" the incidents at the earliest sign;
- Never ignoring victims of bullying, always showing an interest/concern;
- Publicly acknowledging the bullied child's distress;
- Organising quality groups/circles, which allow children to work together to identify their own problems, the causes and the solutions, with sensitive facilitators.
It is important when addressing bullying behaviour by another child to avoid accusations, threats or any responses that will only lead to the child being uncooperative, and silent.
The focus should be on the bullying behaviour rather than the child and where possible the reasons for the behaviour should be explored and dealt with. A clear explanation of the extent of the upset the bullying has caused should be given and encouragement to see the bullied child's points of view.
The children (bully and bullied) should be carefully assessed and closely monitored. The times, places and circumstances in which the risk of bullying is greatest should be ascertained and action taken to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Whatever plan of action is implemented after the above issues have been identified, the plan must be reviewed at regular intervals and amended if necessary to ensure that the bullying has ceased.
5. Further Information and Sources of Support
- The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA): Founded in 2002 by NSPCC and National Children's Bureau, the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) brings together over 100 organisations into one network to develop and share good practice across the whole range of bullying issues;
- Kidscape: Charity established to prevent bullying and promote child protection providing advice for young people, professionals and parents about different types of bullying and how to tackle it. They also offer specialist training and support for school staff, and assertiveness training for young people;
- The BIG Award: The Bullying Intervention Group (BIG) offer a national scheme and award for schools to tackle bullying effectively.
- ChildNet International: Specialist resources for young people to raise awareness of online safety and how to protect themselves;
- Think U Know: Resources provided by NCA- CEOP for children and young people, parents, carers and teachers on how to stay safe on a computer, tablet or phone;
- Digizen: Provide online safety information for educators, parents, carers and young people;
- Advice on Child Internet Safety: The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) has produced universal guidelines for providers on keeping children safe online;
- Sexting: How to Respond to an Incident: The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) an overview for staff on how to respond to incidents involving sexting.
- Ditch the Label: Resources to use when tackling gender stereotypes;
- EACH: A training agency for employers and organisations seeking to tackle discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation;
- Schools Out: Offers practical advice, resources (including lesson plans) and training to schools on LGBT equality in education;
- Stonewall: Resources to help schools, colleges and other settings ensure they are LGBT inclusive.
- Mencap: Represents people with learning disabilities, with specific advice and information for people who work with children and young people;
- Changing Faces: Provide online resources and training to schools on bullying because of physical difference;
- Cyberbullying and Children and Young People with SEN and Disabilities: Advice provided by the Anti-Bullying Alliance on developing effective anti-bullying practice.
- Racist and Faith Targeted Bullying: Information on racist and faith targeted bullying including top tips for schools, advice countering intolerance and prejudice, promoting shared values and what the law says;
- Show Racism the Red Card: Provide resources and workshops for schools to educate young people, often using the high profile of football, about racism;
- Kick it Out: Uses the appeal of football to educate young people about racism and provide education packs for schools;
- Anne Frank Trust: Runs a schools project to teach young people about Anne Frank and the Holocaust, the consequences of unchecked prejudice and discrimination, and cultural diversity.
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