Tips & Info
Tips & Info

Understanding Bullying

What is bullying?

Bullying is “when someone (or a group of people) with more power than you repeatedly and intentionally uses negative words and/or actions against you, which causes you distress and risks your wellbeing” (Bond, Carlin, Thomas, Rubin & Patton, 2001).

There are many different forms of bullying, including:

  • Verbal/emotional – name calling, putting someone down, ignoring and pulling faces at someone, ridiculing
  • Physical – poking, hitting, punching, kicking, pushing someone and destroying someone else’s property
  • Social (covert) – lying and spreading rumours about a person, deliberate excluding from friendship group, playing a horrible joke on someone
  • Cyberbullying – using technology to hurt someone else. For example, sending hurtful messages or pictures on a mobile phone, or bullying via a chat room or social networking site
  • Bullying can also involve someone making threats towards another person, or stalking behaviours.

In less common cases bullying can also be done by a teacher or other staff member at school. This can have just as much impact as bullying by other students, and can sometimes feel harder to address or talk about given the inherent power in the role a teacher has within the school setting.

Most schools around the world report some level of bullying between students. A 2009 study (see reference list) reported that one in four children in Australia will experience bullying. So….if you are experiencing bullying, you are NOT alone!

Bullying can cause lots of distress and suffering and its affects can last for a long time. This topic talks about ways to cope with bullying, and ways to stop it happening.

What are the effects of bullying?

Bullying can affect many aspects of a person’s life, including their psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing. Depending on the extent and frequency of the bullying, these effects can last for a long time.

Young people who are bullied may:

  • feel stressed, anxious, depressed, sad and/or angry
  • feel alone and alienated from others
  • feel sick (possibly vomit), experience headaches, lose their appetite
  • experience negative effects on one’s ability to cope and function e.g. with school work, or concentration generally
  • have difficulty getting to sleep at night, including worrying about going to school or seeing the bullying person/people

Bullying can also lead to:

  • lowered self esteem
  • shame and embarrassment
  • thoughts about wanting to run away
  •  thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself
You don't have to go through this alone.Anna, Kids Helpline Counsellor
Does talking help?

If you are being bullied, it is really important to talk to someone you trust about what is going on for you, as it can:

  • help you to feel heard and understood
  • allow you to gain a clearer picture of what is going on
  • help you get some ideas about ways of coping and how to get the bullying to stop

If you don’t talk about what’s going on, you might feel more and more alone and helpless. Sometimes this can lead to unhelpful ways of coping which can add to your problems – such as increased withdrawal from social contact, self harming or using drugs/alcohol to manage painful feelings.

If you are being bullied, you may feel ashamed or embarrassed about talking about it. This can happen because bullies are often quite good at knowing the right thing to say or do so that you feel unhappy about yourself. Remember – bullying is NEVER your fault even if it you feel like it is!

If I am being bullied – What can I do?

There are lots of things you can do to deal with bullying. Below are some ideas.

Walk away

Sometimes this can be the safest option. If you choose to walk away, go and speak to a teacher or someone in the school who you trust, especially if the bully has physically hurt you. This is important as it is possible the person who is doing the bullying will follow you until they get the response they are looking for


Responding to a bully may help give you a greater sense of power and control. A person’s confidence plays a big part in being able to respond to a bully. Even if you are not feeling confident, it helps to behave as if you are. Appear confident, body language and words need to communicate ‘confidence’. Confident body language includes:

  • having straight posture (don’t slump)
  • holding your head up straight
  • making eye contact
  • using your voice calmly yet firmly (do not express anger)
  • having a pleasant but blank facial expression. Note: If you keep a ‘poker face’, the bully may not be able to tell how you are feeling. This is important, as a bully wants the person who they are bullying to feel hurt, sad, confused, upset or angry (or a combination of these). If you don’t appear upset or distressed you will not provide any reinforcing feedback to them. (It can be hard to do this so don’t worry if you’re not able to hide a fearful or upset reaction)

Talk to someone

If you are being bullied, it is important to tell an adult you trust, e.g. a teacher, parent or counsellor etc. When you speak to this person, try to take your time telling your story – be honest about who is hurting you and what you would like done about it. If you speak to a person at school and the bullying continues, ensure you go back to that person and let them know. It can also help to keep a diary of bullying incidents including who was involved, the time it occurred, what happened and who you told about it. If you are worried about the person you tell acting to stop the bullying before you are ready, and possibly making it worse, then make sure you tell them how you are feeling about that. Depending on how severe the bullying is it may be okay to talk about it first, before any action required to stop it is taken.

What else can I do?
Within your school, you may want to talk to teachers about setting up a peer support system or peer mediators where selected students are chosen to support and empower students to work toward a non-violent school community.

Also, if you are being bullied, it is important that either you or your parents/carers request a copy of the school’s Anti Bullying Policy. Every school should have one and it will provide you with some guidelines as to how your school should be managing the situation. The school does have a duty of care to you which means they have a responsibility to ensure you are SAFE when at school.

When you see others being bullied

It’s important to respond when you see others being bullied!

If you see someone being bullied at your school, it is really important that you do not stand around and watch it happen. Take a stand against it by speaking to a teacher or the school counsellor. If every student acts when they witness bullying, it will go a long way to stopping it.

No one has the right to be a bully.Mandy, Kids Helpline Counsellor


Bond, L., Carlin, J., Thomas, L., Rubin, K. & Patton, G. (2001) Does bullying cause emotional problems? A prospective study of young teenagers. British Medical Journal; 323, 480-484. (Cited in 'Bullying Hurts...', Alannah and Madeline Foundation)There are no references in this article.

Cross, D., Shaw, T., Hearn, l., Epstein, M., Monks, H., Lester, L., & Thomas, L. 2009. Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study (ACBPS). Child Health Promotion Research Centre, Edith Cowan University, Perth. (Cited in 'Bullying Hurts...', Alannah and Madeline Foundation)

Field (1999) 'Bully Busting'. Lane Cove. Finch Publishing.

Kids Helpline (2009) Bullying Info Sheet

This topic was reviewed: February 2015

Share this post with your friends!