Recognizing and Responding to Bullying

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By Nicole Perry, BA, CCLS

Recognizing and Responding to Bullying

Is my child being bullied?

It is important to note that bullying behaviors differ from the rude or mean behaviors we sometimes see in children. Rude behaviors involve unintentionally saying or doing something that hurts another person. Rude behaviors are usually unplanned and are based on carelessness or poor manners, but they are not meant to actually hurt someone. With children, rude behaviors might include interrupting someone who is speaking, burping in someone’s face, or cutting ahead in the lunch line. On the contrary, mean behaviors involve purposefully saying or doing something to hurt another person once or twice. Examples include criticizing someone’s appearance or intelligence or coolness. Mean behavior in children is usually motivated by angry feelings or even jealousy, and the mean person usually feels a sense of guilt or remorse afterwards.1

Bullying, however, involves an imbalance of power between two people. The bully seeks to intentionally make another child (the target) feel inferior, often causing shame and embarrassment to the target. The bully finds a sense of power and satisfaction in making the target feel so bad, and the bully has no sense of remorse for his or her behavior. To be classified as bullying, the behavior must be intentional, aggressive, and repeated over time.

Types of bulling include the following:

  • Verbal bullying—Using words that intentionally hurt the target and includes insults, teasing, and putting someone down. Verbal bullying would include repeatedly making fun of a burn survivor’s scars, or repeatedly telling someone they are ugly, fat, or lame, for example.
  • Physical bullying—Purposefully and aggressively causing physical harm to the target, such as hitting, kicking, punching, slapping, or tripping.
  • Social bullying—Involves using relationships to socially isolate the target, including spreading rumors, telling others not to be friends with someone, purposefully leaving someone out, and publicly embarrassing another person.
  • Cyberbullying—Using the internet, phones, or other technological devices to hurt or embarrass another person. This might include texting mean photos or posting something mean on social media.

How can I help support my child?

Children and teens may try to downplay that they’ve been bullied due to the embarrassment and shame they feel. By keeping an open dialogue with your child at home and providing education about bullying behaviors, your child will be more likely to seek your support and guidance in the event of bullying.

Practicing skills with your child in advance can help your child to feel prepared to address a bully. You can teach your child how to respond to a bully with these 3 simple steps:

  • WALK—Your child has the power to walk away from the bully. Empower your child to remove him or herself from the situation if possible.
  • TALK—Speak up to the bully and tell the bully to stop. If your child feels safe enough, he or she can stand up straight, look the bully in the eye, and use a firm tone of voice to tell the bully to stop. Your child might say, “Leave me alone! You are being a bully and I do not have to take this behavior!”
  • REPORT—Tell a teacher, parent, school counselor, or any other trusted adult so further adult intervention can be provided.

If your child does report bullying to you, you have the right to advocate for him or her. Ask the school for a specific plan of action and be sure to follow up on the progress of this plan with both your child and the school.

For more information on social confidence and control, check out the Phoenix Society’s “STEPS” from the Beyond Surviving Tools for Thriving After a Burn Injury program at www.

1. Whitson S. Rude vs. mean vs. bullying: defining the differences. Huffington Post – The Blog. 2012 (updated 2016).
Available at: http:// Accessed November 17, 2016.


Nicole Perry is the Phoenix Society’s Program Manager for Youth and Family Services.


This story is an excerpt from The Phoenix Society’s® Burn Support Magazine, Issue 3, 2016.  Burn Support Magazine is a tri-annual publication that contains articles on the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of burn recovery.  All Rights Reserved.
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