How to recognise bullying and do something about it

A survey of schools1 in 40 different countries found that Australian Primary Schools claim to have one of the highest bullying rates in the world. 25% of year 4 students are affected by bullying, with the number rising to a shocking 35% in the final two years of primary school.

With the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence on the 18th of March, now is an important time to become fully educated on what bullying is, how to recognise bullying, what to do if someone is being bullied or if your child is a victim, and what others can do to go as a ‘bystander’ to an ‘upstander’.

There are four types of bullying:

  • Verbal - which includes name calling, ignoring, or ridiculing someone,
  • Physical - such as poking, hitting, punching, kicking, pushing or destroying someone’s property,
  • Covert - which includes lying or spreading rumors, deliberate exclusion from friendship groups, or playing horrible jokes on somebody, and
  • Cyber bullying - which is using technology to send hurtful messages or pictures on mobile devices, PCs and via social media.

Although bullying is not rare, it is important to acknowledge that some conflicts between children are to be expected. Single episodes of rejection, nastiness, random acts of intimidation, hostility, or mutual disagreements are not considered bullying.

However, there are some clear signs to recognise if someone is being bullied, such as mood swings, becoming withdrawn, frequent tears, bursts of anger, unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches, missing or damaged belongings. Other signs include avoidance of school, fall in academic results, becoming upset after going online, minimizing the computer screen and hiding mobile phones when around other people.

If you suspect your child is the victim of bullying behavior, talk to them about what might be going on. It is important for children to express how they are feeling. Together, decide on some strategies in the first instance which could be blocking online bullies or walking away (learn how you can create conversations with your children about cybersafety). If confronted by the bully, you can suggest your child holds their heads up straight, uses a calm yet firm voice and tries to act unimpressed.

It is very important for your child to speak up and seek support if the behaviors do not stop. Encourage them to confide in you or another family member, friend, teacher, or counselor. Organisations such as Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) also offer counseling over the phone, web chat and email part of Life Education’s module Harold’s Diary also covers helpful strategies to manage bullying and bCyberwise provides information to stay safe online.

Even if your child is not experiencing bullying themselves, there are ways in which they can help peers around them who may be suffering under the wrath of a bully. A bystander is a person who has seen another being repetitively hurt by a bully, yet stand and watch in silence or simply turn their back on the whole situation. Although a bystander is not actively taking part in the bullying, some might think that knowing but doing nothing about it is just as harmful.

To go from a bystander to an upstander (which is someone who recognises when something is wrong and acts to make it right), can be simple. Speaking to a teacher, school counselor or trusted adult about what they saw can often be the first step in freeing another individual from the cycle of bullying.

 For more information about our modules related to bullying:


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1. Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., & Foy, P. (with Olson, J.F., Preuschoff, C., Erberber, E., Arora, A., & Galia, J.). (2008)