What is bullying?

Bullying is the use of power by a person or group of people to intentionally cause physical or psychological harm to another person or group of people. It includes humiliating, demeaning or threatening behavior and can occur anywhere - at school, home, at work or online .


Relating to, arising in, or affecting the mind.


Signs your child might be being bullied include:

  • Unexplained bruises, scratches or other injuries;
  • Missing or damaged belongings and clothes;
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns;
  • Frequent fluctuations in mood, or anger problems;
  • Feeling ill in the morning or not wanting to go to school;
  • Changes in the route they take to school;
  • Appearing insecure or frightened;
  • Their grades at school fall;
  • They are often 'losing' money or stealing, and;
  • They refuse to talk about what is wrong and become withdrawn.

Risk factors

Although anyone can be a victim of bullying, some people are at greater risk of bullying than others, including people who are:

  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex;
  • Perceived as being weak and unable to defend themselves;
  • Less popular than others;
  • From a poor socio-economic background;
  • Low in confidence and self-esteem;
  • Experiencing depression or anxiety;
  • Disabled, or;
  • Perceived as annoying, antagonistic or attention-seeking.

A boy being bullied.A victim of bullying can become insecure and frightened. 


A feeling of tension, nervousness and dread about future events. It can trigger physical symptoms such as a rapid pulse or breathing difficulties.


A range of conditions in which an individual has sexual organs and/or sex chromosomes that don't seem to fit the typical definition of a male or female.


When people think of bullying, a lot of people think of the physical element of it, but there is also an important psychological element to bullying. You don't have to punch someone to hurt them. Verbal abuse can also be very hurtful.


Cyberbullying can occur on the Internet in social sites such as social media sites, chat rooms, video chat and blogs. Cyberbullying can often be difficult to identify, but it is just as important to address. It can include things such as:

  • Impersonating someone else online;
  • Spreading rumors or lies about someone;
  • Tricking others into revealing private information;
  • Posting pictures of others without their consent, and;
  • Sending people mean messages.

Workplace bullying

Examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Refusal by colleague(s) or a boss to acknowledge your achievements and contributions;
  • Isolation or separation from colleagues;
  • Having unrealistic goals set for you, which then change as you near accomplishing them;
  • Being singled out or treated differently to others;
  • Having your work or credit stolen or plagiarized;
  • Being given more responsibility, but less authority;
  • Being given too much work causing an overload;
  • Having significant work replaced with menial tasks, or not getting enough work;
  • Not being trained to perform duties you are expected to perform, and;
  • Being humiliated, threatened, patronized or demeaned, either in private or in front of others.


Relating to, arising in, or affecting the mind.

Dos and don'ts

If your child has experienced bullying, do not:

  • Tell them to ignore it;
  • Blame a young person for being bullied, or assume they have provoked it;
  • Criticize how they have dealt with being bullied;
  • Contact the bully or their parents, or;
  • Encourage your child to retaliate or 'fight back'.

Instead, do:

  • Let them know you are glad they told you about it;
  • Listen to what they have to say;
  • Reassure them that you will take helpful action;
  • Collect evidence such as screenshots, if the bullying is online;
  • Contact a teacher and/or principal to discuss finding a solution, and;
  • Contact school authorities if bullying continues after speaking with the principal.

If your child is bullying other children, do:

  • Stay calm and talk to your child, focusing on this specific aspect of their behavior rather than on them generally;
  • Explain why their behavior is inappropriate and make sure they understand;
  • Give them clear boundaries;
  • Encourage them to think from the other child's perspective ('would you like it if someone did that to you?');
  • Teach them there are more positive ways to interact with others than asserting their dominance or control over them;
  • Teach them social and conflict resolution skills, and;
  • Take the opportunity to reflect on the behavior of others within your family, as children tend to copy their family members.

If you are being bullied at school, do:

  • Look the bully in the eye and tell them to leave you alone;
  • Walk away from the bully, and;
  • Tell an adult or teacher.

If you are being bullied in the workplace politely ask for the behavior to stop. If this does not work, have a neutral person mediate a discussion and try to arrive at a resolution. If this, too, does not work, or if the bullying is serious, file a report as specified in your organization's policies and ask for a formal investigation.


Schools and workplaces can work to prevent or stop bullying by:

  • Creating policies and rules, including a mission statement, code of conduct and reporting system to assess how often bullying happens and how it is responded to;
  • Providing training to staff members or teachers about the school or workplace policies and rules, as well as training in the conflict resolution skills needed to intervene to enforce them when necessary, and;
  • Establishing a culture of acceptance, respect and inclusiveness, and reinforcing it at staff meetings and school assemblies.

FAQ Frequently asked questions