What is Bullying? (And What is NOT Bullying?)

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and at COMPASSION IT, we encourage schools and parents to introduce compassion to prevent and curb bullying. Our reversible wristbands are an easy and tangible tool that make compassion accessible for all ages.

If you’re a parent or an educator, you might share my fears. My daughter, Hannah, hasn’t been bullied yet, but I know it could start happening any day. How will I be able to recognize if a bully is targeting Hannah? How will I handle that? Or worse, what will I do if SHE is the bully?

In order for children to thrive and learn, they need to feel safe. And if you’re an educator or a parent, it’s important to understand bullying and how compassion can be the antidote. So, that’s why I’ve created a five-part series to help understand how to spot bullying, how to combat bullying, and why it’s important to bring compassion into the mix.

According to StopBullying.gov, the definition of bullying is:

“unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

The key point is that bullying is targeted, intentional, and repetitive; it is a pattern of behaviors that harms a child.

Bullying can take many forms, and there are four categories of bullying:

1) Verbal Bullying – This includes teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, and taunting.

2) Social Bullying – Often referred to as relational bullying, social bullying happens when someone is trying to deliberately hurt another’s reputation. This includes spreading rumors, repeatedly excluding someone, and telling other children not to be friends with someone.

3) Physical Bullying – This includes hitting, pushing, tripping, stealing possessions, and sexual assault. Boys are more likely to participate in physical bullying than girls.

4) Cyber-Bullying – Cyber bullies use the internet (social media, mostly) to target their victims. Rumors and insults can quickly spread through social media, and it’s nearly impossible to eradicate them.

Sometimes, we may categorize certain behaviors as bullying, but they’re not deliberate or repetitive. Conflict and drama are not always bullying.

Bullying is NOT:

1) Excluding someone – It is not considered bullying if children exclude someone on the playground now and then or don’t invite someone to a party. Repeated and deliberate exclusion, however, can be bullying.

2) Disliking someone – Children may verbally or nonverbally communicate their dislike of another child. This is okay, as long as they don’t start rumors or verbally abuse the other child.

3) Accidental physical harm – A child might unintentionally bump into or trip another child. This it is not bullying if it is not deliberate.

4) Being “bossy” – It is natural to want friends to play a certain way, and some children take the role of being the director. Learning to lead skillfully is a lifelong process, and most kids haven’t mastered it.

5) Telling a joke about someone (once) – While this is not great behavior, it is not considered bullying unless there are repeated instances. Of course we should teach our children that one single joke about someone may hurt that child’s feelings, and it’s not okay.

6) Arguments – We all argue, and arguments will inevitably happen at school.

While the above six behaviors are not ideal, they are not bullying. And as parents and educators, we should teach children to refrain from acting in ways that may hurt another, whether it’s a one-time thing or not. Nonetheless, it’s important to understand the difference between bullying and general conflict or unskilled behavior.

Case Study: Oglethorpe Point Elementary School in St. Simons Island, Ga., flipped the conversation on bullying. Read about how they made Compassion a priority after losing a kindergartner to cancer.

Use this free lesson plan to help you introduce COMPASSION IT to your students. And order COMPASSION IT wristbands as a simple tool for introducing compassion to children.

Sources include: Family Matters Practical Parenting Blog, StopBullying.gov, http://www.pacerkidsagainstbullying.org

About Compassion It

Compassion It is a nonprofit whose mission is to spread compassion and inspire compassionate actions through workplace training, personal development training, tools, and content. We envision a world where compassion is practiced by every person, for every person, on every day.

Learn how to “Compassion It” and build a more compassionate world. Share our mission and become a Compassion It Advocate.

Also, did you know we offer compassion training for your workplace? Learn how our training can reduce burnout, help your organization’s bottom line, and foster a more compassionate workplace.


  1. Raina on October 5, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    When people are getting bullied they dont like it because the person said something that isnt wright for an example. They said to the other kid that they are not cool and if someone sticks up for that kid they will just get bullied and if it gets far they go and tell a teacher that is a wright thing to do people should stop bullying.

  2. edward keeling at honley high school year 11 on December 4, 2017 at 11:43 am

    this is a brilliant website

    • Compassion It Team on December 5, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      Thanks so much, Edward!

  3. Harlow on December 13, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    when I was in high school I got bullied from y8-y10 and Ik how people feel its horrible its mean and you are thinking why are they doing this to me?why me?what have I done? so many questions going around your head, but still you don’t know the answers to any of them. when I was getting bullied the bully(s)never listened to the teachers they just ignored everything they said to them.and it got to a point where I didn’t go to school

    • Compassion It Team on December 15, 2017 at 8:28 pm

      Than you for sharing this, Harlow. I’m so sorry to hear you were bullied. It’s awful to hear that your teachers didn’t have the proper tools to handle the situation. Sending compassion your way…

    • Elsa Collins on January 24, 2018 at 5:35 pm

      Teachers should monitor students, put cameras(evidence), teach and encourage pupils to respect and be caring towards each-other, anti- bullying ambassadors, zero tolerance on bullying.

  4. Turks on December 15, 2017 at 10:23 am

    This website was very helpful… Turks 2017

  5. Elise D on February 20, 2020 at 8:21 pm

    Is it bullying if my partner in science class pushes me into the counter, hits me (not like har hard but hard enough to hurt), stabs and pokes me with his pencil, and also says stuff about me like small insults almost every day and sometimes does multiple of those things daily?

    • Compassion It Team on March 5, 2020 at 11:14 pm

      Yes, that sounds like bullying and should be reported. Do you feel comfortable sharing this with any adults in your life? The science teacher?

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