Bullying or Unkind Behavior? How to Know the Difference

Teasing and Bullying Are Not the Same

boy pulling girl's braid in class
Vstock LLC/Tetra images/Getty Images

While bullying behavior is unkind, not every unkind behavior is bullying.

Kids, especially young kids, are still learning how emotions work and how to  get along with others. They need parents, teachers and other adults to model kindness, conflict resolution, inclusion, and responsibility.

Therefore, when kids occasionally do or say something that is hurtful it's inappropriate to label them a bully.

 Instead, try to distinguish between hurtful or unkind behavior and bullying behavior.

Here are some examples of non-bullying behavior.

Expressing Negative Thoughts and Feelings Is Not Bullying

Children are often open and honest with thoughts and feelings. Young children will speak the truth without thinking about the consequences. For example, "Why is your mom so fat?"

These types of unkind remarks are not bullying. They usually come from a place of innocence and an adult should give them ideas on how to say things in a way that it isn't offensive.

It’s also important children on the receiving end of unkind remarks learn how to communicate their feelings with the offending adult or child. For instance, it is healthy to say “I felt hurt when you laughed at my new braces” or “I don’t like it when you call my mom fat.”

Being Left Out Is Not Bullying

It is natural for kids to have a select group of close friends.

Although children should be friendly and kind toward everyone, it’s unrealistic to expect them to be close friends with every child they know.

It’s also normal that your child will not get an invitation to every function or event. There will be times when they are left off the guest list for birthday parties, outings and play dates.

This is not the same thing as ostracizing behavior, which is bullying.

When your children feel left out, remind them that sometimes they too have to choose not to include everyone.

Experiencing Conflict Is Not Bullying

Kids bicker and fight, and learning to deal with conflict is a normal part of growing up. The key is for children to learn how to solve their problems peacefully and respectfully.

A fight or a disagreement does not represent bullying – even when kids make unkind remarks. A spat or disagreement with a classmate here and there is not bullying.

Teasing Is Not Bullying

Most kids get teased by friends and siblings in a playful, friendly or mutual way. They both laugh and no one’s feelings get hurt. Teasing is not bullying as long as both kids find it funny. But when teasing becomes cruel, unkind and repetitive, it crosses the line into bullying.

Joking and teasing becomes bullying when there is a conscious decision to hurt another person. Teasing becomes bullying when kids:

  • make demeaning comments
  • engage in name-calling
  • spread unsavory rumors
  • make threats

Not Playing Fair Is Not Bullying

Wanting games to be played a certain way is not bullying. Only when a child begins to consistently threaten other kids or physically hurt them when things don’t go his way does it start to become bullying.

If your child has bossy friends, teach them how to respond to the bossy behavior. For example, your child could say: “Let’s play your way, the first time. Then, let’s try my way.”

Continue Reading