What is Bullying and How It Differs in Boys and Girls

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What is bullying and how does it differ in boys and girls? 

As a former teacher I sometimes had parents in to see me accusing other children in the class of bullying their children when it was often children trying to assert their independence or just not letting other kids into their game that day.

So what is the difference between bullying and how does it differ from teasing, messing about and actually becoming something more serious?

I think it’s helpful to actually define and clarify the difference between teasing, banter, mockery, joking, repartee, harassment, discrimination, bigotry and intolerance.

The dictionary defines it as an intentional act where the child who bullies wants to harm the victim.

Bullying is no accident.

It’s also characterised by repeat incidents as bullying is not generally considered a random act or a single incident. It’s all about the power differential as a fight between two kids of equal power is not bullying; bullying is a fight where the child who bullies has some advantage or power over the child who is victimised.

Fundamentally bullying is when someone keeps doing or saying things to have power over another person.

The form bullying can take.

The strategies bullies use to bully others often take the form of:

• Physical abuse such as hitting, kicking, beating up, pushing, spitting, damaging someone’s property or stealing from them.

• Verbal abuse such as teasing, mocking, name calling, verbal humiliation, verbal intimidation, threats, coercion, extortion, and/or racist, sexist or homophobic taunts.

• Social abuse such as gossip, rumour spreading, embarrassment, alienation or exclusion from the group, and/or setting the other up to take the blame.

• Cyber or electronic abuse and using the Internet, email or text messaging to threaten, hurt, single out, embarrass, spread malicious rumours, and/or reveal secrets about others.

Bullying and how boys and girls differ.

The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” couldn’t be further from the truth. While boys usually bully through intimidation, girls bully through exclusion, also called relational aggression.

Boys tend to be more physically aggressive as they naturally enjoy more physical activities and may be more accepting of bullying than girls as they enjoy competitive banter or verbal teasing in their general interactions.

Girls tend to bully other girls indirectly through their peer groups and rather than bully a targeted child directly, girls often share with others hurtful information about the targeted child through gossiping.

Some of the ways they bully other people are by: calling them names, saying or writing nasty things about them, leaving them out of activities, not talking to them, threatening them, making them feel uncomfortable or scared, taking or damaging their things, hitting or kicking them, or making them do things they don’t want to do. Older girls experience sexual bullying more often than boys through gossip and nasty rumours.

Ways To Help Girls.

Be a Positive Role Model.

I am a great believer in you, as a parent, understanding the vital role you play in your child’s life as a role model.

So one of the most powerful things you can do is to let your daughter see you handle conflict and talk openly about your emotions and how you feel. Also to admit when you’ve make mistakes and get things wrong because when your daughter sees you own up to your mistakes, she is much more likely to do that with her friends, and that means she isn’t trapped in the cycle of having to be perfect and covering up mistakes. So eliminating the need to put others down when they make mistakes is breaking the cycle of perfection.

• Give Her Permission to Express Her Angry Feelings at Home.

Girls are often taught that they “don’t do anger!” and that it’s not acceptable for them to let off steam, get angry and express how angry they feel – that’s it’s somehow not ladylike.

So rather than feeding into the temptation to smooth all her ruffled feathers, let her get upset! But help her to express her anger in healthy ways…. like banging a pillow, going for a run or shouting in the garden or even if it means slamming the door, it’s important that she realise conflict is a part of life that doesn’t need to be hidden.

Talk About Uncomfortable Feelings.

We don’t always feel comfortable letting girls sharing their less noble internal emotions such as jealousy, embarrassment, hurt, anger, or rage. But it’s important for girls to talk about and express their emotions and feelings at home so they can learn strategies for expressing them healthily.

If they learn to share them openly with their friends too they can build deeper, more fulfilling relationships without having to resolve to “bitching”, excluding and leaving people out when they have felt hurt or embarrassed.

A Safe Place To Explore.

Your home should be a place where your children learn how to practice during conflicts. It’s a safe place to let off steam, say what’s annoying, frustrating and driving them crazy and express their needs clearly so they feel heard. It’s also a place to compromise; learn when to step in and when to hold back and how to negotiate without attacking each others characters. It’s about getting things out in the open in a safe, controlled way.

All these strategies help eliminate the need to bully another to get their needs met.

Encourage Role-Play.

This can be a valuable tool for helping your daughter deal with conflict more confidently and honestly. If your daughter is facing a difficult conversation with her friend or a person in her class, practice asking questions and imagining how it will go, with you perhaps pretending to be the friend.

Ask your daughter open ended questions like “How could you start this conversation off on a good footing? What sorts of things could you say to let her know how you’re feeling? How might they react? What do want the outcome to be at the end of the conversation?” These strategies empower your daughter with the bigger picture, help her articulate her thoughts and help her feel more confident in difficult situations.

Make Your Home a Push- Up Not a Put-Down Zone.

Be aware of the language you all use in your home from self deprecating to the jokes and teasing you allow. It’s all about getting balance between genuine put downs that hurt and push ups that empower self esteem.

Whenever anyone in your house uses language to put themselves down from “I’m bad at spelling” to “I look terrible in this” maybe do something silly to remind them that they are being negative and use a catch phrase or a sign to change their mindset.

These techniques help teach girls to be resilient, which is an essential part of dealing with bullying. It’s not realistic to think your daughter will never have problems but you want to teach her to be emotionally empowered and confident in order to manage these situations more effectively and successfully.

Ways to Help Boys

The most common bullying behaviours are learned and so they can be unlearned. So starting young is very important with boys.

• Intervene

Whenever you see your son being mean or physically unkind to another child or showing bullying behaviour, you need to stop it right away and teach him the right way to behave.

Showing boys how to do this will speed up the learning process if you are consistent, persistent and insistent.

• Supervise

To prevent boys from becoming bullies it’s a good idea to supervise them. They need your guidance and expectations about what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour and they learn it first from you. They need your supervision so that they are less inclined to behave badly in the first place.

You’ll be able to catch them at times when they are aggressive and can explain why that type of behaviour is unacceptable and then teach them the right way to behave.

Don’t reward bad behaviour

Be aware of not rewarding bullying types of behaviour. Don’t let them get away with taking toys away from younger siblings or teasing a younger brother or sister too much. When you don’t talk about these behaviours you are letting your son see that bullying will give him what he wants, so he will continue with the bullying behaviour.

Being a positive role model

You are a role model in all that you do so in preventing boys from being bullies it’s also a good idea not to use any type of harsh, physical punishment. Smacking shows your son that hitting is actually acceptable and okay to hit people that are smaller than they are. So think of more positive ways to get your message across – like removing them from the situation, clearly telling them off or denying them something they want.

Giving positive praise

Giving your son plenty of positive praise will also help you in keeping your boys from being bullies. All children like positive praise and keeping your child’s environment positive will help them from thinking the world is a harsh place.

When you create a positive environment for your son to grow up in you are helping him to not always be striking out at the environment first which is typical bully behaviour. Reward your son with lots of positive praise, hugs and help him to use his words first rather than his fists to express himself.

  • Being clear on your values

There are a lot of reasons why some children bully. They may see it as a way of being popular, or making themselves look tough and in charge. Some bullies do it to get attention or things, or to make other people afraid of them so they feel better about themselves. Others might be jealous of the person they are bullying or they may be being bullied themselves at home and think that’s it normal behaviour.

But if you are clear on your values, expect your children to behave with tolerance, compassion and kindness you are giving them a gift not only to themselves but to society as a whole regardless of whether they are girls or boys.

Here are some helpful and supportive websites:




Click on the link to download my Bullying Diary to keep a record of incidences so you have tangible evidence to tell teachers, schools or the police.

Pass It Forward Month! So if you have found this blog helpful and thought provoking please pass it forward to your friends, colleagues, schools and nurseries……. because as they say….“Alone we can do so little together we can do so much”

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