Working with families whose child is bullying

An evidence-based guide for practitioners
CFCA Paper No. 26 – July 2014

The problem of bullying

There is now strong evidence for a substantial link between children who bully their peers and later offending and depression.

Bullying among school-age children is a major problem, with estimates of 5-15% of children bullying their peers (Craig & Harel, 2004; Kärnä, Voeten, Paskiparta, & Salmivalli, 2010; Pellegrini, Bartini, & Brooks, 1999) and some 25% of Australian children reporting being victims of bullying at school (Cross et al., 2009).

As noted in Children Who Bully at School, bullying experiences are associated with a number of behavioural, emotional, and physical adjustment problems for both the victim and the child who bullies. Compared to young people who only bully or who are only victims, bully-victims suffer the most serious consequences and are at greater risk for both mental health and behaviour problems.

Young people who bully others are more likely to:

  • do poorly in school;
  • turn to violence as a way to deal with problems;
  • damage property or steal;
  • abuse drugs or alcohol; and
  • get in trouble with the law.

While bullying has been defined in different ways in the literature, most agree that bullying among school-age children includes all or most of the following elements:

  • aggression;
  • intentional hurtfulness;
  • abuse of power (asymmetric conflict); and
  • repetition.

Importantly, bullying is distinct from interpersonal conflicts or "rough play".