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Supporting children who bully

There are many tools and resources available for schools about how to prevent and respond to bullying incidence in schools. There is, however, very little guidance available about how to support children who display bullying behaviour. In late 2020, we consulted with young people about how to support young people who bully. We have combined their views with the available academic research and our anti-bullying expertise to develop a guide for schools and other settings. Some of the key points are included below and you can read the guide via the image below or a link at the bottom of this page. 

Guide front cover

Consider your school environment 

Whilst it is important to understand the characteristics of the children that are bullying in your school, it is just as important to consider the characteristics of the school environment. For example, are there areas of the school that are under-supervised such as home-to-school transport or toilet areas? Does your school policy outline expectations relating to how we treat each other well enough and are these modeled by all staff in school? Do you have any issues with discriminatory or derogatory use of language?

Bullying is a behaviour choice, not something you are

It is important to not label individual children and we recommend to avoid using the term ‘bully’ to describe children who are displaying bullying behaviour. There are a number of reasons for this.

  • It implies to children that it is what they are rather than something they choose to do.
  • It is often used as a pejorative term among children and young people and can be unhelpful.

The term victim is problematic – it can mean different things to different people. Because of this, ABA recommends that schools use the term ‘child who has been bullied’, or ‘target of bullying’.

Bullying is a group behaviour

Research undertaken in Finland by Christina Salmivalli (1996) gave us a greater understanding of the roles involved in bullying. It showed that the traditional view of bullying where there is a ‘victim’ and a ‘bully’ was much more complicated. We have taken and developed these roles (you can find out more about the roles in the guide and in Course 1: What is bullying? in our free CPD online training): 

Outline of roles involved in bullying

These roles are not static. Children and adults can play different roles depending on the situation they are in. Bullying is seen to be a group phenomenon. Others can have a significant influence on the outcomes of behaviours in school either intentionally or otherwise. By utilising these roles and encouraging other options, such as not laughing along or checking in after the incident to say that you will help a target to report, you can have a positive effect on bullying incidents. For children that are bullying, they can often feel very stuck in their negative and hurtful behaviour. They can feel trapped in a cycle themselves and find it hard to see how they are able to change. They may, for example, be trying to ‘impress’ other children or have experienced bullying themselves. It is therefore often helpful to look at the wider group when developing responses to bullying.

Ask yourself a key question: What / who is incentivising the ringleader to continue their behaviour?

Key bullying question image


25 Feb 2021

External Tools and Research