Smart Answers to Parents’ Toughest Questions:

What is Bullying?

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Is bullying physical aggression, name-calling, or teasing? Is it bullying when one kid rolls his eyes at another child?

“We say behavior is bullying if it is repeated, continues over time, and is used to harass the same target. Teasing, name-calling, and exclusion are all bullying behaviors. However, I don’t like to label a child a bully, because that's a kind of name-calling in itself.”—Dr. Karen Siris, elementary school principal, Oceanside, New York, and adjunct professor, Adelphi University “Eye-rolling is definitely bullying. Kids think they can get away with it since nobody hears them. Some parents may think it’s trivial, but I’ve seen kids devastated by eye-rolling and whispering. Sometimes kids don’t yet have the social skills to understand the seriousness of what they’re doing and the effect their behavior has on other children. We work on making them more aware. —Kristie Pattison, guidance counselor, Marbletown Elementary School, Accord, New York “Bullying is intended to be hurtful, takes place over time, and involves an imbalance in power. A child who is hurt by intentional, repeated teasing or name-calling is the target of bullying. Kids are different in their reactions, and some are more sensitive than others. It’s often hard for parents to realize how painful teasing can be.” —Dr. Peter Sheras, director of clinical training, clinical and school psychology, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, author of Your Child: Bully or Victim? Understanding and Ending School Yard Tyranny (Fireside 2002) and I Can't Believe You Went Through My Stuff! (Fireside 2004)

Is a bossy friend a bully?

“Being bossy is different from bullying. It’s generally easier to confront a bossy friend than to confront a bully because friends have equal status. When a sibling is doing something to intentionally dominate or intimidate the other, especially when there’s an age difference, parents need to step in.” —Dr. Sheras “When children are truly friends, they respect each other’s idiosyncratic traits—one of which may be bossiness. However, there’s a fine line between being a bossy kid and using undue power over another. When a relationship of friendship does not exist between two children, then the bossy behavior is usually unhealthy.” —Dr. Siris “It’s important that a child talks about the bossy friend early so it doesn't turn into bullying.” —Ms. Pattison