Types of Bullying: How to Recognize and Stop Bullying in the Classroom

When you think of a bully, the stereotypical visual of the “big kid” in class pushing down a smaller, weaker child on the playground likely comes to mind. But did you know there are actually distinct types of bullying that go well beyond physical altercations?

Below, we’ll cover these different types of bullying – including physical, verbal, relational, and cyberbullying – and how teachers can recognize, stop and even prevent bullying in the classroom to keep kiddos safe.

The State of Bullying

Bullying is one of the most concerning social interactions facing children and schools today. While the media often picks up viral stories of bullying in high school, researchers have shown that bullying behaviors are learned much earlier in life. In fact, preschool is often the first time children are exposed to a social group, and it’s common for children to begin experimenting with different types of social interactions. Part of a teacher’s responsibility is to create a positive social environment that keeps all little learners safe at school not only physically, but also emotionally and mentally.

The national statistics about bullying are staggering: according to StopBullying.gov, about 20% of students ages 12-18 experienced bullying nationwide, with 15% of those reporting they were bullied online or via text. Only 46% of students ages 12-18 who were bullied during the school year notified an adult at school about the bullying. Reinforcing positive, anti-bullying behavior in the early childhood age group can help prevent bullying as little ones age up into elementary, middle, and high school.

How to Recognize Bullying Behavior

At its core, bullying is a combination of unwanted aggressive behavior, real or perceived power imbalance, and the potential for repetition of that negative behavior.

Depending on the type of bullying, it can be difficult to recognize when bullying in the classroom is taking place. Bullying behaviors can range from obvious and highly visible (punching or hitting) to subtle and virtually invisible to everyone except its victim and participants.

The four most common types of bullying are physical, verbal, relational, and cyberbullying.

  • Physical Bullying: This is the most obvious form of intimidation and the easiest for educators and parents to spot. It can include kicking, hitting, punching, and threats of physical violence. Younger children may be more apt to bite or pull hair.
  • Verbal Bullying: Name calling, making fun of someone and persistent teasing are all examples of verbal bullying behavior. This can be harder to identify because kids will purposely wait until out of earshot or line of sight of adults, especially teachers. Targets of verbal bullying are often those perceived as vulnerable or somehow “different” than others based on how they look, act, or behave.
  • Relational Bullying: This type of bullying, also known as social bullying, typically happens indirectly or behind the back of the intended target. An individual who relies on this type of bullying often wants to gain status by diminishing the social standing of another. Exclusionary behavior may include purposefully leaving someone out from a social activity (think: a sleepover or birthday party), spreading hurtful or embarrassing rumors, or even encouraging others to adopt similar social behaviors toward the target.
  • Cyberbullying: Although this type of bullying doesn’t typically affect younger kiddos, cyberbullying has become widespread today as a result of teens having unlimited access to digital devices, and is still important to understand. With the ability for perpetrators to hide behind screens, it’s also the hardest category to keep tabs on, and bullying might come from someone you wouldn’t expect. Victims often feel alone and ostracized from their peers, with nowhere to hide from invasive attacks.

Look out for mood and behavioral changes in young students, and consider regular check-ins with anyone who seems withdrawn or distant. Always flag any concerns in real-time to school administration and parents.

How To Address Bullying in the Classroom?

Teachers can be overworked and under-resourced, and it may feel like the last thing an educator has time for is to play the role of mediator when there is bullying in the classroom (or outside of it). But there is a lot at stake in these situations, as both kids who are bullied and those who bully others may have serious, lasting problems throughout their lives.

  • Intervene ASAP: If bullying behavior is reported by the victim or a fellow teacher, gather all of the information you can quickly, and collect a log of concerning behaviors if helpful. If bullying is witnessed firsthand, intervene on the spot and in the moment to make it clear that it is unacceptable behavior in or out of the classroom.
  • Get others involved for support: Reach out to parents as well as school administration and counselors to discuss the situation and how to best move forward together.
  • Create and promote a culture of respect: Most schools have anti-bullying programming in place, but encouraging a positive environment involves the entire school community—not only students and families but also administrators, teachers, and staff such as bus drivers, nurses, cafeteria and front office staff.

Preventing Bullying Behaviors

Before any type of bullying takes hold in a classroom, teachers can proactively educate students about why a culture of respect is so important, and empower those who may be bystanders to bullying to speak up in the future. Emphasize how each one of them can make a huge difference when they intervene on behalf of someone being bullied.

Consider posting fun classroom signs encouraging little learners to “Be Kind,” “Be a Buddy, Not a Bully,” “You Can Sit with Me” or similar daily reminders. Never underestimate the power of a teacher’s impact: according to StopBullying.gov, studies also have shown that adults can help prevent bullying by talking to children about it, encouraging them to do what they love, modeling kindness and respect with others, and seeking help when needed.

Want to learn more about bullying in the classroom? CCEI offers GUI 100: Bullying in the Preschool Environment, a one-hour, beginner-level course that addresses how teachers can create a positive social environment that teaches children appropriate social interactions in order to prevent bullying behaviors from an early age.

CCEI also offers additional related courses about conflict resolution in the classroom, foundations of positive guidance, and understanding aggressive and defiant behaviors in students.

Click here to learn more about these offerings, as well as CCEI’s entire catalog of courses designed to help you be the best educator possible!