Types of bullying and what you can do

There are three general types of bullying, but all stem from a power imbalance. Find out what you can do to help your child through a difficult time.

There are three types of bullying: Verbal bullying, social bullying and physical bullying. Bullies use these strategies to gain control over a child emotionally or even sexually. It can happen anywhere – at school, out of school, on the bus, on the internet.

At that root of bullying is aggressive behavior that takes advantage of a power imbalance. The power dynamic can center on physical strength, possession of embarrassing information or any leverage that can be used to control and harm others.

Regardless of the type of bullying, parents can help kids deal with it. But unless your child tells you or comes home with visible injuries, it can be hard to know it’s happening.

“Make note of changes in behavior, appearing anxious, withdrawing from normally enjoyable activities, not eating and not sleeping well,” said Katy Hopkins, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist with Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Avoiding situations such as taking the bus to school or avoiding school altogether can be especially revealing.”

You can try to start a conversation by talking about experiences you or another family member had with bullying. Let your kids know that it’s important to talk to an adult about it if they are being bullied or see it happening to someone else.

Worried about your child’s stress?

Talking to kids about their concerns may not be enough. If your child isn’t feeling better, it’s time to meet with your child’s pediatrician.

Types of bullying

Verbal bullying

This covers both spoken and written forms. Examples include:

  • Name-calling
  • Mocking
  • Hurtful teasing
  • Insults
  • Slurs and racist comments
  • Humiliation
  • Threats
  • Racist comments
  • Sexual harassment

Social bullying

This type of bullying involves public humiliation. Examples include:

  • Intentionally excluding the victim
  • Telling others not to be friends with them
  • Spreading rumors
  • Embarrassing them in public

Physical bullying

This type of bullying causes harm to the child’s body or possessions and includes: 

  • Hitting or kicking
  • Pinching
  • Spitting
  • Tripping or pushing
  • Taking or breaking possessions
  • Rude hand gestures
  • Unwanted and inappropriate touching

When bullying involves devices like smartphones, computers and gaming systems, it’s considered cyberbullying and can be illegal.

Responding to and preventing bullying 

Just talking with your child about their experiences and listening can help them feel less alone. You can also support your child by asking about school policies around bullying. Find out if teachers or the principal may be able to help. And encourage your child to think through their options for responding to a bully when an adult can’t be there. 

The steps below may help: 

  • Avoid the bully. 
  • Ask a friend to stay close by, and volunteer to be a friend for another child. 
  • Tell the bully to stop in a firm and clear voice, then walk away. 
  • Don’t let the bully see you get upset – that gives the bully a feeling of power. 
  • Ignore the bully. This gives the impression that the child doesn’t care and helps fix the power imbalance.

“Regardless of the type of bullying, fighting or even bullying back is not going to resolve the problem,” said Brittany K. Badal, M.D., adolescent medicine specialist at Norton Children’s Medical Group – Novak Center. “Help kids understand what bullying is so they can identify it and keep the lines of communication open by listening to your kids.”

More resources are available at StopBullying.gov.