Parents Corner

How to Tell the Difference between Bullying and Fighting


Do you know the difference between bullying and fighting? Researchers have found that many parents struggle to know when it’s bullying or just everyday quarrels between friends, classmates, or siblings. This article will help you learn more.

Children learn important social and emotional skills when they navigate differences with others. Depending on a child’s level of skill and their emotional state, these clashes can often be resolved with minimal to no adult intervention. Bullying, in contrast, is not a ‘rite of passage’ or part of an ordinary childhood. Enduring experiences of being bullied or bullying eithers can severely compromise a child or young person’s social, emotional, and physical development, therefore serious and proactive adult intervention is always required.

Not all mean behaviours are bullying. Pushing, kicking, name calling, starting rumours, or excluding can be extremely distressing, but none are bullying in isolation. Bullying is not a single incident, but rather a pattern of behaviours repeated over time. Bullies often progressively use a combination of verbal, physical, social, and/or online strategies to hurt a victim.

As children learn emotional and behavioural control, they can struggle to disagree respectfully with other children.

Losing control and lashing out in the heat of the moment is not bullying. On the other hand, bullying is intentional; bullies make a conscious choice to harm a specific child.

Bullying is an abuse of power. Power can be physical (i.e., size, strength), psychological (i.e., intelligence, age/maturity), or social (i.e., popularity). Certainly, two children fighting can escalate to serious harm, but if both kids are on a reasonably equal footing this is not bullying. In those cases, both children may need to be separated and supported to develop emotion regulation or social skills.

So, next time you feel concerned about bullying – ask yourself three questions:
1. Is this a pattern? Is the behaviour repeated over time?
2. Does the bully intend to harm this specific victim?
3. Is there a power imbalance (physical, psychological, social) between the two children?

If you answer “yes” to all three, then you need to act. You can get further help and support from the BULLY Project by visiting

Article Written + Submitted by

Monica Purcell | Family Facilitator

Nepean Community & Neighbourhood Services


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