Identifying and addressing bullying

Bullying behaviour can be complex. These approaches may assist schools to identify and address bullying.

student faces 

Use a whole-school approach

A school that engages their whole school community to address the problem of bullying is much more likely to succeed in preventing bullying than a school using single-factor interventions only. A whole school approach to preventing and responding to bullying should be based on research and evidence based practice, effective pedagogy and strong partnerships.

Use an appropriate method

There are a number of factors that can schools should consider to help them determine their choice of method.

Severity and frequency

Deciding the level of severity can be difficult because some students are more vulnerable than others. The greater the intended hurtfulness of the bullying the more justified is the use of direct sanctions.

Low severity bullying

This is bullying at a relatively low intensity as in unpleasant teasing; occasional pushing and shoving; and short-term exclusion by some peers.

High severity bullying

This is bullying at a relatively high intensity as in the continual use of abusive language, physical assaults, repeated threats to hurt someone and sustained and comprehensive exclusion.


  • Does the behaviour warrant intervention even if the target does not appear particularly upset?
  • What are the legal implications?
  • How often does the bullying occur?
  • Does it continue after repeated teacher intervention?

Note: Regardless of perceived severity, all cases of bullying require attention from the school.

Illegality of the bullying behaviour

Is the behaviour potentially criminal? The school may be bound by procedures deemed essential in dealing with prescribed or criminal behaviour that involves bullying.

Persistent or repeated behaviour patterns

Can the school identify, and therefore address, the triggers of bullying behaviour in students such as peer groups, environment (isolated areas in the playground), social and emotional skills, or teaching methods?

Sanctions are considered more justified when the bullying persists after repeated counselling.

Single or group bullying

Some strategies have been designed for working with students whose bullying behaviour is being supported by a group of students. For example, the support group method is most effective when a group of students are brought together and the responsibility for improving the situation is shared amongst the group. Whereas, the traditional approach generally involves punishment of the student who is considered responsible for the bullying behaviour.

Provocation on the part of a ‘victim’

At times it is necessary to consider whether the target may have contributed to the situation. For example, the bullying may be a disproportionate response to an initial action by the target but which needs to be addressed as part of the intervention. This may require an approach that involves negotiated and agreed changes in the behaviour of both sides.

Degree of remorse

Is the bully feeling remorseful after the bullying incident? It is important to consider this as methods such as mediation, restorative practice and shared concern rely on some level of genuine remorse or empathy from the bully.

Mediation willingness

Are both the bully and target ready to accept help from a mediator? Mediation is considered practicable when both the bully and the target voluntarily agree to seek mediation and the mediator is able to remain ‘neutral’. If this is possible then discussing the dispute and finding a solution to the conflict may be effective.

Target support

Are there other students who are willing to support the target? If the answer is yes, then you have the opportunity encourage the students to actively cooperate and provide support for the target and encourage the perpetrators to do likewise. This may promote empathy and change the attitudes of the bully towards their target.

Student age

How old are the students involved? Some methods require a higher level of understanding of the psychology of interpersonal relationships than others; for example, a junior primary school student who bullies someone may require a different approach to one that is appropriate for a senior high school student.

Capacity of the targeted student

Will the target be able to learn the skills required to resist bullying behaviours? Schools will need to make judgements based on the targeted child’s capacity to learn how to respond effectively to bullying behaviours in a given situation. This method also requires a commitment on the part of a counsellor/teacher to train such a person.

Training and expertise

Do school employees have the required training? Many of the methods require practitioners to be appropriately trained to carry them out. For example, for mediation to be effective, the practitioner needs to be trained to facilitate the process.

Support from the school

Is there a consensus amongst the school employees that the methods employed are effective? Although not all staff need to be trained in all of the methods, a general acceptance of the appropriateness of each method being employed is essential.

Parent engagement

Is the parent community supportive of the methods employed at the school? Schools need the support of parents in how they address cases of bullying. Hence there is a need for schools to explain and discuss with parents what approaches they are using to address cases of bullying.​​