What is NOT Bullying?

Father and sonWhen talking about bullying, it is very important for parents (and teachers and kids) to understand what is not bullying. Many times, a single act or behavior is out of proportion, but it is not considered bullying.

Some people think that bullying is any aggressive behavior and although such behaviors are a source of concern and need attention, it is important to separate them from bullying. As I said in the first chapter of the bullying series, bullying is recurring and deliberate abuse of power.

It is not easy for kids to understand the difference between a deliberate act and an accidental one, but it surprises me that many grownups also talk about things people do to them as if they were done intentionally to hurt them. Such perception is very dangerous, because every minor act of conflict, done without any intention to harm, can escalate and become a big conflict.

Much like in any communication, whether it is verbal or not, there are two sides involved. Bullying is a form of communication and depends not only on the giver but also on the receiver. For an incident to be considered bullying, the aggressor must want to hurt someone and the victim must perceive the incident as a deliberate act of abuse.

It is very important for the victim to know what is not bullying to make sure that when things seem hurtful, they will not fall immediately into the category of bullying, because the way to overcome bullying is different from the way to overcome other hurtful acts.

Not bullying list

This incidents on this list are NOT considered bullying:

  1. Not liking someone – It is very natural that people do not like everyone around them and, as unpleasant as it may be to know someone does not like you, verbal and non-verbal messages of “I don’t like you” are not acts of bullying.
  2. Being excluded – Again, it is very natural for people to gather around a group of friends and we cannot be friends with everyone, so it is acceptable that when kids have a party or play a game at the playground, they will include their friends and exclude others. It is very important to remind kids they do the same thing sometimes too and, although exclusion is unpleasant, it is not an act of bullying.
  3. Kids fightingAccidentally bumping into someone – When people bump into others, the reaction depends mostly on the bumped person’s mood. If they have had a bad day, they think it was an act of aggressive behavior, but if they are in the good mood, they smile back and attract an apology. This is also relevant for playing sport, like when kids throwing the ball at each other hit someone on the head. It is very important for teachers and parents to explain that some accidents happen without any bad intention and it is important not to create a big conflict, because it was NOT an act of bullying.
  4. Making other kids play things a certain way – Again, this is very natural behavior. Wanting things to be done our way is normal and is not an act of bullying. To make sure kids do not fall into considering it as an aggressive or “bossy” behavior, we need to teach them assertiveness. If your kids come home and complain that Jane is very bossy and she always wants things to be done her way, you can show them that they want it too and that Jane is miserable, because she is not flexible enough and she will suffer in life for insisting that things be done her way. Again, although it is not fun or pleasant, this is NOT bullying.
  5. A single act of telling a joke about someone – Making fun of other people is not fun for them, but the difference between having a sense of humor and making fun of someone is very fine. It is important to teach kids (and grownups) that things they say as jokes should also be amusing for the others. If not, they should stop. Unless it happens over and over again and done deliberately to hurt someone, telling jokes about people is NOT bullying.
  6. Arguments – Arguments are just heated disagreements between two (or more) people (or groups). It is natural that people have different interests and disagree on many things. Think about it, most of us have disagreements with ourselves, so it is very understandable to have disagreements with others. The argument itself is NOT a form of bullying, although some people turn arguments into bullying, because they want to win the argument so much. They use every means to get what they want and find a weakness in the other person, abuse knowledge or trust they have gained and use it against the other person. It is very important to distinguish between natural disagreements and bullying during an argument.
  7. Expression of unpleasant thoughts or feelings regarding others – Again, communication requires at least two players. Although it may be unpleasant to hear what someone thinks about you, it is NOT a form of bullying but a very natural thing. In every communication, there are disagreements and some form of judgment about each other’s attitude and behavior. If someone says to you, “I think this was not a nice gesture” or “You insulted me when you said this”, this is NOT bullying but an expression of thoughts and feelings.
  8. Kids bullyingIsolated acts of harassment, aggressive behavior, intimidation or meanness – The definition of bullying states that there is repetition in the behavior. Bullying is a conscious, repeated, hostile, aggressive behavior of an individual or a group abusing their position with the intention to harm others or gain real or perceived power. Therefore, anything that happens once is NOT an act of bullying. As a parent, it is important that you pay attention to what your kids are telling you and find out if things are happening more than once.

All the behaviors above are unpleasant and need to be addressed, but they are not to be treated as bullying. Many times, labeling a single act of aggression can turn it into bullying just by perceiving it that way.

Until next time, happy parenting,

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  • Greg Wood

    I am sorry to disagree with you but exclusion IS a form of bullying. You are right that not everyone is friends with everyone. And it is usually not feasible for EVERYONE to be invited to a birthday party.

    However, exclusion is one of the most powerful forms of bullying in elementary, middle, and high schools. The effect of isolating someone at this age can be devastating to the individual. Bullying in other forms take on new meaning when you are facing it alone (or feel that you are alone).

    This form of bullying is most common with young girls. “You can’t be HER friend if you are MY friend” is a fairly common statement heard around schools. It is MEANT to inflict pain on another. It IS bullying.

    A simple non-invite to a party is NOT exclusion but it can certainly be part of a bigger picture.


  • http://www.ronitbaras.com/index.php/about/ Ronit Baras

    HI Greg,

    Well, I can understand what you mean about exclusion as a form of bullying. I think there is a fine line between it being a natural social act of preference rather than a bullying act.

    I think the intention is the important issue. It has become a very problematic form of bullying because it is not a preference it is a way to make someone else feel bad.

    I was excluded when I was young for many different reasons and I agree it can be devastating for kids. Many clients I work with tell me stories of intentional isolation during childhood that scared their life.
    so, I think we both agree that isolation is a form of social bullying and it is very typical to girls.
    I just wanted people to distinguish between social preferences and an intentional act of excluding someone in order to gain power.

    Happy day


  • Dr Ellum

    Numbers 2, 5 ,7 ,8 are forms of bullying. Even if it happens once. please change it thank you.

    Dr. Ellum, Ph.d Neuroscience and Psychological Behavior.

  • benabz

    brilliant – just what I need to tell the parents who constantly ring me to stop the ‘bullying’ acts happening at my school. A boy bumped into a student who tripped and sprained his ankle. This was an act of bullying according to the mother and I have to spend 45 valuable minutes interviewing three kids to establish the totally innocent events. Well done on a great article.

  • http://www.ronitbaras.com/ ronitbaras


    I think the line is very fine but we have to make the line.
    The concept of repetition and with intention is very important.
    I think it is a good idea to educate the parent about bullying so the understand the danger of labeling their own kids as victims.

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  • mllyjul

    Rather than teaching kids how to feel like victims I think parents and teachers should teach/equip children how to deal with these disappointments in life. Whenever one of my children would feel excluded or have their feelings hurt, I would council them on communicating with the other child, or I would encourage them to make other friends and invite them over to our house for an afternoon. If there were no friends in their class I would encourage them to go outside their class to the grade up or below them or even encourage them to become involved in an extracurricular activity and make friends there. There are positive ways of dealing with these very common life experiences. I just get weary of parents/teachers who immediately jump to the victim status, as it does little to teach them about how to handle things later in life.

  • http://www.comedyillusions.com/ Greg Wood

    I do not think you understood my comment. Yes, if you are excluded one time, that makes sense. Not everyone can be a part of every group. I said that.

    And I do NOT propose that we tell children to be a victim. It IS important to help them handle ANY bullying situation, INCLUDING exclusion.

    However, this does not mean that exclusion isn’t a form of bullying. It is obvious from your comment that you were not bullied in this way and that is great but it happens to thousands of students everyday, some who take what they feel is the only way out.
    Your definition of bullying does not match up to the commonly held standard.
    You are correct in your original post, that single incidents are not bullying. In fact this is the only part of your post that was in error.

  • http://www.ronitbaras.com/ ronitbaras

    Hi Greg,

    The whole topic of inclusion is a big topic and is on a scale that starts from preferring to be with some and not with others up to organised exclusion. . If you invite friends to your party, for example, you are excluding the rest by not choosing to invite them to your party.
    When the exclusion is organised against one person/group it is a form of bullying.
    I think we both agree on it.
    We just talk about a different place on the exclusion scale.

  • http://www.ronitbaras.com/ ronitbaras

    I think your ideas are wonderful.
    It is very important not to teach kids to feel like victims.
    It is not a healthy mindset to be and it is worst when they carry it to their adulthood.
    I think your tips are fantastic and you can see that strong parents raise strong kids.
    It is hard to blame kids for falling into the victim trap if their parents are in that trap and it is hard to blame the parents because their own parents were int that trap.
    It is a cycle that can be stopped at any time when parents feel strong about themselves and can show kids positive ways to handle challenges.
    Your tips were great:
    1. Communicate with the bullying child
    2. Make friends
    3.Invite friends for an afternoon together
    4.Search for friends in higher or below grades
    5. Get involve in extracurricular activities.

    Great tips, only strong parents can apply them and help their kids learn them.
    So, if we want to help kids, we first must help their parents.
    Many thanks

  • http://www.ronitbaras.com/ ronitbaras


    That’s true.
    It starts with ” I’m not your friend” and when it reaches intentional isolation it is a form of bullying.

    Again, we talk about the intention and when we talk to kids, we can help them distinguish between ‘bad” intention ( to inflict pain) or “Good” intention ( to express preference). It is better not to do the distinction for them.

    I am a director of a non- for profit organisation called Together for Humanity. We do diversity education and have lots of sessions about exclusion and inclusion. I have seen 25,000 kids so far.

    We found out that kids do not distinguish between preference, inclusion and exclusion.
    If I prefer hanging around kids who play soccer does it mean I am excluding all the rest?
    If I hang around girls only, does it mean I exclude the boys?
    Because in my choices, I do not consider them as an option.
    Is it good? Is it bad?
    it is good, it is bad.
    I gain something, I lose something.
    In my sessions and workshops ,I show kids what we gain by choosing one thing and what we lose by choosing it.
    We don’t tell them what is right or wrong ,we just want the to weigh it for themselves.
    Bullying is when the choice is mean to hurt someone else.
    So the question “Why am I choosing to include/exclude?” is very important.
    I think more than helping the victims manage the bullying act, it is important to teach the bully to recognize his/her own intention. ( this is emotional intelligence)
    You are right,
    I think we believe in the same thing.

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