What is Bullying?

Bullying is when one student repeatedly frightens or harms another student on purpose, and the victim feels powerless to stop it (Holt, David, Finkelhor, & Kaufman Kantor, 2007). Many North American schools are encouraging students, teachers, and parents to work together to stop bullying. Bullying deserves special attention because it can damage children’s friendships, interrupt their learning, and leave them feeling scared and worried. Bullying also hurts the children who bully (Peplar et al., 2006; Swearer, Song, Cary, Eagle, & Mickelson, 2000); they often struggle with friendships, become anxious or discouraged, and continue to have troubled relationships as adults. Consequently, it is important to understand bullying in elementary school so that efforts can be made to stop bullying before it begins.    

The Role of Friendships and Classroom Environment on Bullying

  • Strong classroom friendships in elementary school may prevent kids from being bullied.Our analysis showed that students were slightly less likely to report being bullied if they had strong friendships.
  • Children were somewhat more likely to say they had watched bullying if there was a lot of conflict in the classroom.
  • Children were not more likely to say that they acted like a bully if there were lots of arguments in the classroom. The single best predictor that a student would report being bullied was whether they worried a lot about classmates’ aggression.

Social Environment of the Classroom Is Important

Results of this study suggest that the social environment of the classroom could affect rates of bullying. Elementary students were less likely to say that they had been a victim of bullying when they had strong friendships, or when there was less aggression in among their classmates.  Also, results suggest that elementary students who worry a lot about other students picking on them might also be the students who are being bullied.


Doll, B., Zucker, S., & Brehm, K. (2004.) Resilient classrooms: Creating healthy environments for learning. A text in the series, Practical Interventions in Schools. New York: Guilford Publications.

Holt, M. K., Finkelhor, D., & Kaufman Kantor, G. (2007). Hidden forms of victimization in elementary students involved in bullying. School Psychology Review, 36, 345-360. Peplar, D. J., et al., (2006). A developmental perspective on bullying. Aggressive Behavior, 32, 376-384.

Swearer, S. M. & Cary, P. T. (2003). Attitudes toward bullying in middle school youth: A developmental examination across the bully/victim continuum. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 19, 63-79.

Swearer, S. M., Song, S. Y., Cary, P. T., Mickelson, W. M. (2000). Psychosocial correlates in bullying and victimization: The relationship between depression, anxiety, and bully/ victim status. In R. A. Geffner, M.  Loring, & C. Young (Eds.), Bullying behavior: Current issues, research, and interventions (pp. 95-117). New York: The Haworth Press, Inc.   

Swearer, S. M., Song, S. Y., Cary, P. T., Eagle, J. W. & Mickelson, W. T. (2001). Psychosocial correlates in bullying and victimization: The relationship between depression, anxiety, and bully/victim status. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 2,  95-121.