Bullying Versus Conflict Scenarios

The first step to preventing bullying at your organization is the ability to identify when a situation is considered bullying, and when it is considered normal peer-to-peer conflict. Please analyze the scenarios below to determine with your staff if the situation represents bullying or conflict, and why.

Scenario #1

Jared, a boy in first grade was approached by another boy, Samuel, to play cards during free-time. Jared told Samuel that he did not want to play with him. Since that time, Samuel has continued to approach Jared every day during free-time to join in an activity. Samuel has few friends and seems desperate to make friends with Jared. Jared is beginning to feel harassed by Samuel.

Conflict or bullying?

This scenario would be considered conflict for the following reasons:

  • While there is a power imbalance, based on the fact that one of the two boys has few friends and few social skills, there is no intent to harm.
  • Jared, who has refused Samuels’ friendship, has not done so in order to hurt him. He has not told others, he has not tried to humiliate or hurt the boy. He is simply honoring his own feelings.

Scenario #2

There is a group of girls in your aquatics program that have grown to become buddies. During open-swim, one of the girls, Bella, makes a comment about another girl’s swimsuit, which is perceived as an insult. The young woman, Kaia, becomes furious about being insulted. She bands together with the rest of the cabin and begins to ignore and leave out Bella. This continues, and Bella becomes more and more withdrawn from the group. She doesn’t enjoy coming to the program anymore.

Conflict or bullying?

In this case, Bella is now being bullied by Kaia and the rest of the girls. This is bullying because:

  • While this relationship began as a peer relationship, it is evolved into a power imbalance, as a group of girls are excluding one girl
  • Bella’s reaction—becoming quiet and withdrawn, not participating in activities—indicates that the situation is causing her some distress
  • A dynamic of rejection and exclusion has developed, based on repeated incidents on a daily basis
  • Kaia intends to hurt Bella, as she has mobilized the whole group to act against her

Scenario #3

Bryce, a very popular boy in your programs is always the first one to field games every day and is well-liked by the staff. His suggestions for what the group plays is typically honored by the staff. All of the boys play, if they wish, except one boy. This boy, Tyler, is small for his age and very shy. When Tyler does ask to play, Bryce insists that he doesn’t want him on his team or doesn’t want him to be a part of the game. Tyler typically ends up sitting out and sits alone during the field games and looks very sad and unhappy.

Conflict or bullying?

This situation is considered bullying for the following reasons:

  • There is intentional exclusion occurring, and the excluded boy is very upset about it. There is an intent to harm, and distress is experienced by the only the bullied child
  • There is repetition, since the exclusion has occurred during several days
  • There seems to be a power imbalance, as described by the social status of the two children—one is popular, outgoing and demonstrates leadership; and the other is shy and physically smaller

Scenario #4

Sarah, a girl in your program, has accused another girl, India, of stealing her flashlight. Sarah screamed at India in front of all of their friends, but India argued back that she hadn’t stolen it.

Conflict or bullying?

This situation is considered peer-to-peer conflict for the following reasons:

  • There is no evidence of a power imbalance—India arguing back indicates that she feels fairly confident and Sarah accusing India directly indicates that she also feels confident
  • It seems to be a one-time occurrence. Although Sarah is upset enough to have an outburst, there is no indication that she is afraid or distressed.