Physical Bullying: The Complete Guide for Parents

It’s hard to miss physical bullying on the playground. You will notice a punch to the eye more easily than a sly remark passed at the back of a class.

Physical bullying is most visual of the common types of bullying. If you don’t see it in action, you’ll know something is wrong after taking a look at the victim! It’s also the most classically accepted form of bullying. Most people understand why hurting another person is wrong under any circumstance.

When bullying became more understood in the 70s and 80s, it took centre stage as the main issue. Classrooms showed awareness clips that oversimplified the issue. There would always be a clear victim and a clear bully, which is often not the case. 

Bullying was defined as a punch or a kick. Which again, is also not quite true.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me,”

was one of the key anti-bullying folk phrases released in the 1970s. The perfect example of how sensationalised physical bullying was.

Yet today, after all of the attention that has been drawn to bullying, it's still an issue of serious concern.

teen-about-to-be-punched

Physical bullying is still a big problem. Approximately 282,000 middle school students in the USA are assaulted every month. That’s about 3,4 million kids a year, excluding those who experience any other types of bullying. And this number keeps on growing.

So the question we should be asking is (after all these years):

Do we actually know what physical bullying is? And what is the right way to deal with it?

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The Definition of Physical Bullying

Physical bullying is not a once-off act of violence. It is an intentional attack that happens repeatedly.

boy-bullying-little-girl

The definition of physical bullying is:

"When one repeatedly uses physical aggression, intimidation and assault against another person"

This can include actions such as: hitting, kicking, punching or tripping.

The key thing is that regardless of the type of bullying, the actions are repeated.

From the definition of physical bullying. We can start to gauge how much this form of abuse revolves around power and control.

two-teenage-boys-engaging-in-physical-bullying

And if you’re thinking that a stronger kid is more likely to bully a weaker kid – well then you are right!

It is a stereotype to assume that the bigger and stronger kid is more likely to be the physical bully, rather than the small and timid child... But it’s actually true when it comes to physical bullying.

Physical Bullying Facts: What We Actually Know

Physical bullying is not as straightforward as the “bad” kids hurting the “good” kids either. There’s a lot more to it than that.

If you want to help your child, you’ll have to look into what makes your child’s situation unique. Then compare it to the physical bullying facts that we share right here.

Let’s start with the basics. If someone is physically bullying another child, it means that they’ve targeted someone who they perceive to be weaker.

To be straight with you. A keen target will always be anyone who shows signs of anxiety in social circumstances. Or else someone who lacks assertiveness when confronted.

girl-being-bullied-with-her-hands-crossed

Physical bullying involves a unique dynamic between two individuals. It’s not a coincidental situation where "bad" children are nasty to "good" children.

It’s far more complex than that.

Children aren’t born as bullies or victims. These roles usually develop within a child with certain personality traits. Especially if they experience environmental trauma at a young age.

This video clip gives you an idea of what we mean:

Although certain personality traits don’t always determine who you will become. They can determine the behavioural response a child has in their environment.

Personality Traits of a Physical Bully Include:

The psychology of what makes a bully is complicated. There are so many factors that can trigger your child into bullying someone else. But if you simply want to understand the basic traits of a bully. You need to look out for: 

  1. Aggressive, impulsive or domineering tendencies. Especially when all three are combined.
  2. Overconfidence. Psychologists used to believe that bullying behaviour compensated for low self-esteem issues. But current studies are showing that certain bullies are actually quite confident. They will use whatever qualities they possess to torture other children. In a physical bully’s case, it would likely be the fact that they are bigger and stronger than other children.
  3. Low self-esteem. Just because certain physical bullies are self-confident, doesn’t mean that they all are. Some do have low self-esteem issues, and compensate for their insecurities by tormenting other children.

Narcissistic bullies are also a great example of bullies who can be extremely self-confident or extremely insecure. 

young-boy-wanting-to-punch

Factors that Trigger Bullying Behaviour

The two main social and environmental factors that can trigger a child to become a bully include:

  • Stress at home – The most well-known issue being physical, verbal or sexual abuse within the family. Otherwise minimal parental supervision, lack of discipline, or a lack of warmth and love can trigger bullying behaviour.
  • Stress at school – This usually means they have few friends or a lack of social support. They have a great deal of pressure to perform better or they were bullied by other kids themselves.

Now that we’ve gotten a basic understanding of the definition of physical bullying and what it may look like. We can see just how different and complicated each case is.

It’s important to know the facts before getting involved, no matter the situation.

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If your child is a victim of physical bullying. They will continue to be a target if they don't learn how to cope with a confrontation.

Here is an article that explains The Relationship Between Bullying and Self-Esteem if you have any questions about this.

Physical Bullying statistics 

It’s been 40 years since bullying became a globally identified issue. Yet physical bullying statistics are still dangerously high. Here is a breakdown.

Physical Bullying in the U.S.A

These stats were released by the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics

  1. 282,000 students experience some kind of physical assault in secondary schools across the country, on a monthly basis.
  2. A survey conducted showed that 87% of students report that bully victims who want revenge are the number one motivator for school shootings within the country.
  3. Nearly 75% of school shootings have been linked to some form of harassment and bullying.
school-shootings

Physical Bullying in Canada 

These stats were released by PREVNet

  • As a global standard, boys are more likely to engage in some form of physical bullying behaviour than girls.
  • Physical bullying is orientated around age. It tends to decline as children get older. On the other hand, verbal, social and cyberbullying tends to increase between the ages of 11 and 15.
  • Children from minority groups. For example those who have disabilities, are of a minority sexual orientation, or even those who are isolated for being judged by their peers as being “too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too smart or too dumb” are all more likely to be victims of bullying.
man-with-belt-physically-bullying

Physical Bullying in the UK

These stats were released by ditchthelabel.org from 2018. 

  • Approximately 30% of children felt in control and/or powerful when they bullied others.
  • Of the different types of bullying, 21% of children chose to physically bully others.
  • During physical assaults, 37% of school children admit to witnessing it all in action. 

Physical Bullying Examples 

What physical bullying actually looks like. And a few physical bullying examples from those who’ve actually suffered from traumatic situations in the past. 

Here are three stories from three young students who have been through a lot during their school years. To really understand physical bullying examples, it’s often best to get it straight from the horse’s mouth.

bullying-happy-and-sad-concept

Story 1 

“At my old school, kids would hit me and call me names. One time, one of them ran into me and I hit my head on the floor. And after[wards], I felt like someone was stabbing my head all weekend. At first I didn’t tell my mom, but it ended up getting so bad that I had to transfer.” ~ Anonymous

Story 2 

This story was labelled, “12 Years of Being Bullied… And I Am Only 14.”

“The bullying started when I was two. Adults kept on saying how ugly and stupid I was. Then my story started to escalate year by year… When I was in the 2nd grade, many 5th and 6th graders would threaten to hurt me. I never knew what it meant. In 7th, 8th, and 9th grade, kids always tried to hurt me. Kids kept on throwing stuff at me […]. Notebooks, snow, dirt, trash, etc. There’s nothing I can do to stop it. No one […] can ever understand my pain. So, I keep it in. No matter how rough. No matter how severe. I kept things hidden. Many scars on my body, so many stories hidden behind that cloth. The blood stains my clothing, yet people still believe my lie of saying “I’m fine”. ~ Anonymous
boy-physically-bullying-smaller-boy

Story 3 

“I’ve been bullied ever since I went to elementary [school]. I’ve also been to hospital because of it, and I always have to check a room for possible escape routes before I enter it. Here’s how it went every day for several years until very recently. I try to go to school without getting beaten to a half conscious state (…), since the bullies are the “popular” types of kids. The others are on the bully’s side, so me and a few other kids just have to stay in the shadows as long as we can.


I’ve been close to suicide two times, one after being teased and called names for weeks, and the other time my books were stolen. Teachers never believed me when I complained, even though I had really visible marks. I had enough and told my parents, who contacted the school, and then the police. In the end I seriously had to punch back the bully, because he tried to break my nose. I recovered, but ever since then I had a serious trust issue. I’m the quiet good student type of kid, and I just want some help! Am I really worthless?” ~ Anonymous

Although we can see just how physically hurt children can get in these situations. What we wanted to show you through these physical bullying examples, is that the scars left on each child may not all be physical. It’s extremely likely that the effects of physical bullying run much deeper than that.

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Physical Bullying Effects

The main physical bullying effects that you will be able to notice in (or on) your child if you are worried that they are victimised at school. And how this trauma can impact them in the long-run. 

There are two things you need to be aware of if you’re concerned that your child is being physically bullied.

Firstly, you will be able to see visual physical bullying effects. And secondly, although bruises may fade, emotional effects can take a much longer time to heal.

Signs That Your Child is Being Physically Bullied 

Some of the signs that you should look out for if you’re worried that your that child may be a victim of physical bullying, are:

  • Arriving home with damaged clothing, books or other items that they usually carry with them. Especially anything that they wouldn’t want to have damaged themselves.
  • If an item has gone missing, they will usually claim that it’s been lost.
  • Indirect or unexplained reasons for any injury they come home with – this is usually bruising or cuts.
  • Wanting to change their route to school, arrive at different times, or even bunk certain classes. This is usually all strategically done to avoid a confrontation.
boy-with-a-nose-bleed
  • Faking an illness. This is another classic act used to miss school and avoid confrontation when they can’t stomach it anymore.
  • Wanting to take a small weapon to school, such as a pocket knife. This is to feel prepared for an attack when they would otherwise believe they were helpless.
  • Showing a change in behaviour, usually becoming more sad, depressed, angry or showing signs of low self-esteem. In most severe cases, mentioning or contemplating suicide.

The Long-Term Effects

Whether it is physical, verbal, emotional, cyber, sexual, or social, etc.

Bullying is traumatic for a child. And if the bullying that your child has gone through is bad enough. It can become an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE).

It’s important to remember here that every experience is relative. And how badly an act of abuse is perceived, really depends on the individual.

You cannot judge "how bad" the bullying is without gauging how badly your child feels about it.

man-at-psychologist

Experiencing an ACE  is proven to play a large part in predetermining a child’s mental health. And these mental health issues often carry into adulthood, too. 

Research now shows that it not only leads to mental health concerns but an increased risk of suicidal tendencies as well.

If you want to know a little more about ACE’s, then read this article on How Bullying Affects Your Child at School

Strategies for Dealing with Physical Bullying 

There’s been a lot of sobering information shared in this article. Most of it shows just how serious physical bullying and abuse is amongst children.

What’s important, however, is that we use this information to help build a proper defence strategy.

By understanding the complexities of bullying and where our kids are at emotionally. We have a much better chance of teaching them how to shield themselves against bullies.

mom-counselling-her-daughter

By teaching your child the Bully Shield’s 4 pillars of protection. You can rest assured that they’ll be well-equipped the next time that they walk through their school gates.

What Are the 4 Bully Shield Pillars of Protection?

1. Controlling 

This means controlling: emotions, anger and aggression, and coping skills.

How do I achieve this? A very good way of teaching your child how to have better control over their emotions and coping skills is by encouraging them to keep busy. And by this, we don’t mean watching TV all day. We mean getting involved in hobbies that will help them build their self-confidence.

This could be an extra class at school that is valued by their peers and helps them build their own competency. Allowing a safe place for positive reinforcement to grow.

Or, it could be enrolling your child in a martial arts class. Where they are taught the fundamentals of self-confidence, self-control, and the ability to defend themselves. Without ever needing to fight back.

2. Talking 

This means talking to improve: communication, peer relationships, and their understanding of other’s emotions.

children-doing-martial-arts

How do I achieve this? This is a very tricky one, and it will take time to get right.

It’s important to understand that it’s your job to initiate personal and sensitive conversations. Not the other way around.

So if this is new territory, start by making the environment less intimidating. Go watch a movie together, grab a milkshake after school, or take the dogs for a walk.

Spending time together gives space to build trust and communication. By sharing stories you can gently speak about the best ways to handle tricky situations.

3. Knowing 

This means knowing: more about themselves and their own emotions, as well as how a bully behaves.

How do I achieve this? Once you are have encouraged activities that build your child’s self-confidence. You will have started enjoying having a more open relationship with them.

mom-and-daughter-walking-the-dog

It’s time to listen to your child. Respect their issues and share supportive problem-solving skills. Explain that you are there to help them out of the difficult situations they’re in.

One thing that works really well is choosing and practising lines. Choose lines that your child would actually like to say back to a bully in the next confrontation.

4. Doing 

This means showing: assertiveness, the ability to resolve conflict and to problem-solve.

How do I achieve this? Confidence is key. Your child should be getting the hang of it through controlling, talking and knowing. The final step is doing – and this is for both you and your child.

Bullying seems to get worse when kids have nothing better to do.

So it is important for your child to keep active and keep on interacting with others. A controlled and safe environment allows for positive connections to be made.

boys-playing-football-in-team

But when it’s necessary – don’t be afraid to intervene. Your child needs as many active defenders as possible.

And it’s your job as a parent to get involved when you see any signs of physical bullying surface.

Bully defenders play a huge part in helping to protect victims and disarm bullies.

To End Off, We Wanted to Share Something a Little Heart-Warming

Because although it may seem as though we’ve got the world on our shoulders, with the right attitude, a lot of good can be done.

And as a concerned parent who wants to be an active defender of bullying at school – you will appreciate this!

7th Grader, Jonah Maxwell, became a viral sensation after releasing an anti-bullying video.

He directed and produced The Bully” in 2016, with the help of his friends.

He captures what it really feels like to be a kid at school today. And shows how having friends and active defenders can make a big difference in every child’s life.

If you found this article valuable please feel free to share it. The more parents we educate, the more children we can protect from being bullied.

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