Sometimes people think that bullying and conflict are the same thing, but they aren’t. In one way or another, conflict is a part of everyday experience, in which we navigate the complexities of how we interact. Typically minor conflicts don’t make someone feel unsafe or threatened. Bullying, on the other hand, is a behavior with intention to hurt, harm or humiliate and the person targeted is not able to make it stop.

Here are some helpful ways to distinguish between a conflict and bullying behavior:

Conflict looks like:

  • Disagreement or argument in which both sides express their views
  • Equal power between those involved
  • Behavior usually stops when one child realizes they are hurting another

Bullying looks like:

  • Intent of behavior is to hurt, harm, or humiliate
  • Person bullying has more “power” such as being more popular or physically stronger
  • Negative behavior continues even when hurt or harm occurs

It can be hard for parents when their children are involved in difficult, confusing situations. Nevertheless, it’s important for parents to realize that conflict between children is inevitable – and that sometimes their child won’t like or agree with the outcome. Parents can help their children handle these situations by:

  • Asking open-ended questions about what happened
  • Listening more than talking
  • Offering support
  • Helping their child problem solve

It’s easier for a child to confide what is happening to them when they know their parent is in their corner. Conflict situations are great teachable moments. Parents can help their children learn the skills necessary to express their own views and help create their own solutions.

A cautionary note: If behavior crosses the line from conflict to bullying, it’s not up to the child being bullied to fix the situation.While it can be important for the child to help create a plan for change, adults are responsible for making and enforcing rules so that all the children involved are safe.

Written by staff at PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center