What is Physical Bullying?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

There are many different types of bullying, ranging from taunting to verbal abuse to actual physical assault. Physical bullying involves real bodily contact between a bully and his or her victim, for the express purpose of intimidation or control over the victim. This may include kicking, biting, punching, scratching or wrestling the victim until he or she is completely submissive or unable to retaliate. This could also involve the use of non-lethal weapons in order to inflict additional damage, or the threat of lethal force if the victim continues to resist or fails to be intimidated. Bullying is not limited to a school playground, however. It can also occur in the workplace or in the home as well.

Physical bullying usually leaves evidence of bodily harm.
Physical bullying usually leaves evidence of bodily harm.

Of all the forms of bullying, physical bullying presents the most immediate threat of serious injury or even death for the victim. The idea behind it is to establish the bully's superiority and his or her continued control over the victim. A victim will most likely survive a bully's first assault physically, but the perceived threat of continued or escalated violence is supposed to intimidate him or her into not taking any action against the offender. This type of bullying relies heavily on the victim's unwillingness to endure another attack or do anything which might trigger a bully's anger.

Physical bullying can include actual physical assault.
Physical bullying can include actual physical assault.

Unlike other forms of bullying, physical bullying often leaves an unambiguous trail of tangible evidence against the bully. Broken bones, bruising, cuts or scratches can all verify that a physical assault did indeed take place, even if the victim is unwilling or unable to identify his or her assailant. An intimidated victim may dismiss the injuries as accidental or work-related in order to avoid further incidents with a workplace or schoolyard bully. Physical bullying not only has an obvious physical component, but an emotional or mental aspect as well. Victims may feel depressed or powerless because they were unable to defend themselves against a bully.

An intimidated victim may dismiss injuries as accidental or work-related in order to avoid further incidents with a workplace bully.
An intimidated victim may dismiss injuries as accidental or work-related in order to avoid further incidents with a workplace bully.

Physical bullying is often difficult to distinguish from roughhousing or hazing. A group of adolescent males may engage in mutual combat as a social rite of passage, for example, or military recruits may use physical intimidation as a team-building exercise. Physical bullying, however, only works when the odds are heavily in favor of the bully. A physically stronger bully must be able to take full advantage of his or her victim's inability to fight back. To a bully, the victim is clearly an inferior who must be intimidated into submission or rendered harmless.

Physical bullying might escalate into assault.
Physical bullying might escalate into assault.

It can be challenging to address the issue of physical bullying, whether in the home, the schoolyard or the workplace. The bully may have serious emotional or anger management issues which can only be addressed through professional counseling. A workplace bully may be transferred to another department, or a schoolyard bully may face expulsion, but his or her bullying is unlikely to stop until the underlying reasons for the destructive behavior are uncovered and dealt with therapeutically.

Children may experience physical bullying at the hands of a parent.
Children may experience physical bullying at the hands of a parent.
Bullying can leave emotional scars as well as physical ones.
Bullying can leave emotional scars as well as physical ones.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


I found a great resource for schools to use in their quest to reduce the amount of bullying in their school. It is called "Bully Neutralizer", and it is an online course that all bullies are required to take. It reduces bullying behaviors, and protects the school from lawsuits. Look it up and you will find the resources!


I endured physical bullying in high school, and it motivated me to take self-defense classes. After about a month of learning, I was able to bring the bully to her knees and make her scream for mercy.

It's always good to learn a few essential moves that could save your life. I felt empowered, and I knew that I never had to submit to another bully again.


@kylee07drg – I have mixed feelings about it. I do believe that it is good to stand up for yourself and not let people walk all over you, but it could result in physical harm if the bully is a lot stronger than you.

I think it's best to stand up for yourself when you are surrounded by plenty of other people, especially if there is a teacher in sight. The bully will be less likely to get in many good punches if he knows someone in authority is watching.

However, if you find yourself alone in an alley with a bully, try running away. It sounds bad, but there is no telling what a bully might to do you if no one is around to stop him.


I've heard several parents telling their kids to stand up to bullies. They think that as long as they don't show weakness, even if they are weaker than the bullies, they will leave them alone. What do you guys think about this?


@TunaLine – One thing that always worked for me was to act crazy when bullied. I was a petite child, so I was often the target of bullies, but as soon as they touched me, I would start screaming and flailing my arms and legs about like a man possessed.

Not every kid would be willing to do this, because it might result in rumors about his or her sanity. However, it worked at keeping the bullies away, because they had absolutely no idea how to respond to my odd behavior!


How do you stop physical bullying?


Is getting bullied by your siblings physical bullying too?


My group Rachel's challenge is all about stopping bullying in our school systems.


I think bullying should be stopped by the parents of the child going to their teachers so they can sort it out.


Someone should do something about bullying so that it could be ended!


Would you call this physical bullying? When a child knows the other child is submissive, and he/she will keep knocking the other child down when trying to stand up, or trying to stuff something in another child's mouth (paper), or when the child is lying on the ground, the child walks by and drops a football on the child's face. Is this just meaning mean or bullying?

He seems to do it only to submissive children. Child is 11, and has been like this for a few years.


I'm glad that you mentioned workplace bullying too -- I mean, of course physical child abuse in any form is terrible, but workplace abuse can be terrible too!

Too often adults think that they're just supposed to deal with it, or let it go, and refuse to seek help for bullying even when the bully is clearly in the wrong. I'm glad that you refused to play into the stereotype of bullying as only a schoolyard thing and mentioned the seriousness of workplace bullying as well.


@tunaline -- Well, as you say, there is no way to completely protect your child from bullying.

The best thing you can do is to teach your child about bullying. You should sit them down and have a talk about what bullying is, the different types of bullying -- verbal, physical, etc.-- and how they can handle it.

Some good strategies to teach your children are to tell them to shout no if they feel threatened, how to walk away with confidence, and, if need be, how to run away.

You should also make sure that your child does not invite bullying by being obnoxious or acting in a socially unacceptable manner (i.e., picking his nose, etc.)

If you think it would help, you can also enroll them in a self-defense course.

Finally, you need to be aware of the signs of bullying, and ask your child about it if you feel like they are being bullied. So many parents just let it go, leaving their children to deal with the situation, which is simply irresponsible.

If the situation continues, I would say to talk to your child's teachers, or ask about the anti-bullying measures that are in place at the child's school.

The abuse of children is serious, even if it is at the hands of other children -- abuse is abuse, and should not be tolerated, so do your part to educate your child.


What are some good tips to teach your children to avoid physical bullying in schools? I know it is impossible to completely prevent childhood bullying, but looking at the physical bullying statistics really scares me. How can I teach my children about bullying?

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