Bullying is a behavior that children can easily recognize when they experience it, yet operationalizing a definition for research has been more challenging. The reason for such difficulty seems to be a function of both the wide range of behaviors that constitute bullying and the characteristics of bullying behavior. The nature of bullying behavior can be physical, psychological, or both. Another way of framing this is that bullying behavior can be direct or indirect.

Direct bullying involves relatively open attacks on the victim that can be both physical and psychological in nature. Indirect bullying involves social isolation and exclusion from group membership. This type of behavior is considered more psychological. These forms of bullying arc not mutually exclusive, meaning that it is certainly possible for children to be exposed to both types of bullying simultaneously. Both are considered to be harmful to the child, and the impact is often the same: negative and overbearing.

Victims of both types of bullying have been found to have similar characteristics. The only difference that has been found between victims of direct versus indirect bullying is that more males are victims of direct bullying than females.

Victims of direct bullying will be the focus of this review. In addition to the broad scope of bullying behaviors, there are at least three characteristics of bullying that make it difficult to define. The first is that it is a covert behavior that most typically occurs without an adult witness. Second, children who are victimized by bullies may not feel comfortable discussing their difficulties because they feel ashamed by the attacks and are unable to admit verbally to this social failure. Third, these victims may be so overwhelmed by the bullying that they choose to endure the loneliness and ostracism rather than express their feelings about the matter.

Currently, there is no agreed upon definition. In Britain, bullying is defined as an attack carried out by one individual against another, one group against another group, or a group against one individual. This is the most general definition. Other definitions are more specific with regard to the conditions and context of the behavior. The repetitive nature demanded by this definition creates a chronic versus acute distinction. A single act may be interpreted by the child as terrifying but in this acute case it is only experienced one time as opposed to a chronic case where this feeling is experienced on a daily basis.