Bullying: Helping the Child who is the Bully
Erilda Borici, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
Clinical Advisor for Mental Health and Counseling
The last days of summer are quickly approaching and that means that school is just around the corner. While many kids are looking forward to seeing their friends and teachers again, there are some kids who are dreading the return to school. For children and teens who are bullied, returning to school means having to endure endless teasing, name-calling, exclusion, threats and for some, physical aggression. It can be scary for these kids that experience consistent bullying at school. But what about the child who IS the bully?
Bullying is defined as “unwanted aggressive behavior among children that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power”. (Stopbullying.gov) The bullying is persistent or has the potential to be repeated over time. It can be verbal, physical, social/emotional or sexual. It can take place on the playground, in the cafeteria, in the classroom, in the neighborhood or online. Between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 US students say that they have been bullied in school (CDC). As we all know, it’s a prevalent problem, and while there have been so many great initiatives on how to help bullying victims, there is not enough information on the children who bully, why they do it, and how to help them stop.
Approximately 30% of US students have admitted to bullying someone. (CDC) If we think about how “the bully” is portrayed in movies and TV, we often see images of the angry kid who has low self-esteem. This is not always true. A child who bullies could also be the quiet, honor student, the happy, popular cheerleader or the student council member. Appearance really doesn’t have much to do with it and children who bully can be of any income level, race, family situation, gender, or religion.
Research shows that some of the reasons why children bully are:
- Lack of empathy, perspective taking, and compassion.
- Have poor social skills.
- Might be bullied themselves.
- Witness/experience aggression at home from parents or siblings.
- Want to be “cool” or be part of a group that encourages bullying.
- Quick to blame others and struggle with accepting responsibility for their actions.
- Might be struggling with depression, anger issues, anxiety.
How to help children with bullying behaviors.
It’s important to start changing the language of how to refer to these kids. Using phrases like “once a bully, always a bully” can be really damaging. Sticking someone the term “bully” does not help prevent bullying. Bullying is about behavior which means that it’s about making a choice. Here are some tips on how to help support and teach children about stopping behaviors that are hurtful to others.
- Teach your child about bullying from an early age. It’s important to talk to your child about how to treat others with respect, kindness, empathy and most importantly acceptance. Accepting that others might be different than us but that everyone is deserving of respect.
- Teaching responsibility and accountability. Bullying is not caused by something the victim said or did. Children with bullying behaviors can become good at making excuses or blaming others for their actions. It’s important to help these children recognize the impact of their behaviors and take responsibility for their choices.
- Provide clear consequences. Kids who are bullying others at school should be held accountable for their actions. If your child is bullying, take immediate action on providing clear consequences and discussing that the behavior is not tolerated.
- Role-playing is a great tool to use to help model for kids how to resolve conflict, problem solve and manage difficult social situations. You can take turns playing the child who is doing the bullying and the victim to help your child see a different perspective.
- Talk to your child about cyberbullying. Today, a child or teen has many choices on how to connect with friends and a lot of it is happening online. Many kids use social media platforms such as Instagram, and Snapchat to communicate and connect with their friends. While these apps are a lot of fun, they also provide opportunities for cyberbullying. It’s important to have a conversation about online safety with your child and to discuss some guidelines. Create a code of conduct such as:
- Do not use social media to humiliate or embarrass someone.
- Treat others online with the same respect that you would in person.
- Do not post photos or videos of someone without their permission.
Continue to check in with your child about their online activity and review safety guidelines.
- Talk with School Personnel. If your child is exhibiting bullying behaviors or if you are concerned that might in the future, reach out to the school and discuss these concerns with a school social worker or principal. Find out if your child’s school has a bullying prevention program or perhaps offers social skills groups that target teaching perspective taking, empathy, managing conflicts, and cooperation.
- Provide positive feedback. When you notice your child is resolving conflict positively, responding with compassion and empathy or can effectively problem solve a situation, praise these behaviors. Positive reinforcement works wonders and is usually more effective than punishment. Providing your child with positive attention is crucial and will make your child feel confident and secure. Children who receive positive attention at home will be less likely to seek negative attention at school.
stopbullying.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2018.
National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement – PDF, 2011.
Pacer Center, Kids against bullying. https://pacerkidsagainstbullying.org/