In an article by psychotherapist, Katie Hurley, she writes that children are not born bullies; bullies are something they become.
Ms Hurley believes that bullying is a learned behavior that is used in response to stress. Bullying is an attempt to gain superiority or control over another.
She states that while some studies indicate that some bullies have naturally aggressive and/or hyperactive personalities from the start; that should not be taken to mean that all “spirited” kids will bully while all kids who are mellow or laid back will not become bullies.
Her premise is that bullies have immature social skills. They see threats where there are none and identify other kids as hostile when they are not. Bullies lack compassion and empathy. They have difficulty understanding how others feel.
Ms. Hurley states in her article that while it is hard to find compassion for a bully, it can be useful, however, to understand some of the reasons why kids become bullies:
1. Strained parental relationships. Bullies often lack warm, caring, and involved parents. Parents of bullies tend to be highly competitive and place unreasonable demands on their children to be superior to other kids (academically, socially, athletically, etc.). These parents often have prejudices based on race, sex, wealth, and achievements. They teach their children to compete at all costs, and to win by whatever means.
2. Inconsistent discipline. Bullies often lack consistent discipline at home. Their parents tend to have difficulty setting limits and/or struggle to hold them accountable for their behavior.
3. Poor academic performance. Some kids bully in response to academic stress. When they struggle in the classroom and feel that they are not being helped, they may begin to lose hope. When hope is lost, children act out. This can translate to bullies seeking “revenge” on the higher achieving kids.
4. Unsupportive peer networks. Children who are isolated and feel disliked or unsupported by peers often turn to bullying to gain some social control. Their distorted thinking causes them to believe that controlling other kids = having friends.
5. Child abuse. There is ample evidence that children who are physically abused by their parents turn around and bully other kids. Abuse is cyclical.
6. Victims of bullies. Many bullies have actually been victims of bullies at another time. Due to lack of support, poor social skills, and relying on learned behaviors, these kids use bullying behaviors to try to gain superiority and control so that they will no longer be victimized.
7. Low self-esteem. When you add up all of the possibilities, it should come as no surprise that bullies tend to struggle with self-esteem.
There are steps to take to avoid raising bullies. Below are a few tips to work on building positive relationships:
- Praise your children often. Praise their big accomplishments as well as the little things that make them great every day.
- Listen when they need to be heard.
- Help them problem solve.
- Encourage positive peer relationships.
- Build positive sibling relationships. Avoid comparisons, as this breeds unhealthy competition among siblings.
- Set limits and hold them accountable for their behavior.
- Teach empathy every day.
- Carve out special time with each child and spend that time doing something that you both enjoy.
- Talk often, even when you think they are not listening.
- Stay calm; model appropriate conflict resolution skills.
- Decrease exposure to violent TV, movie, and video content.
- Be present.
Ms Hurley finishes her article on an up note, reminding the reader, again, that bullies are not born; bullies are raised.
She states that we all have the opportunity to raise children who will choose to be empathic, kind, and loyal friends. All we have to do is teach them those skills.
Katie Hurley blogs at Practical Parenting.