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Children's Bullying Behavior
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In this section, we will discuss explaining a definition of bullying to students. We will also discuss explaining three reasons a child might become a bully.
Now, let’s talk about a definition of bullying.
When Andrew, age 8, came to see me, he was having stomach aches almost every day. Andrew’s dad was worried, because Andrew almost always seemed too sick to go to school. I asked Andrew if he was having trouble at school. Andrew said, "Well… there’s this big kid, Billy, who’s been really picking on me. He makes fun of my glasses a lot! Then the other day my mom made me where this shirt that was kinda girly... and Billy started calling me ‘Andy Panties’. The other kids think it’s real funny. I just don’t want to go to school anymore if everyone’s just going to call me names and pick on me."
I asked Andrew if he knew what a bully was. Andrew said, "Sure. A bully is a mean kid who punches you and takes your lunch money."
It is true that some bullies are physically aggressive. But bullying doesn’t just mean hurting someone’s body. One definition of bullying that I use is: "Bullying is any kind of ongoing physical or verbal mistreatment, done with the intent to harm, where there is an imbalance of power between bully and victim." I stated to Andrew, "Basically, bullies make other people feel bad by using words, actions, or physical violence."
I stated to Andrew, "What do you think the most important thing to do is if you are being bullied, or if you see someone being bullied? I think that the most important thing to do is to tell a teacher or other grown up. Sometimes, the thought of going to a teacher can be very frightening." Andrew said, "If I go to my teacher, Mrs. Ames, Billy will get in big trouble! And he’ll know it was me who told on him! That’ll just make things worse!" Has your young client ever felt like Andrew?
Understanding Bullying from the Bully's Perspective
Andrew asked me, "Why is Billy so mean, anyway? How come he has to treat people so bad?" I think it can be very difficult to understand why bullies try to make people feel bad.
A lot of the time, kids become bullies for one of three reasons.
♦ 1. Not have very good self esteem
A first reason someone might become a bully is because he or she does not feel very good about him or herself. He or she might not have very good self esteem. Making other people feel hurt and upset might make the bully feel better for a while. Trina started bullying other kids when she was 9. Trina told me, "I thought I wasn’t any good at anything. But I could make other kids feel scared, and that made me feel powerful. At least I could do something well!"
♦ 2. Someone else has been mean to the bully
A second reason someone might become a bully is because someone else has been mean to the bully. Sometimes, a bully’s parents or siblings might be treating him or her very badly. So the bully treats other people the same way, so that he or she doesn’t feel like he or she is being bullied.
♦ 3. Has been taught to behave
In addition to having low self esteem or being treated badly, a third reason someone might become a bully is because that is how he or she has been taught to behave. I stated to Andrew, "Imagine that you grew up in a house where everybody yelled all of the time. What if your parents had big fights every night? Do you think that you might feel that yelling and fighting was the right way to treat other people? Sometimes, bullies live in families that communicate with each other in negative ways. These bullies might not know the right way to treat other people. This is one of the reasons why going to a grown up is so important. If a bully does not know how to treat other people properly, a teacher or other grown-up can help the bully learn new ways of communicating."
In this section, we have discussed explaining a definition of bullying to students. We have also discussed explaining three reasons a child might become a bully.
- Roberts, Jr., Walter B.; The Bully as Victim: Understanding Bully Behaviors To Increase the Effectiveness of... ; Professional School Counseling, Dec2000, Vol. 4 Issue 2, p148
In the next section... we will discuss ‘Turning Insults into Compliments’ for helping students cope with bullies.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Fink, E., Patalay, P., Sharpe, H., & Wolpert, M. (2018). Child- and school-level predictors of children’s bullying behavior: A multilevel analysis in 648 primary schools. Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(1), 17–26.
Mulvey, K. L., Hoffman, A. J., Gönültaş, S., Hope, E. C., & Cooper, S. M. (2018). Understanding experiences with bullying and bias-based bullying: What matters and for whom? Psychology of Violence, 8(6), 702–711.
Wójcik, M., & Mondry, M. (2020). “The game of bullying”: Shared beliefs and behavioral labels in bullying among middle schoolers. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice. Advance online publication.
What are three reasons someone might become a bully that you might explain to a young client?
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