Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intended to cause harm or distress, repeatedly occurs over time, and occurs in a relationship in which there is an imbalance of power or strength. Bullying can take many forms, including physical violence, taunting, intimidation, and social exclusion.
In a bullying environment, there are two roles, the bully, and the victim. There are thousands of resources for victims and school policies to help them deal with their particular problems, yet little is done to help the bully to develop a better way of behaving. Often a zero tolerance policy is in place in school or work environment, but what happens to that bullying child once they have been identified as a problem for their peers. A holistic approach in which both the victim and abuser are cared for, educated, and monitored would be more practical than to teach the victim how to deal with bullies but do nothing about the bullies themselves. The first step in caring for this problem comes from the recognition of who is a bully.
Current research tends to categorize bullies into two different groups; first envy, resentment, shame, and poor self-esteem are motivating for bullies or arrogance and narcissism. Many people also think that Bullies may bully because they have been the victim of bullying. No matter what the reason may be for this conduct, counseling can make a significant change in these behaviors. Signs that a child may be a bully or needs some professional help include:
• being easily frustrated
• lacks empathy
• seeks status through violence
• makes threats
• has a history of tantrums or uncontrolled outbursts
An evaluation to determine if a child is a bully should include information about their actions in a variety of environments such as school, home, and after school activities. Typically, a pattern of behavior would emerge during a comprehensive evaluation showing aggressive negative behaviors against peers. Following identification how to treat the behavior needs to be considered. Effective interventions to help remedy a bullying situation are teaching empathy, limiting messages that approve of bullying (i.e. media or permissive parenting), and counseling to address problems such as depression, arrogance, low-self esteem, or family problems. Empathy can be taught through active role modeling, discussion with the child, positive reinforcement, interaction with a diverse group of peers while helping the child to understand the similarities between themselves and others.
Useful role modeling starts with displaying traits and behaviors you wish to cultivate in children, this requires that you have developed a rapport with the bully and then demonstrate to them, a sense of empathy, fairness, honesty, kindness, tolerance, and self-esteem. Always seek to treat them as a valued individual even if they display poor behavior choices. Gently redirect them away from poor behavior choices, and ask them if they can come up with a different way of acting.
There are several questions that you can ask the bully when you are redirecting them from poor behavior that can improve empathy. These include asking the child “what did you do,” “how would you feel,” “what makes that a bad thing to do,” “how can you do what you want without hurting anybody.”
Positive reinforcement can be useful especially for a bully that feels lonely or lives in an environment where they feel as if they are not treated with kindness, respect, or have low self-esteem. Positive reinforcement would seek out to reward specific positive behaviors that you catch the bully engaging in, with the idea that rewarding those behaviors will increase the amount of the actions. When rewarding a positive behavior the reward, it does not have to be expensive or particularly extravagant. A word or two about how proud you are of them or that you appreciate the good behavior can have an immediate and lasting effect. When using positive reinforcement at the beginning of making changes to the practice often reward the positive behaviors, and over time develop a habit of rewarding behaviors intermittently research has shown this creates the highest rates of response to reward and solidifies the behavior more so than other schedules of reinforcement. Be cautious to pay intermittently and not to forget to reward positive behaviors. When the bully participates in activities with a diverse group of children, this allows them to develop and practice empathy and can give you the parent or teacher opportunities to help the bully to see that they have similarities with kids from a variety of backgrounds.
As empathy is being taught or increased, a next step would be to decrease as many messages to the bully that bullying is ok. When addressing poor behavior, succinctly notify the bully that aggressive or mean behavior is not acceptable. Ask the child if they learned how to be a bully from a media message, a family member, or a friend. Depending on their response, you can address how to decrease that child’s access to those messages. If possible, monitor what that child watches on TV, the internet or listens to on the radio. If a family member is permissive about bullying behavior, try to address them, the trouble it is causing for the child and possibly for the whole family. Know whom the child is friends with and limit access to the ones you do not approve of, or that you think to influence the child to be a bully.
A child that is acting aggressively, quickly frustrated, lacking empathy, or is threatening others may be expressing how they feel in their hostile actions and may not know another way to communicate how they feel. Visiting with a counselor can help determine the causation of the problem and then work through solutions to help them grow and develop in healthier ways. If you are concerned that a child is acting like a bully quickly work to intervene in their behavior and help address their needs as a means to stop the cycle of bullying at home or school.