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Although we often hear that bullies target others because they themselves have low self esteem, research consistently demonstrates this to be false. Bullies, it seem, tend to have an average or higher than average perception of self worth and a more than average number of friends.1

So why do they do it then?

Bullies like to feel powerful and in control, and an easy way to achieve feelings of power is by dominating a weaker person.

Research shows that the two primary reasons why bullies bully are:

  1. To feel powerful and in-control and to gain social status by demeaning those with lower social status
  2. Because they haven’t learned healthier ways to interact with others or because their bullying behaviors have been rewarded and entrenched2

Character Traits of Bullies

While bullies, as human beings, are a diverse lot, people who engage in bullying behaviors tend to share some common character traits. Bullies tend to:

  • Be aggressive, with peers, parents and teachers etc.
  • Think aggression is a good thing and they become aggressive with very minimal provocation
  • Do not handle frustration well
  • Be more immature and less responsible than their peers
  • Engage in small acts of violence frequently (hitting, pushing, etc.)
  • Lack empathy for others (find humor or pleasure in the misfortunes of others)
  • Do not accept responsibility for their actions
  • Demand attention from others
  • Have difficulty obeying rules and regulations
  • Show contempt for people
  • Male bullies tend to be larger than their peers, in many cases, female bullies are smaller than average.3

Why Bullies Bully

Bullying is a learned behavior. Some of the reasons why people engage in bullying include:

  • Having role models at home who model violence or bullying
  • Getting rewarded for aggressive and bullying behaviors
  • Being unable to handle frustration – a child who cannot handle their inability to perform in some way academically may make themselves feel better and more in-control by later bullying a weaker classmate
  • Being the victim of a bully – people who are the victims of bullies are themselves more likely to learn bullying behaviors and repeat the pattern on those weaker than themselves
  • The bully is being abused or neglected at home
  • The bully has a mental health disorder, like a personality or conduct disorder 4

Signs That Your Child is Bully

Are you worried that your child might be a bully?

Just as being bullied can lead to long term health and mental health consequences, bullies too tend to fare more poorly over the long run, such as having a high likelihood of developing a criminal record by young adulthood, so it’s important that you intervene quickly if your child is bullying and help him or her learn more constructive ways of interacting with others. Some warning signs that could indicate that your child is bullying others include, your child:

  • Is hot tempered and always needs to win at everything or always get her own way
  • Speaks dismissively or insultingly of others in the peer group (losers, idiots etc.)
  • Is frequently violent or often in trouble for fighting
  • Has extra money or belongings that can’t be explained
  • Has trouble accepting responsibility for her actions and blames others for her failings*
  • Is aggressive towards you and other adults and frequently breaks the rules of the house
  • Displays little sympathy or empathy to other kids who are getting picked on
  • Is very quick to get insulted or feel offense
  • Likes to hang out with kids who are younger or not as strong as he is5

Helping Your Child to Overcome Bullying Behaviors

If you think or know that your child is bullying another, it’s important, for everyone’s sake, that you intervene and put an end to the harmful behaviors. To learn more about what you should do and how you should do it, read: My Child Is a Bully – What Can I Do

References
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Page last updated Jun 22, 2011

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