What Makes Kids Want to Bully

As a bullying expert who has worked with several children and teens who have been bullied, I am often asked questions such as, “Why do other kids want to hurt me?” and “What motivates kids to be cruel to each other?”

There are a few common reasons why children bully:

They’ve been bullied themselves.

Bullies often have their own wounds to heal. Kids who were previously bullied may attempt to heal by hurting others. When there are other bullies involved, they may do this to attempt to shift the focus so that someone else is bullied and not them. Or, a bully may try to make themselves feel better by hurting someone else.

They’re modeling behavior from a parent or other adult.

Children often model what they see. There may be role-modeling at home or other places where the bully observes similar behavior from others. Bullies may live in a home environment where they witness bullying going on or have been raised to handle situations and connect with people in an antagonistic manner. Read the common ways adults hinder bullying prevention.

They’re trying to gain attention or popularity.

Children may bully as an attempt to win approval from others or to get others to like them. A bully may use his negative behavior toward another person to try to get a positive response from others. For an example, a bully may humiliate or make fun of someone as an attempt to get others to laugh.

They feel entitled.

An entitled child is one who has been given too much power, usually from home. Often, entitled children have been raised without limitations and with no rules that are enforced. These children may believe they have a right to bully others at school since that’s how they get their way at home. An entitled child puts the needs of themselves before the needs of others.

They lack empathy.

Empathy is to be aware and understand someone else’s feelings by understanding their perspective. Children are not born with empathy. It’s often a skill that is taught at home. One of the best ways that children can learn to be empathetic is by having it modeled to them.

How bullies choose their targets.

The reason bullies pick certain kids to hurt varies in rationale. There are certain risk factors that may make a child more likely to be bullied. These include physical, emotional and relational factors. When kids are different in how they look, act or respond, a bully may see this as an easy target to hurt. Bullies prey on those who they perceive as weaker. An example may be a sensitive kid who may be emotional and react easily to situations. A bully can pick up on this and use to their advantage.

What children should do if faced with a bully.

Children should try not to provide bullies with a reaction, whether they are being bullied online or in-person. Unless the bully is being physically aggressive, it is best to not engage with any reactivity of response, emotions or let them know that what they are saying is hurting them.

The best thing that a person who is being bullied can do during the attack is to remove themselves from the situation as quickly as possible. Walk away, or if it’s online, get off. Kids that are cyberbullied should write a note or send a private message to the bully to ask them to stop. They should NOT respond to the post under any conditions. Click here for more ways to address cyberbullying.

As I share in my The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying book, parents or a trusted adult should use the Three E’s (Empathy, Empowerment and Engagement) to talk to their kids after bullying. While kids cannot control how any person will act or respond, they can control their own actions and how the bully makes them feel. By not responding to a bully, a child is controlling the reaction that the bully receives. Bullies that don’t receive the reaction that they’re looking for will often stop.

Children and parents should know that they are not alone. They can be empowered to stand up to bullies. No one ever needs to stay in a powerless place. It’s also important to remember that children who bully are still children. While their behavior should not be condoned, they too, need help and guidance from adults. Parents of bullies and victims should use The Three E’s to help the bullying stop.

Empathy, empowerment and engagement can help your child overcome and begin to heal from the bullying. It can also help your child not give the bullies the reactions that they’re seeking. If your child continues to seem depressed and/or the bullying is unable to be resolved, it’s important to seek professional help to address these issues and develop strategies to address the bullying. I am always available for assistance and you can click here if you’d like to schedule a complimentary 30-minute phone consultation.

About the Author:

Danielle Matthew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who treats bully victims and their families and educates schools, medical professionals and the community about the bullying epidemic. With over 20 years of experience, Danielle authored Amazon Parenting Best-Seller, The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying, and is the Director of The Empowerment Space Bullying Therapy Program in Los Angeles. Featured in Huffington Post and TODAY.com, Danielle has appeared on FOX, ABC and CBS Morning Shows and Mom Talk Radio.