When Children Are Bullies or Bullied....
The Truth About Bullies
|The public perception of bullying is that bullies are acting out to
cover their own fears. They may indeed be afraid, but accepting this as a reason
makes bullies sound like victims of their fears -- like we're supposed to feel
sorry for them and not hold them responsible for their abusive actions.
The issue is not whether bullies are afraid.
Bullies bully other people to feel powerful around them and to feel power over
them. Bullies start out feeling like zeroes, like nobodies. When they
intimidate, threaten or hurt someone else, then they feel like somebody. The key
is the feeling of power.
We often think of the child bully as being male, but the percentage of girls who
intimidate their classmates and siblings is increasing dramatically. Bullying
doesn't stop at the end of the school day, either. Whether bullies are at home,
at school, or they're threatening and intimidating other kids on the Internet,
they're going to act out to make themselves feel powerful. Many kids who are
bullies at school are bullies at home. The most common victims are their
What are the consequences of bullying? You may have heard about post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) when it comes to sexual victimization or assault. PTSD
can occur any time people feel they have no control over the way their pain is
delivered. They live in fear, not knowing when they're going to be hurt. Kids
who are constantly bullied and not protected will develop symptoms of PTSD --
constant anxiety, constant fear, idiosyncratic behaviors to compensate for those
feelings. They'll fall behind in their development.
Dealing with bullies requires holding them strictly accountable for the abusive,
hurtful or disrespectful things that they do to feel powerful. They need to
practice appropriate ways to feel powerful -- using social skills, articulating
their feelings, communicating honestly with others and solving problems. Those
skills are difficult to develop. It takes work; it's like learning how to
multiply or learning how to add. But it can be done. Holding bullies accountable
for inappropriate behavior gives them boundaries and gives them a roadmap for
doing that work.
If your child is a bully
If your child starts to exhibit bullying behavior, the first thing to do is
realize it's something you need to address. You can't kid yourself that it will
go away on its own. If adolescent bullies are not stopped, and not taught more
appropriate ways to solve problems, they become abusive parents, spouses and
bosses. We all feel powerless at times, but there are better ways to deal with
that than to abuse other people.
You as the parent have to set a standard: No excuse for abuse. There's no excuse
for cursing someone out, for breaking something, for hitting anyone. The bully
always has an excuse, a way to justify this behavior. This justification is so
powerful that it takes the place of empathy for the other person. That's why you
have to have a no-excuse standard.
A kid may curse out his sister and say foul things to her and then make up some
justification about what she was doing to him -- "She went into my room again"
or "She wouldn't get off the computer." Let the kid tell you the excuse, and
then reiterate, "There's no excuse for abuse." Don't shut off communication, but
don't validate the thinking errors that go into the justification of abusive
actions. There should be consequences for abuse. Later, you can talk about
appropriate ways to handle a problem.
If your child is bullied
If your child is a victim of bullying, it may be because he is the sort of child
who has difficulty standing up for himself. Bullies look for easy targets,
because that makes them feel powerful. If you can teach a child not to respond
to bullying, to walk away, bullies are less likely to press that child.
The most effective strategies for dealing with bullies are "avoid" and "escape."
These are things you can teach your children: Avoid bullies when you can. Walk
away from them if they're in your vicinity. If you're being bullied and that
doesn't work, you need to get help from somebody who has more power than the
bully. You shouldn't have to fight because somebody else is a bully. Go to
someone who has more power than the bully, like the teacher or the police. Teach
your child that he has to hold that person responsible. Getting hit in school is
still assault, and parents shouldn't back off if that happens. You want the
other kid's parents down at the police station. You want them to be as
uncomfortable as you are.
It hurts to be bullied, and this fact should never be minimized. Teachers,
parents and school officials are sometimes inclined to say, "Well, they're only
kids. It happens." It shouldn't happen, and it's adults' responsibility to
provide a healthy environment for our children. The best schools are the ones
who develop a zero tolerance for violence and zero tolerance for bullying, and
parents should demand that and support it.
At the same time, if your child is experiencing abuse at the hands of another
child, ask this question: "What would you find helpful?" Find out what your
child would find helpful to improve the situation. Here's why this is important.
If a child is being bullied at school and his parents just take over the
situation, then he's powerless on both ends. Be encouraging, give him a chance
to work it out, offer some help and ideas. But also let him know that if it's
still a problem, you're going to step in and protect him.
The Truth About Bullies reprinted with permission from Empowering
by James Lehman, MSW
About the Author:
For three decades, behavioral therapist James
Lehman, MSW, has worked with troubled teens and children with behavior problems.
He has developed a practical, real-life approach to managing children and
adolescents that teaches them how to solve social problems without hiding behind
a facade of defiant, disrespectful, or obnoxious behavior. He has taught his
approach to parents, teachers, state agencies and treatment centers in private
practice and now through
The Total Transformation -- a
comprehensive step-by-step, multi-media program that makes learning James'
techniques remarkably easy and helps you change your child's behavior