West Virginia University Extension Service
"Extension News"
Geraldine Kessel, Extension Specialist--Communications

What Breeds a Bully?

No one particular thing turns a child into a bully. However, studies show that the problem is generally triggered by something in the youngster's environment.

This could include having parents who are overly punitive or verbally or physically abusive. A bully also could have been victimized himself, perhaps by a sibling or another child.

It becomes very easy for children to turn around and do to someone else what's been done to them because they know exactly how it feels.

The problem is that bullies simply don't have the ability to empathize with the other person, to care about how what they're saying or doing hurts.

So, how do you discourage a child from becoming a bully? Here's what to watch out for:

* Take a hard look in the mirror. Are you a bully at home? Do you frequently criticize your child or demand unquestioning obedience at every turn? Do you use spanking as a punishment?

If so, you're sending the message to your child that anger, violence and intimidation are ways to get what you want. Very likely, your child will turn around and use similar tactics on peers.

* Watch your tone and message. It's important for parents and caregivers to examine the tone of voice they use when speaking to children. Avoid undue criticism. Children learn by example, and someone who is belittled at home may resort to such tactics when dealing with peers.

* Start to teach the art of negotiation early on. The preschool years are the time to begin to teach children to mediate their own disputes. If your toddler is wrestling a toy from the hands of a playmate, swoop in and offer an alternative.

With toddlers, parents and caregivers need to watch and intervene when trouble arises. Then try to move things from "might makes right" to "let's make a deal."

What if your child takes a swing at a playmate? The West Virginia University Extension Service recommends clearly stating: "We don't hit. We use words." Then show your child how he or she can nicely ask for a turn.

* Resist being a pushover. Parents also may breed a bully by being overly permissive. By giving in when a child is obnoxious or demanding, they send the message that bullying pays off.

Children actually feel more secure when they know parents will set limits. If you do discover your child is acting like a tyrant, don't panic. It's important for parents to realize that all kids have the capacity to bully.

Here's what to do if it's your child who's doing the bullying:

Make it clear that bullying will not be tolerated. Although it's important to determine why your child is behaving like a ruffian, emphasize that you won't allow such action, and outline the consequences. If the problem occurs at school, tell your child that you respect the school's right to exact punishment if it persists.

Have your child walk in the victim's shoes. Since bullies have trouble empathizing with their victims, it's important to discuss how it feels to be bullied. How would your child feel if it happened to him or her?

Help your child feel successful. It's important to emphasize your child's good points, so he or she can start to experience how positive feedback (rather than negative attention) feels.

Is your child good with animals? A math whiz? Proficient at team sports? Then put your youngsters in situations where those strengths make them shine.

Another alternative: find opportunities for your child to help others, perhaps by volunteering at a local soup kitchen, or helping a teacher after school.

Doing good increases a child's sense of self-worth.

(Reviewed by Lucy Jackson Bayles.)

Robert W. Knight, Extension Specialist - Communications
714 Knapp Hall, Morgantown, WV 26506-6031
West Virginia University Extension Service
West Virginia University
Phone: (304) 293-4221  ex 3411
Fax:      (304) 293-6611
Email: rknight@wvu.edubr>

December 6, 1995
Document Number: 800111598

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