Some bullies are big. Some bullies are popular. And some bullies are loners. As a result, there is no one type of bully and there is no one single cause of bullying. Instead, a host of factors put children at risk of becoming a bully. Sometimes temperament, size and self-esteem play a role. Other times, family background increases the likelihood of bullying. Still other times, children resort to bullying because they are bullied themselves.
Let’s look at the most common factors that influence bullying from a family, personal and behavioural perspective. Familiarising yourself with these factors will not only help you identify why bullying is occurring, but also help you improve the environment so that bullying is minimised.
FAMILY RISK FACTORS
Sometimes a person’s family will influence their bullying behaviour. Here are a few family issues that contribute to bullying.
Witnessing or Experiencing abuse – Children from abusive homes are more likely to bully than other children because aggression, violence and manipulation are a part of a normal day for them. When I run taekwondo lessons in schools and see that a school student is angry a lot and lashing out at other students, I try not to automatically assume the worst. If I witness this behaviour at school, I bring it to the attention of the school and the school normally digs a little deeper to find out what is going on. Sometimes the child may need more support and guidance rather than disciplinary action for their bullying behaviours. Sometimes I ask permission to talk to the child and give the child a different perspective and hopefully calm them down.
Having permissive parents – When parents do not establish rules for their children or provide adequate supervision, their children often resort to bullying. What’s more, permissive parents are less likely to follow through with consequences or attempt to stop the bullying. The lack of relationship between the child and their parents can create all types of issues, including bullying behaviour. If you find that your child has trouble following rules, I recommend finding a local martial arts club and enrolling your child. We provide a fun and inclusive environment, but with firm rules and discipline and always encourage our children to show love and respect to their parents. Some parents have given me feedback where they have used my name to help control the situation. ‘Now what would Master Paul say about that?’
Seeing or experiencing bullying by siblings – When an older brother or sister puts a younger sibling in a headlock or twists an arm behind their back, this creates a sense of powerlessness. To regain that feeling of strength, these children may bully others, sometimes even imitating their older sibling. You may be able to control it at home, when you hear the yelling and crying, but when they are not in your presence, they will do what it takes to feel a sense of control. In the end, all they are doing is what has been done to them.
Violence between siblings is one of the most common types of family violence. It occurs four to five times as often as child abuse. What’s more, about 30 per cent of all children have been assaulted by a sibling and anywhere between 10 to 40 per cent of children have been repeatedly bullied by a sibling. But even the most severe incidents go unreported.
As mentioned earlier, children need to learn to show empathy, have more patience and a better understanding of each other. A great place to teach these valuable lessons is in the safety of your home or under the supervision of a qualified martial arts instructor.
PERSONALITY RISK FACTORS
Children who possess certain personality traits are more prone to bullying. Here is a list of contributing factors that may influence a child’s tendency to bully others.
Exhibiting low self-esteem – If you believe that your child has low self-esteem, they are more prone to bullying, because it gives them a sense of power and control, which is something they find lacking in their own life. Remember, even though bullying attracts negative attention, it is still attention.
Somewhere between six and 11 years of age, children begin to actively compare themselves to their peers. This new-found social comparison occurs for both emotional and social reasons. Some children come to realise that their efforts are not as good as those of their peers and begin to feel inferior. It will be in those areas that they find important to themselves that they will be at the greatest risk of developing low self-esteem. Look carefully and take note of what your child is focusing on. It could be education, sport or just trying to achieve something they have seen other people doing. Help them get over their hurdles and praise them for their efforts. If they keep trying without giving up too soon, they will have achieved a huge milestone in building self-esteem. As adults we understand the value of one step at a time and this is a great lesson to teach a child.
Relating to others negatively – It is important to always remind your child to not make negative comments about a person’s appearance, intelligence, abilities, race, culture or lifestyle. Much of this harmful bullying comes from fear and a lack of understanding and is often learned at home. Talk to your child and teach them how they can be more accepting of other people and explain the benefits of having friends that want the best for each other.
Leadership – If your child always wants to be in charge, they are also prone to becoming a bully. If your child is bossy, controlling or demanding, teach them how to be a leader in a respectful way. Explain to them that you can do things several ways and by working with someone else’s ideas, you are helping them become a leader like you.
Showing little empathy – If your child is either unable or unwilling to understand how a person might feel when cruel things are said or done to them, they often lack empathy. The key is to get them to imagine what it might be like to be in another person’s shoes.
Make sure your child’s own emotional needs are met. In order for a child to be able to feel and express empathy for someone else, their own emotional needs must first be met. They must be able to count on their parents and caregivers to provide emotional support before they can provide it to someone else.
Name that feeling – To help your child understand emotions and feelings, identify and label them as much as possible. If your child behaves kindly toward someone, such as by trying to comfort a crying baby or friend, say, ‘That was very nice of you to be so worried about your friend; I’m sure it made them feel much better when you were so kind to them.’