How to Identify School Bullies Preemptively

The playground pecking order is a fact of life. There are social cliques, sports team buddies, nerd norms and everything in between. These social strata are precursors to adult life, which is why it is crucial to prevent bullying before it happens. Learning to identify characteristics and behaviors of those prone to bullying can provide protection for potential victims and opportunities for intervention with the bullies themselves.

Bullying damages everyone involved. The victim learns helplessness and self-doubt, the bully learns violence and cruelty, and even observers are left confused and fearful. The long-term damage inflicted by bullying can lead to suicide. So how can parents and teachers identify bullying behavior tendencies before they are acted upon?

Big bruisers

Nearly everyone is familiar with the big, tough guy type of bully. These individuals have the superior size and strength needed to back up their threats. Their size alone can be intimidating. These children have often learned that being bigger and stronger than their peers makes it easy for them to get their way. They are normally surrounded by a group of followers who are willing to bask in their benefactors protective bubble and they garner his or her approval by aiding and abetting the bully’s abusive tendencies. What frequently begins as insults and threats can frequently escalate into theft and outright violence.

Catty cliques

Popular television shows herald the more subversive, though no less devastating, type of bully: the psychological. These bullies find their own security through social aggression, acting superior to everyone else through the clothes they wear, the company they keep, and frequent verbal attacks on the more vulnerable. Without the obvious bruises or theft seen in physical bullying, psychological bullies use exclusion, insults, and social slights to chisel away the confidence of their victims. Frequently, these are the most popular kids in school and their bullying often goes unseen and un-prevented.

Charismatic manipulators

The charismatic manipulators verge on the charm their victims into doing or giving things they would never do on their own. The charismatic bully tends to know many people but is close to few or none. Identifying the charismatic manipulator is very difficult, due their ability to charm, but they can be found out when patterns of antisocial behavior are observed.

Family history

Identifying school bullies preemptively requires a look at student family histories. Bullies frequently come from insecurities and parenting problems prevalent in these households often leads students to demonstrate their self-proclaimed superiority and power over their victims. A close look at student family histories can help identify bullies before anyone is harmed.

Personality traits & common behaviors

Finally, certain personality traits and behaviors have been identified that indicate a higher likelihood of someone becoming or being a bully. These traits include a lack of empathy, disregard for rules and authority, and a sense of entitlement. Contrary to past thoughts on the subject, bullies are not necessarily insecure. In fact, they tend to feel superior and owed. Identifying bullies preemptively therefore includes looking at frequent rule breaking, classroom disruptions, and blatant resentment at being held accountable. Anger management is another issue common to potential bullies. These children tend to overreact to frustrating situations, automatically lashing out and refusing to take responsibility for their actions. When a child is observed using inappropriate levels of anger on a regular basis, a red flag should arise. These children have not learned other means of expressing their fears or frustrations. 

Social & problem solving skills 

Inadequate problem solving skills can also lead to bullying. Children are not born knowing how to handle social situations. They don’t know how to take turns or share or delay their own gratification without being taught. When they have not been given the skills they need to solve their problems at home, they get frustrated and angry and are more likely to lash out. Inappropriate approaches to problem solving should be viewed as teaching opportunities to prevent bullying.

Poor impulse control

Impulse control problems are another prime indicator of bullying. No one is surprised when an infant cries and howls for food, but young children need to learn socially acceptable ways of getting what they want. Often, this means waiting longer than they would like. Children without impulse control want everything fulfilled immediately and without thought for others. They lash out physically and verbally, demanding satisfaction. When these little tyrants’ wishes are not satisfied, they often resort to bullying and violence. It is up to adults to take note of these reactions and to help the child learn the realities of how to get what they want in socially accepted ways.

It must recognized that bullying is a behavior, not a personality trait. As such, it is learned and can be unlearned. Students most likely to resort to bullying have several things in common. Lack of empathy is universal among overly aggressive students. This can be exhibited in a student’s inability to express or acknowledge even their own feelings. They may be unaware of how their actions and words affect their peers. When adults observe this behavior, direct instruction, modeling and role playing can be used to provide students with the skills, experiences and vocabulary that will help develop empathy. 

Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance of socially acceptable behaviors is frustrating and frightening and can lead to a life of trepidation and incarceration. Adults have the responsibility to watch for the warning signs of bullying behavior and to provide the education that will help children solve their problems and get what they want in socially acceptable ways within realistic time frames.