Bullying has always occurred but has only recently become a recognized social issue, with children learning at school what qualifies as bullying and national days to recognize the issue. Most parents believe that there children could be the victims of bullies and worry about this, but what if your child is the one doing the bullying? No parent wants to believe their child could be a bully, but if this happens then it begs the question how can this be fixed? In order to answer this, parents and other common role models must first know why the behavior started. Much bullying behavior can be linked to parental and social influence, and it is a way for a child to exert control over some aspect of their lives.
One of the biggest contributing factors that leads to bullying behavior is low self esteem. Self esteem can be loosely defined and the ability to recognize ones own worth and skills, as well as the ability to accept and respect oneself. When a child does not recognize his or her own strengths and potential, they will feel worthless and powerless. From this feeling, it is common to act out in the form of bullying to regain a sense of control. There are many reasons self esteem may become an issue, but the biggest begins with the parents. Some parents compliment their children rarely, and praise them even less. More commonly though, it is the well-intentioned parent who praises their children but models negative self-talk that affects the child’s self-esteem. Many adults suffer poor self esteem, and it is often a learned behavior in children. To improve a child’s self esteem, it is important for them to have regular contact with adults who have high levels of self esteem and confidence.
Another reason children may become bullies is a lack of clear rules or limits. Setting appropriate limits for a child is difficult but essential. Children show adults how essential it is beginning in the toddler years with repeat testing behavior. Many parents wonder why a child repeatedly breaks the same rule over and over again when they know it is wrong. The answer is that the child is testing to see if the rules will remain consistent. Once the child knows one rule, they will find another one to break, and repeat the pattern until they have a strong sense of right and wrong. Parents who choose not to discipline their children or enforce inconsistent consequences are only setting the children up for insecurity and uncertainty. In older children, this is often represented in bullying behavior, because it is a way to feel powerful and in control. If a child is uncertain of socially acceptable rules, they will also struggle to solve problems in a socially acceptable way.
Parents and other adult role models are also influential in teaching children how to recognize and handle their emotions in a positive way. Some parents are less involved than others, either because they aren’t as invested in parenting or they simply don’t have the time. Whatever the case, children who receive little attention from their parents are at risk of becoming bullies, because as well as suffering poor self esteem and having few limits, they have little chance to see positive modelling behavior. It is important to communicate clearly and spend quality time with children, whether you are a parent, caregiver, or teacher, because it is from adults that they learn the right way to treat others. This is learned both by following examples of behavior or from regular communication about social topics. A child who demonstrates bullying behavior might be doing so simply because they don’t know it is wrong.
Although role models are important in determining proper behavior, there are also other social influences to think about. Hopefully a child will not learn bullying behavior from their regular adult role models, however this does happen sometimes. Any social activity is a learning experience though, so if a child witnesses someone being intimidated or treated with disrespect in a public setting, they may think the behavior is appropriate. Their friends could also be modelling bullying behavior, and if a child or teenager does not see or hear about the consequences involved in this, they might define it as acceptable. It is important for parents to communicate clearly with children of any age about proper behavior, both positive and negative. Ask how the child or teenager would feel if they the person receiving poor treatment. Often, when children take the time to apply these situations to themselves they can see how the behavior is wrong. Children and teenagers need regular exposure to different social situations to create these learning opportunities, and sometimes it will help a bully to change theri own behavior.
Children may become bullies for many or few reasons, but it boils down to these common factors. First and most important are the parents, including how much involvement and communication is provided, as well as the lessons taught both by example and through communication. Children with poor self esteem are more likely to be bullies, and this can also be improved with more parental involvement, or coming into contact with more positive role models. Bullying is a way to exert control, so a child who feels a lack of this is also more prone to bullying. This is not to blame the parents, because most parents would not knowingly do anything to negatively impact their children. However, parents can unknowingly influence all these things in children, so in order to prevent bullying from starting or stop it if it has started, parents need to become aware of the reasons why. Sometimes it is caused inadvertently by parents or role models, but it can almost always be helped by them too.