How To Help The Child Who BulliesMay 18, 2021
“A child who bullies is capable of transformation.”
In this episode of The 3D Parent Podcast, I’m talking about how to help children who bully others. Most of the conversations I hear around bullying are focused on the victims of bullying. It’s being forgotten that bullies are deeply wounded children who also need help.
We will go over topics such as:
- Why children become bullies
- What is and is not effective in preventing bullying
- How relationships can change bullies
I hope this episode reminds you that bullies are still children who need us and that it gives you some ideas about how you can help wounded children.
Things You Will Learn
[00:08] In last week’s episode, I talked about the strategies you as a parent can use to help your child feel protected if they were to come in contact with a bully. In this episode, I’m focusing on how to help bullies themselves. Most of the conversations I hear around bullying are focused on the victims of bullying. It’s being forgotten that bullies are deeply wounded children who also need help.
[03:22] It’s important to understand what bullying is and who exactly bullies are. Bullying is a repeated pattern of threatening, taunting, ridiculing, or other aggressive behavior. A one-off event is not really bullying. Characteristics of children who bully include that they are dominant, rule-breakers, and emotionally cold. They are unable to be led by others, and they target or exploit the weaknesses of people around them. What’s crucial to understand about bullies that is often overlooked is that they are devoid of feelings, especially vulnerable ones such as caring and remorse.
[04:12] There is a common school of thought that bullying is a learned behavior. Children watch and observe patterns of bullying and learn to act that way themselves. However, there is a growing body of evidence that shows this is not true; bullying is actually a defense against wounding, separation, and loss. Bullies are often being bullied themselves. They may experience such a lack of safety in their relationships that their brain responds by “going numb.” They lose their ability to feel and connect.
[08:47] What can be done to prevent bullying? Unfortunately, many of the common approaches are ineffective. Punishments and consequences don’t work because of the bullies’ lack of ability to feel remorse. Zero tolerance policies unfortunately serve to further alienate the bully and cut them off from connection with others. Some programs in schools seek to teach empathy to children. While these programs do have benefits, they don’t tend to work against bullying. Empathy is not something that can be learned, and a bully's behavior is a defense against wounding, not an inherent trait about them.
[14:11] People mistakenly believe that bullying behavior is something that is learned behavior and therefore can be removed through education or consequence. Bullying is not learned--it is a defense. It is a subconscious defense from experiencing pain that is too much to bear. Bullies are individuals who are deeply wounded. They need understanding and healing, not punishments and lessons.
[20:33] The key to actually helping bullies heal is a relationship with an adult that is secure, empathetic, and free from further wounding. In the book Reclaiming our Students: Why Children Are More Anxious, Aggressive, and Shut Down Than Ever—And What We Can Do About It, Hannah Beach and Tamara Neufeld Strijack define the adult bullies need as the “caring leader.” The “equation” they give for the role of a caring leader is as follows:
- To communicate through words and actions that they can handle the bully-- they are not too much to handle.
- Find it within themselves to resist the urge to react punitively or shame bullies but instead see past the rude, angry, insulting, rough and prickly exterior of the bully and see the wounded, suffering, hopeless person inside.
- Make it safe for the bully to rest in their care and eventually give them their hearts.
- To soften their hearts so they can regain the ability to feel vulnerable feelings
[28:36] When done well, this relationship can provide the rules, the structures, and the security needed for bullies to heal. The caring leader can provide supervision and insert themselves when needed. Eventually, the bully will be led back to their vulnerable feelings, the defenses will come down, and their heart will soften.
[32:15] Let’s not write children off. A child who bullies is capable of transformation. They are not stuck with this identity for life, although that often is the experience for some children. But what if we all worked collectively to change this? To believe that a bully will always be a bully is a copout. A child who has become a bully does not need to bear that label nor have a life sentence unless we give up on them. There is always the possibility for change and rebirth.
Quotes From Episode 70
“Empathy is not something that can be taught. Children cannot be taught to feel their feelings.”
“Bullying is not learned. It is a subconscious defense from experiencing pain that is just too much to bear.”
“A child who bullies is capable of transformation.”
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