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Expert advice: What drives a child to becoming a bully?

Stop bullying, it is mean

Stop bullying, it is mean

Published Jul 22, 2021


WHY do children become bullies? A North West psychologist and Stomp Out Bullying, a UK non-profit organisation, say there are many reasons.

In most cases, parents are bullies, angry or don't know how to handle conflict well. This can include neglected children, children of divorced parents, or children with parents under the regular influence of drugs or alcohol, says Stomp Out Bullying.

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Children usually bully because they learn the behaviour at home. It is learnt behaviour that can be unlearnt. Even in the most disciplined or positive schools there may be isolated incidents of bullying.

Tebello Mabusela, a psychology lecturer at the North-West University, says a child’s upbringing, possible unmet needs, socio-economic issues and exposure to a violent and an aggressive environment where they have to fight for survival are some of the factors that could possibly contribute towards a child having bullying traits.

She says a child’s environment plays a significant role in developing their personality and character. She uses a notion of “a child not being an island” – a child’s behaviour cannot be isolated from his environment, he learns and imitates the behaviour of those around him.

Mabusela says bullying can also be associated with mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and personality disorders.

“Certain psychological needs have to be met for a child to function well as an adult. When those needs are not met, and rejection, aggression and neglect are experienced, a child develops anxiety and depression that manifest in aggression and anger towards themselves and others.”

She says the support from health-care professionals such as psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists can help bullies process childhood traumas that manifest as anger and aggression. Through psycho-education and other intervention methods such as learning self-awareness, healthy coping, positive adaptation and resilience skills, the behaviour can be changed.

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Mabusela says that if bullying traits are left uncorrected, they can be carried over into adulthood.

“These adults will struggle with emotional regulation, they will not have insight into their triggers and will be violent and aggressive towards themselves and others in all areas of their lives.”

While it is easy to use punishment as a way to solve bullying, other interventions are encouraged, such as teamwork between parents and the school community.

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If your child needs to speak to someone, Childline SA has counsellors that are available 24/7 at 0800 55 555. It's free on all networks.