What causes bullying? From self-esteem to communication, learn about the causes of bullying and how to support children in preventing bullying behavior.
Bullying. The word no parent wants to hear. From playground gossip to hallway taunting, this topic can stir up a lot of emotions for you as a parent or caregiver, especially if it’s impacting the well-being of your child.
And what’s important to note is that bullying can stem from various factors. But before we delve into the underlying reasons for bullying, let’s first define it.
What is Bullying?
First things first. When it comes to describing bullying, it’s important to distinguish it from other related terminology like ‘conflict’ or ‘argument.’
Although bullying can take on various meanings, in its simplest form, it can be described as unwanted, combative behavior among young children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. This imbalance can be rooted in various factors like size, age, race, socioeconomic status, and popularity, among other factors.
Unlike a one-time conflict or argument about sharing toys or taking turns, where both sides may express their views on the situation, bullying is different in that the behavior is often repeated or has the potential to be repeated over time., Additionally, bullying can take different forms. It can involve one-on-one interactions where one child is the aggressor toward another. On the other hand, it can occur in group settings where there is a group of aggressors bullying one or more individuals. With all this in mind, it’s important to understand the different types of bullying and look out for any signs indicating your child is being bullied.
Types of Bullying
While bullying can take many shapes, we’ll address two main types of bullying: physical & social, before diving into the root causes behind them.
Physical bullying involves using physical force to harm or intimidate another person. This type of bullying situation can come in various forms, such as:
- Damaging or stealing someone's possessions
- Threatening physical harm
This type of bullying can have serious consequences and inflict mental and bodily harm. Children who experience physical bullying may develop fear, anxiety, and depression, as well as difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
Social & Verbal Bullying
Social and verbal bullying, while not physically harming, involve using words or actions that humiliate, exclude, or intimidate others. This form of bullying can have a significant negative impact on children and typically includes:
- Spreading rumors or gossip
- Excluding others
This bullying behavior can result in intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, and isolation. Children may also struggle academically and socially if their sense of confidence or self-esteem is mitigated. As an extension of verbal bullying comes cyberbullying. This type of bullying involves using technology, such as social media, texting, or messaging apps, to harm someone and can induce just as damaging effects on children as physical or verbal bullying.
What are the Causes of Bullying?
Understanding the different types and signs of bullying is one thing. Knowing the why behind these behaviors is another and can help lead to effective bullying prevention. While it’s easy to cast blame, more times than not, bullying is a result of much larger and more nuanced issues. Here are six common reasons why some children may bully others:
- Modeling: As we know, children are very quick to pick up on language or behavior surrounding them. Therefore, children who witness others belittling each other may learn that such behavior is acceptable and adopt it themselves. Similarly, children may follow peers who engage in bullying behavior to fit in. In these scenarios, it’s important to be cognizant of your own words and actions at home to ensure your kids are exposed to positive language and behavior.
- Low self-esteem: Children with low self-esteem may put others down and tease them in an attempt to feel better about themselves. While there are challenges that come with raising confident kids, it’s important to have conversations with your child about how they view themselves or about how they’re being treated outside of your home. This can help provide them with a safe space to overcome feelings of low self-esteem. You can try a few self esteem activities at home, too! Additionally, low self-esteem can be impacted by past experiences or trauma and point toward signs of depression. In this case, your child may need extra support through therapy or other resources
- Poor communication and/or problem solving skills: Children who struggle to express their feelings and needs may act out in frustration and resort to bullying others when they feel they are not being understood. It’s common for young children to lack concrete communication skills, like asking for what they need, resolving conflict, or expressing their feelings. As a result, kids may resort to bullying behaviors to have their needs met. In these scenarios, it’s important to learn how to communicate with children so they can cope with frustration and handle peer conflict in a calm and healthier way.
- Societal issues: Kids bully for different reasons, many of which can stem from larger societal or systemic issues around race, religion, or socioeconomic status. These topics often manifest in schools and on playgrounds based on perceived differences that children may learn early on. While we’d like to believe all kids and families are created equal, that is not always the case. Having open and honest conversations with children about differences in backgrounds, cultures, and identities can help promote empathy and inclusivity toward others and be a great opportunity for parents and caregivers to continue their own learning around these issues.
- Behavioral or mental health issues: Children with conditions like ADHD or depression may have difficulty with impulse control and may lash out at others as a way of coping with their own struggles or mental health. Therefore, it’s important to ensure kids have the support they need in school and at home. As a parent or caregiver, you can also reach out to professional mental health providers to help address the underlying issue.
- The need for power or control: Some children may bully others to assert social status, power, and dominance. Their need for popularity or status in a social group helps them feel in control of how others feel or treat them. This type of behavior typically stems from peer pressure, their own insecurities, or fear of rejection. In these scenarios, it’s critical for caregivers to help kids identify their underlying feelings of worry or stress. Establishing friendship groups where kids and adults can help model positive, appropriate, and inclusive behavior can help kids understand they are loved and appreciated, and understand the consequences of unkind behavior.
Understanding the reasons why a child might bully a peer can empower you to parent with confidence, effectively address the issue, and create a supportive environment for your children.
However, you don’t have to do it all alone. Don’t hesitate to contact family members, close friends, neighbors, or others in your community for support as you find the best solutions for your child.
Levels of Awareness
When it comes to children that express bullying behaviors, there are three relative scenarios in which children either have or lack a sense of awareness regarding their actions:
- Some children may not be aware that their behavior is inappropriate and therefore do not notice or understand the impact of their actions toward others.
- Some children may know that their behavior is unacceptable but don’t internally understand why they’re acting on it.
- While less common, some children may be fully aware their behavior is inappropriate, understand their actions are harming others, and purposefully continue the behavior to cause further harm. In this scenario, it’s important for kids to get support to help prevent and stop this behavior.
Create a Safe and Inclusive Environment with Slumberkins
If your child is experiencing bullying, you may wonder what to do if your kid is being bullied. While there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, at the end of the day, we all want what is best and most safe for our children.
Even though you can’t be by their side around the clock, you can be their safe space for having open and honest conversations so they can learn about their own boundaries and try to create plans of action for their safety.
At Slumberkins, our social emotional learning books offer comfort and guidance to children struggling with their self-esteem, while our Snugglers help children cope with the challenges and changes of childhood. Together, we can create a safe and inclusive environment where your children can feel confident and thrive.
- Kaminski, Sonya. "Bullying of Minority Students: Getting the Facts" College of Education. 7 October, 2020. https://education.fsu.edu/blog/bullying-minority-students-getting-facts
- “What Is Bullying.” Stop Bullying. 24 September 2019, www.stopbullying.gov/bullying/what-is-bullying
- Tippett, Neil, and Dieter Wolke. “Socioeconomic status and bullying: a meta-analysis.” American journal of public health vol. 104,6 (2014): e48-59. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.301960
- “What’s the Difference between Conflict and Bullying?” Pacer. www.pacer.org/bullying/info/questions-answered/conflict-vs-bullying.asp