Posted by: l2bb | March 29, 2010

Beating bullying with protective behaviour

Rigby (2008) talks discusses the use of the “hand diagram” in helping children protect themselves from bullying.  Here is my version of the hand diagram:

Protective Behaviours

Copyright Amanda Gray 2010 - it will be available as part of the new activity plan for Dave is Brave

This is a visual way of teaching children to stand up for themselves in the different phases of bullying (as discussed in the previous post).

Step 1: Ignore

In some cases children who are looking for someone to bully will move on if they don’t get any reaction.  This could be the case only if they are bullying to get a sense of power and pleasure out of the reaction of the child they are bullying.

Step 2: Walk away

This sends a message to the person who is bullying that you will not submit to the treatment they are dishing out.  Again, this can work if children are in the “trolling” phase of bullying, looking for “weak” or “defenseless” children.

But this doesn’t always work.

Step 3: Ask nicely

Being challenged in a calm way can be a wake up call for some children.  Again, this doesn’t always work so….

Step 4:  Say, “Stop!”

A child who is bullying to gain power or control over a situation may back down if they are firmly challenged.  This is different to a child losing their cool and fighting back – this could give the child who is bullying a sense of “success” or satisfaction.  If the child being bullied does not lose control, but firmly challenges the other child’s behaviour it can again stop the bullying in the “trolling phase“.

Step 5:  Ask for help

If the bullying has got beyond the trolling phase, the strategy most likely to succeed is asking for help.  It is important that you talk to your child about who they can go to in order to get help if they are anxious.  Do this even if your child has not been bullied.

For more:

In April we will be releasing a Booklet for parents on this topic.  The image above will be part of the booklet and can be printed by parents and teachers.

Find out more by visiting our website:


Rigby, K.  (2008).  Children and Bullying:  How Parents and Educators Can Reduce Bullying at School. Blackwell Publishing:Victoria.

Posted by: l2bb | March 26, 2010

Bullying: the early warning signs

McGrath (2007) discusses what she identified as the three phases of bullying or “abuse”.   If we know these signs it can help us avoid the escalation of bullying to the point where it is destructive and hard to stop.

It is not only teachers and parents who need to know the signs.  Children, as they grow into the middle primary years – the tween and teen years – can learn to recognise these signs themselves and avoid a cycle of escalating physical or emotional violence.

Phase one: “Trolling”

McGrath identifies the first phase of bullying as “trolling” (p12).  She suggests that this is when the person is looking for “easy targets”.  McGrath describes these as children who “are easily intimidated, and kids who don’t resist or fight back” (p12).

It is at this stage when children with low self-esteem, poor coping, language or problem-solving skills, or limited physical strength may be identified as targets.

It is also at this stage that if we teach children to stand up for themselves they are passed over as an “easy target”.  Standing up for yourself could include:

Dave is Brave

  • ignoring, walking away (the child who is bullying won’t get the response they want)
  • speaking firmly, but calmly (show no fear, but no anger or annoyance either as an emotional reaction may “feed” the bullying behaviour)
  • using humour
  • staying close to supportive peers and/or teachers
  • telling someone (friend, family, teacher)

Telling someone at an early stage could be more effective than waiting until it gets to a point where the child who is bullying feels the balance of power is in their favour.

Phase two: “Campaign Phase”

“The victim is still hoping for relief and trying to fit in.  He experiences guilt, self-blame, and shame at not being able to stop the behaviour or stand up for himself.  Bullying becomes more frequent and more pervasive” (McGrath, 2007 p12).

It is important that we discuss bullying with children before they ever start experiencing it because of this phase.  For example, a child who is fully understanding what is going on may try to laugh it off.  Or they may feel it is some kind of initiation rite needed in order to belong.

Other children who don’t understand what is going on may become part of the perpetrator’s plan.  They may be enlisted as supporters by the child who is bullying, simply by being an audience to incidents – an audience which builds the perpetrator’s power and does not defend the child being bullied.

Being a bystander who doesn’t do anything means that you are part of the bullying incident.  There is no neutral territory.

The other part of this phase is the beginning of the threats about what will happen if the child being bullied tells anyone about what is happening.

Phase three: “The Bully-Victim Relationship”

It is when things get to this phase that we start fearing for the life of our children.  Not just because of physical threats.  Because at this phase the bullying is so pervasive, frequent and increasingly public that the child being bullied feels helpless and unsupported.  It is at this point that thoughts of suicide as being the only way out occur.

Without action on the part of adults, McGrath states that “the victim experiences a growing sense of despair… [and] the bully gets an unrealistic sense of his power and may take greater risks.” (p12)  If adults are aware of what is happening and are seen as helpless or indifferent by the child who is bullied, their mental health can be threatened.

Get in early

If we can get in early and help our children resist or stand up for themselves in the “trolling” phase of bullying then we are on the way to bully-proofing them.  Teaching protective behaviours is important so that a child looking for a “victim” will not find one in your child.

Just remember: If someone looking for power or control can make you react angrily, get you visibly upset, or get you alone and scared they will be well on the way to getting what they want.


McGrath, M.J.  (2007).  School Bullying: Tools for Avoiding Harm and Liability.  Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks.

Posted by: l2bb | March 22, 2010

In response to the PM’s advice

As reported by Chester and Chilcott and many other news stories, a storm has broken over K.Rudd’s head over his thoughts on how parents should deal with bullying.    The comment causing all the debate is that parents of children who are being bullied should contact the parents of the child who is bullying – if the school is not dealing with the issue.

I don’t want to wade into the debate as everyone has their own valid opinion, and the PM’s advice may work for some.  I just want to suggest some things for parents to think about before they talk to the family of a child who is bullying their child.

Do you know the full story?

Identifying whether an incident is really bullying, what has really happened, and why it may be happening is not always easy – see to the discussions on this blog in January, February and March.  If you do not know the whole context of an incident your child has reported to you, you may find a totally different response from the other parent than expected.

It may be that it is an incident of conflict, where there has been some disagreement or difficulties raised from both children.  It may be that there are some significant issues going on for the other child and family, which mean they may over-react or not be able to cope with your suggestion that their child is bullying your child.  This may lead to a sense that their child has been “falsely accused.”  This is likely to promote anger or frustration, and could put them in conflict with you and perhaps increase the bullying experienced by the child.

Do you know what the other parent’s opinion of the incident is?

There are many different understandings of bullying.  Some families will be supportive in response to a report that their child is bullying another.  They may be keen to work with their child to change the behaviour.

However, some families have a strong belief that children should be able to cope with these difficulties without adult assistance.  They may suggest that you are cosseting your child and you should teach them to “fight back”.

Other families will not agree with you that their child is treating yours in an inappropriate way.

Other families may find it difficult to accept that their child may be doing anything inappropriate because they have not seen that type of behaviour in the home environment.

A calm discussion is not always possible

In these cases, it will be unlikely that you will be able to work with them to formulate a solution that will be satisfactory to both of you.  It may again mean that the bullying increases, and/or conflict between you and the family may escalate.  You may even find that emotions run so high that you, and perhaps even the other family, feel intimidated and harassed as well.

Does your child want you to get directly involved?

This is important as children are at increased risk of being bullied if they are seen as “weak” in some way – for example, being a “mummy’s boy”.  Listening to what your child wants will give you an indication of what their peers might think if parents become directly involved in the incident.  This is especially relevant in the case of adolescents and youth.

However, this does not mean that you can’t be indirectly involved.  For example, you can help teach your child about protective behaviour.  You can challenge the beliefs that your child may be taking on board from what others have said, you can help them avoid being in places and situations where they may be bullying, you can teach them to stand up for themselves if this will not lead to further harm, and you can help them report the incident to the appropriate staff at school and support them in following through with what the school and/or police have in place.

Knowing you are supporting them, that you know what is happening and you are doing your best to help them has been known to make a big difference in the resilience of children.

Can you deal with it calmly?

When your child’s safety and well-being is threatened, it is very understandable that emotions will run high.  We are so emotionally invested in our children that dealing with such an issue will be fraught with emotions such as anger, frustration, anxiety or distress.

For the same reason, if someone suggested our child was bullying their child it is highly likely that similarly strong emotions will arise. And these emotions may become even stronger depending on the emotion and how it is expressed by the other family.

In some cases, families can discuss the issue without emotions getting in the way.  However, if you feel your own and the other families reactions are unpredictable due to the intensity of emotions involved, using schools, community advocates and/or the police as mediators is one way of minimising possible negative outcomes as a result of emotions running high.

While we are in the grip of strong emotions, it is very hard to negotiate, problem-solve and come to an agreement about a solution.  It is important to recognise this, and use the community resources available to you.  If the school is not working with you, then approach your local community centre to see if they have youth workers, social workers that may help.  Or contact the local Education Department office and ask for the person responsible for student welfare.  Alternately, contact advocacy services or the police.

Can the parent change the child’s behaviour?

In some cases a parent my feel powerless to change their child’s behaviour.  There are many reasons why this may be the case:

  1. The incidents are not happening in an environment where they have direct control over their child’s behaviour (school, school bus)
  2. They do not understand why their child may be acting a certain way and have exhausted all their strategies – usually this indicates deeper issues related to a disability, mental health issue and so on that requires third party professional assistance.
  3. Their background, family culture or prior experiences have not equipped them to deal with the situation.

Have you tried all other options?

We would be naive to pretend that there is a simple, one-size-fits-all response to bullying.  Each situation has a different context.  Each individual will respond differently according to their context and background.

Stopping bullying can be a very complex, time-consuming, emotionally charged and intricate process.  When we start dealing with the incident, the bullying may even increase at first.  So whatever we do, we should take time to think about all the possible consequences of our actions.

What we don’t want is to get caught up in an incident that is spiralling out of control, sapping us of the emotional and physical energy we need to support and protect our children. In responding to bullying, we should act in a measured way.  In fact, we couldn’t do better than to follow the risk assessment method recommended in the occupational health and safety Acts and Regulations.

Step 1   Identification of foreseeable hazards – Ask:  If I do this, what are the potential hazards/dangers to myself and my child?

Step 2   Assessing the risks – Rank these hazards in order of how significantly they will impact your ability to support and protect your child, or how significantly they may impact the health and wellbeing of you and your child.

Step 3   Eliminating or controlling the risks – Ask: What can be done to minimise or eliminate these risks or dangers? In some cases, this will mean finding a different method to deal with bullying.  You should also devise a crisis management plan to you and your child know exactly what to do if you are faced with unacceptable danger or distress.

Step 4      Reviewing and monitoring – Talk to others about what you plan to do.  This can bring up things that you might not have thought about.  Then, give your plan a go.  If it doesn’t work, or if you and your child start experiencing increased distress, anxiety or fear… then start this process again and try something else.

If you need ideas, visit this site:

On another note:

Yes, parents have a responsibility to care for and teach their children.  But according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

Article 16

1. No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.

2. The child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 19

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

2. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.

Article 29

1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

(a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;

(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;

(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;

(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;

(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.

Yes, parents need to be held accountable, to take responsibility.  But so do other children, schools, police, the Department of Community Services and the whole community.  It is only when we all work together, when we all recognise and act on our duty of care, that a child can truly be protected from bullying.

Posted by: l2bb | March 20, 2010

One girl’s story

I recently used the following YouTube video in my university classroom to build awareness about the nature and effects of bullying.  It is a poem written by Katherine Jones, a nine year old girl with Dyspraxia.

Watch it here:

Dyspraxia is a pain

It doesn’t hurt

I don’t look different

You can’t see it … until…

Think about…


Why was she bullied?

Even if you don’t look different, if there is any sign of difference or what others may see as weakness you are at risk of being bullied.


What actually happened?  What type of bullying occurred?

Relational bullying – teasing, exclusion – is just as harmful as any physical bullying.


It is not just children who bully other children.  Teachers can also bully their students.  It is essential for teachers to understand the strengths and difficulties of their students in order to avoid this.

Children who are struggling with the social, literacy or behavioural demands of school can experience teacher bullying in the form of being labelled as “lazy” or put in situations where they are humiliated in front of their peers.

The impact

Children can be comfortable in their own skin, their own uniqueness, if they experience a sense of belonging and support.  Without this, it can be a struggle to value their uniqueness, to have a sense of worth, to achieve to their potential.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Without food, shelter we feel vulnerable

Without physical and emotional safety, we are at risk

Of feeling isolated, alone

Helpless and ashamed

Unlikely to reach our potential

By Amanda Gray
Posted by: l2bb | March 15, 2010

Working out Why: A Checklist

Often if our children are aggressive towards others, or bullying others, it is not a simple thing to understand the reasons.

If asked, children may try to justify what is going on so as not to get into too much trouble.  The reasons they give you may not reflect what is really happening.   Younger children also may not be able to articulate what is really happening and how they are feeling.  It may require the skillful hand of a psychologist or counsellor to get to the bottom of what is happening in some cases.

However, there are some things you can do to start investigating why a child may be acting a certain way.

Just a note – it is important to identify child, home and school factors that may be contributing to a child’s behaviour.  This is not about blaming anyone, finding fault or judging.  It is about getting the full picture of what is happening.

Here is a checklist of questions to work through:

The Child:

  1. Does the child have the language to communicate what he feels, wants and needs when playing with peers?
  2. Can the child work out what to do when something upsetting or frustrating happens?
  3. Is the child able to identify the feelings of others using body language, facial expressions and what others say?
  4. Does the child respond appropriately to others’ feelings (eg. wants to comfort others when they are sad)?
  5. Does the child act impulsively and/or in a hyperactive way?
  6. Does the child usually take on a leadership role in games (directing or “bossing” other children)?

At Home:

  1. Has there been any big changes or traumatic events (divorce, new baby, family illness or death, financial stress) at home recently?
  2. Is there any conflict happening at home (between siblings, parents or extended family members or neighbours)?
  3. How is conflict managed at home – through talking, yelling, throwing things or hitting?

At school:

  1. Does the child have a group of friends at school? If so, how do these friends interact with others?
  2. Does the child understand the rules of games played on the playground? Can the child follow these rules?
  3. How does the child respond to teacher directions?
  4. Is the child aware of and able to follow school rules?

The incident (answer these questions for each incident):

  1. When does the aggression/bullying usually happen? (eg afternoons)
  2. Where does the aggression/bullying usually occur? (eg. on the soccer field at lunch)
  3. What happens before the aggressive/bullying incident? (eg. the opposing team is winning )
  4. What did the child do? (eg. the child started saying offensive things, insulting and putting down the weakest members of the opposing team.  Then an opposing team member legitimately “tackled” the child for the ball.  The child yelled “p*** off!” and started pushing and shoving the other child)
  5. What happened next? (eg. the game disintegrated into a brawl, they were all pulled into the Principal’s office, and the most bruised and vocal children were put on detention).
  6. What conclusions might you draw from the incident? (eg. the child can’t cope with losing).

Draw conclusions and test them

In this case, if there were also some difficult events happening at home, and the child was struggling to follow teacher instructions, it is probably an indication that the child needs control over their environment.  They are probably not coping with what is happening at home, and this has impacted on their ability to cope with the smaller things in life such as losing a game of football.

For another child, it may simply be that their personality traits or other characteristics mean that they struggle to cope with losing a game.  For example, some children who are gifted and talented, or have Aspergers or Autism, or “perfectionist” by nature.  They may struggle with failure to meet their own expectations or not be flexible enough to cope with any change to an expected event.

Teachers and families should try to work through these questions together.  The questions about the incident should be answered during or directly after the incident so no details are missed, mis-interpreted or forgotten.

If we get the full picture, it is more likely that we can understand why the child is behaving a certain way even if they can’t tell us themselves.  However, if we can’t work it out for ourselves, there may be a deeper underlying reason that can only be addressed with the help of a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Posted by: l2bb | March 14, 2010

Children who bully: Why do they do it?

As discussed previously, understanding the motivations or triggers for bullying behaviour is a key factor in the fight to eliminate bullying.  In an attempt to understand why children bully, I was wondering if anyone actually asked children this question.

Straight from their mouths…

Rigby (2008) reports on a survey of children that asked about the motivation for bullying.  He reports that the most common answers were that they bullied others because

  • they annoyed me
  • to get even
  • for fun
  • others were doing it too
  • the people I bullied were wimps
  • to show how tough I am
  • to get things or money from people

Bullying for fun:  What the…?!

Rigby reports that of the children surveyed, 30% of secondary school boys and 20% of secondary school girls suggested that this was their reason for bullying.  This statistic shocks me a little.

It brings up questions like: Are we doing enough to build awareness of the effects of bullying?  Are we teaching the difference between a practical joke, and something that causes great distress in others?  Are we helping youth to be conscious about the feelings of others, to think about the consequences of their actions?  Are we helping our children to have enough emotional intelligence and sensitivity to know when they have crossed the line?

Perhaps we should also question what our media culture is communicating to our children in this context.  The problem with the media is that we don’t always get to hear both sides of the story, see the full picture or follow the story beyond a single event or moment in time. 

Coping skills, relationships and mental health: Getting even won’t help.

Hinduja and Patchin (2009) and Rigby (2008) both suggest that different types of bullying may be linked to different types of motivation.  For example, many youth who cyber bully others have been bullied themselves.  Getting even via cyber bullying could be considered a “safer” way than person-to-person bullying as there is not immediate feedback or contact with the person being bullied.

This tells us two things: 1) we need to continue to find better ways to protect children from bullying, and 2) we need to keep working on finding ways for children to defend themselves that don’t involve retaliation.   Standing up for yourself is fine, inflicting harm in retaliation is not. 

It is also possible that the latter approach could perpetuate and increase the child’s problems.  For example, children who use bullying to deal with their difficulties may go on to use this coping mechanism in future relationships.  This could lead to difficulties with maintaining friendships, romantic relationships and possibly even lead to behaviour such as domestic violence.

So while bullying for revenge might help in the short-term, it can have a significant negative impact on future socialisation.

Another worrying statistic related to this is that rates of suicidal thoughts and depression are higher than average in children who bully others (Rigby, 2008).  Children with depression who are not coping with the social challenges of life can take their anger, despair and frustration out on others.

This suggests we need to continue the push to train children in coping strategies and social skills through programs such as Mind Matters, Kids Matters and Think Good Feel Good.

The need for belonging: “Others were doing it, too”

If we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the need to belong comes as part of the essential building blocks for self-esteem and self-actualisation.  That is, if we don’t have our physical needs (food, shelter), safety needs and the need for belonging met, we can find it very difficult to build a positive sense of ourselves and struggle to achieve to our potential.

In the search for belonging, there are children who find the only way to achieve this is to exert power over others.  This search for power can lead children to become leaders or part of groups/gangs of children/youth who bully others.

As Beck and Malley suggest,  there are times when a child’s need for belonging is increased due to factors outside the school community.  They also discuss how the use of pedagogical structures such as cross-age tutoring, leadership programs, group work and a positive rapport between students and teachers can help reduce the need for using bullying as a way to get a sense of belonging.

Powerful bullies: “The people I bullied were wimps”

This reflects the importance of continuing education on respect for diversity.  Here is a great article written for children/youth on the subject of diversity: Defining Diversity, Prejudice and Respect.

The other side of this is that, when popular children are the perpetrators of bullying, it is possible that adults can reinforce or even support the bullying themselves (McGrath, 2007).  These children can be confident, manipulative and so deceptive that the victim of bullying is the one that gets in trouble from an adult, or the adult laughs at what they may see as a “joke” because they have not been a party to what happened before or what the “victim” of the “joke” may be feeling.

A story that touched me deeply was Nick Dubin’s story of being bullied by a teacher in front of a classroom due to a lack of understanding of his difficulties due to Aspergers (Dubin, 2007).  It all revolved around Nick’s difficulty with problem-solving due to a rigid or inflexible way of understanding the world.  He was struggling to open the door of a classroom because the handle of the door worked in a different way to those he had previously experienced.

Instead of helping him to work out what was going on, the teacher said things like “that’s absurd. How old are you?… Now you open this door right now.  This instant!…” (Dubin, 2007 p19) in front of the class, who were laughing at him.

For Nick, this incident was a turning point in his perception of himself.  It caused anxiety, humiliation and sense that there was something wrong with him.

As adults we need to be sensitive and careful not to bully or promote bullying of children – even unwittingly.  We should always err on the side of caution.  And for teachers, the better we understand the individuals we teach or supervise, and the more sensitive and empathetic we are, the less likely we are to make such life-changing errors in judgement.

It is also important to recognise that sarcasm can be a form of bullying.  As teachers, we need to recognise that humour NOT sarcasm is a great tool for dealing with behaviour.  The use of sarcasm in the classroom needs to be avoided, especially if there are students from diverse language backgrounds or students with disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorders who have a very literal understanding of language.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that many of us respond more positively to confident, attractive and socially skilled people.  It is important that we recognise this and understand that the need to belong applies to everybody – including the child who is a bit of a loner and socially awkward.  We need to ensure that we treat these children with as much empathy, dignity and respect as anyone else.

Physical need: “To get things from people”

Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a child whose need for food and/or shelter is not met will find it difficult to do their best at school and in social interaction.  It may be that to meet this need they bully others into handing over possessions.

I once cared for a number of children from one family in a before/after school care setting whose family circumstances (which included drug abuse and neglect) meant that, in the middle of winter, they had one jacket to share between the three of them.  They would take turns each day to wear the jacket.  They had no school equipment, and were provided with $2 for their daily food needs.

Not surprisingly, the eldest child had become known to the police due to incidences of bullying and stealing.

While this type of circumstance is, of course, not the source of all bullying motivated by wanting to “get something”, we need to make sure that we approach the perpetrator of bullying with a focus on changing their behaviour rather than punishment or “revenge“.


Dubin, N.  (2007).  Asperger Syndrome and Bullying: Strategies and Solutions.  Jessica Kingsley Publishers: London.

Hinduja, S. and Patchin, J.W.  (2009).  Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and responding to cyberbullying. Corwin Press: California.

McGrath, M.J.  (2007).  School Bullying: Tools for Avoiding Harm and Liability.  Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks.

Rigby, K.  (2008).  Children and Bullying:  How Parents and Educators Can Reduce Bullying at School. Blackwell Publishing:Victoria.

Posted by: l2bb | March 8, 2010

Will they be bullies or leaders?

Trying to better understand bullying, I was trawling through the myriad of articles written on the subject.  While there are not so many articles on why people bully, one article about bullying in the workplace – by Seigne, Coyne, Tandall and Parker (2007) – caught my attention.   Here are a few sentences from the abstract of that article.

…the findings indicated that bullies are aggressive, hostile, and extraverted and independent.  Furthermore, bullies are egocentric, selfish, and show little concern for the opinions of others.  High levels of aggressiveness, assertiveness, competitiveness and independence are traits that are also associated with leadership. (p118)

Type A Personalities

Seigne et al highlight the description of Type A personalities as “hard-driven, competitive with aggressive tendencies and interpersonal hostility, and with a sense of time urgency.” (p119)  If we translate “aggressive tendencies” to “assertiveness” and “interpersonal hostility” to “independence”, then we can see the positive possibilities of these characteristics.


Thinking about leaders I have known, and myself as a leader, I recognise the previously mentioned characteristics.

Driven – a passion and single-mindedness is often needed to get things done.  Being goal-driven and focused is important to help by-pass all the difficulties that come with a group of individuals trying to work, live or play together as a team.

Competitiveness – It is sometimes interesting to see the “private side” of a leader.  Competitiveness in sport or games often comes with the territory.

Assertiveness – Being able to make tough decisions, to be heard and to accept responsibility, requires this.

Independence – Being a leader requires independent thinking, creativity and an ability to act with confidence.

Time urgency – Having a sense of deadlines, and being able to work within these deadlines, is important to efficient leadership.  Without this, a meeting can last for hours without any resolution.  Without it, a project can be worked on indefinitely, a strategy never developed or a game become long and drawn-out.

The difference between leadership and bullying

The thing that separates a leader from a “bully” is the ability to listen to, empathise with and respect others.  A leader may be independent, but a wise and successful leader is one who knows their role is one of facilitator rather than controller.

Bullying and Egocentrism

If you are driven, assertive, competitive, independent, have a sense of time urgency and egocentric then chances are you will become a bully.

Without an understanding of the people around you, their strengths and limitations, you are likely to drive others with harsh words and expectations.  You are likely to push others beyond their capabilities and cause extreme stress.

If you don’t think about what may be going on for others, you are likely to act aggressively and impulsively as you feel others are not living up to expectations.

If you do not respect the differences of others, and have an understanding of their (and your own) strengths and limitations, then you are more likely to ridicule and use put-downs.  Your competitiveness may also put you at risk of expecting too much of yourself, leading to a low sense of self-efficacy and frustration.

If you are independent and egocentric, then you are likely to make decisions that destroy relationships.

How is this relevant to children?

Recognising the above-mentioned personality traits in children helps us identify those who are at risk of becoming bullies.  Leadership training and opportunities for these children can help them use these traits positively.  Knowing that being egocentric as well as independent, driven and assertive is likely to lead to bullying tells us that respect and empathy are skills that should be built into any leadership training, no matter how young the child.


Seigne, E., Coyne, I., Randall, P. and Parker, J.  (2007).  Personality Traits of Bullies as a Contributory Factor in Workplace Bullying: An Exploratory Study.  International Journal of Organisation Theory and Behaviour, 10(1), pp118-132.

Experiencing family, community and/or school trauma or significant difficulties can lead to a child relating to others in aggressive and manipulative ways.  Some reasons for this can include:

  • Lower self-esteem: the use of bullying to gain power and acceptance
  • Poor coping skills: children learn from what they see.  If they see adults solving problems using violence, then they are more likely to do the same.
  • Egocentricity: Children who feel under threat, whose mental health is of concern, can become less concerned about the impact or consequences of their actions as they fight to “survive” emotionally.
  • Insecurity: Being unable to trust adults, or feeling vulnerable when with them, can lead to defiance.  Would you do something you had been told to do by someone you don’t trust?

These characteristics can lead to a life-time of social difficulties.  BUT….

… It doesn’t have to be this way.  The course of a child’s life can be changed by a kind but firm word, informal and formal counselling and support, friendship, respect, mentorship, positive role models who really care unconditionally…

In short, helping a child feel secure, supported, loved, accepted and understood, whilst being challenged to learn and change their behaviour is likely to help them avoid being bullies for life.


This doesn’t explain the behaviour of all children who bully, nor is it in any way implying that all children who have experienced any of the mentioned risk factors will become bullies.  It is just about helping professionals and parents untangle to mystery of bullying, and identify what solution may best fit individual bullying events.


Walker, H.M. and Sprague, J.R.  (1999).  The Path to School Failure, Delinquency, and Violence: Causal Factors and Some Potential Solutions.  Intervention in School and Clinic, 35(2), pp67-73.

Copyright Daniel East and Amanda Gray

Profiling children who may become bullies helps us put strategies in place to prevent bullying, and to help them change their behaviour for the future.  It enables us to look beyond punitive measures to positive behaviour support (skip to slide 4 in this presentation for comparison of the two approaches).

Children at risk of becoming bullies

There seems to be much more research focused on the victims of bullying, and strategies for dealing with bullying – which I suppose is understandable.  However, the research that I have found about the characteristics of bullies has pointed to factors such as family environment, personality traits, behaviour patterns, social status and victimisation as contributors to children becoming bullies.

Another interesting statistic reported by Wyld (2006) is that children who bully when they are 14 are also likely to still be engaging in that behaviour at age 18 and 32.  So how can we change this?

Behaviour traits that increase the chances that children will bully others

Carter and Spencer (2006), Cho, Hendrickson and Mock (2009) and Nabuzoke (2003)  all explored the correlation between certain behaviour traits and being a bully.  The key behaviour traits linked to children who bullied others included inattentiveness and hyperactivity.

Signs of inattentiveness and hyperactivity

When identifying inattentiveness or hyperactivity in these studies, the following behaviours were usually identified:

  • disruptiveness in class
  • difficulty sitting still
  • difficulty following directions
  • difficulty paying attention to the teacher

Executive function, ADHD and bullying

inattentiveness and hyperactivity are most often associated with ADHD.  More importantly, links between a child’s executive functioning and these behaviour traits have been made as researchers come to a better understanding of the disorder.

What is executive function?

Queensland Health (2007) states:

“executive functioning involves the direction and organization of all behavior (emotional as well as cognitive) in order to attain goals and regulate behaviour that is consistent with attaining goals.”

Basically it is the function of our brains that helps us analyse and control our behaviour.  It works alongside theory of mind to help most of us avoid bullying others.  However, if you are acting impulsively (linked to inattentiveness and hyperactivity due to executive functioning difficulties) without predicting the possible consequences of that behaviour for yourself or others (theory of mind), you are more likely to bully others.

For example, a child with ADHD often blurts out inappropriate things at inappropriate times.  The child may call another “fat” because that is what they think, then miss all the more subtle signs – such as body language and facial expressions – that this name-calling has hurt the other child. This means they are not getting the immediate feedback that may help them realise that they have “crossed the line” between joking and bullying.

However, this child may get in trouble from the teacher (a sign they can’t miss!).  Or their peers may laugh (positive reinforcement), or show them through actions such as verbal responses or exclusion that the behaviour is not acceptable.   For most of us, this would be stored in our memory and help us make future decisions about calling other people “fat”.

For a child with executive functioning difficulties, those memories are not stored or retrieved efficiently.  Basically, they will probably do the same thing over and over again despite a build up of “memories” that should tell them that the behaviour is not acceptable.

The implications

The outcome of this is that children with conditions such as ADHD have an increased chance of becoming bullies due to poor self-regulation.  According to one study reported by Carter and Spencer (2006), 13% of children with ADHD reported that they bullied others, compared to 8% of children not identified as having ADHD.

However, according to Cho et al. (2009), this outcome can be applied to any child that displays patterns of inattentive and hyperactive behaviour – with or without a diagnosed disability or disorder.

So what can we do about it?

Despite popular belief, medication does not solve the problem.  For example, the study reported by Carter and Spencer (2006) identified children with ADHD by whether they were taking medication for hyperactivity.

Medication can contribute to children learning to manage their impulses.  However, cognitive behaviour therapy or training is also important.

One of the easiest processes that families and schools can teach students with executive functioning difficulties is the “Stop, Think, Do” method.  This is about using colour coding, familiar images, self-talk and body language to help trigger “memories”.  In essence, it is about helping children use the filing cabinet that is their memory more efficiently to help them monitor and control their behaviour.

You can find out more about this strategy from Lindy Petersen’s website and materials or read about it in my post on the Learning to be Buddies blog.

Difficulties with executive functioning is not the only factor that may contribute to bullying.  It is much more complex that this.  I will explore further factors in future posts.

It is also important to note that all the studies mentioned above also found that children with these behaviour traits were also at greater risk of being bullied, with a significant proportion being both victims and bullies.


Carter, B.B, and Spencer, V.G.  (2006).  The Fear Factor: Bullying and Students with Disabilities.  International Journal of Special Education, 21(1), p11.

Cho, J., Hendrickson, J.M., and  Mock, D.R  (2009). Bullying Status and Behavior Patterns of Preadolescents and Adolescents with Behavioral Disorders.  Education and Treatment of Children, 32(4), pp 655–671.

Nabuzoke, D.  (2003). Teacher Ratings and Peer Nominations of Bullying and Other Behaviour of Children With and Without Learning Difficulties.  Educational Psychology, 23(3), p307.

Queensland Health.  (2007).    Executive Function and Capacity.  Retrieved from:

Wyld, B.  (2006).  Beating the Schoolyard Bully.  In J. Healey (Ed.), Bullying and Harassment, p9-10.   Spinney Press: Thirroul Australia

Posted by: l2bb | February 19, 2010

Preventing bullying: Understanding those who bully

To prevent bullying, we first need to understand what it is and why it happens.  My previous posts have been about the “what”, now I want to explore the “why”.

I watched Hungry Beast Episode 12 the other night and they did a great interview with three people who had bullied others.  There were some key similarities in the “bullies'” stories:

  1. They themselves had been teased, “bashed” or been socially isolated by others.
  2. They were responding to personal issues such as the difficult divorce of parents, rejection or neglect from a father or other “insecurities”.
  3. They now recognise and regret their actions.

Annie’s final words were particularly poignant.  In essence she stated that her bullying was “not about you, it was about me.”

I highly recommend you watch the 6 minutes or so of this episode (from about 4mins 38sec), and visit the Hungry Beast forums on this topic.

While these three cases do not necessarily represent the whole gammut of reasons why people bully, they do serve to remind us that “bullies” are people, too.

We often get caught up in focusing on the aftermath of bullying – which is understandable and important.  But we also need to see what comes before, and provide the support our children need to prevent them from becoming bullies.

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