I have heard about bullies in schools, haven't ever seen or faced them in real life though.

I would like to know what makes a kid bully, and how to prevent him from becoming a bully?

  • 4
    This is an excellent question. So many times you hear "how do i deal with being bullied" but I think this is the first time I've seen someone ask about such upline preemptive measures from this angle.
    – monsto
    May 30, 2013 at 6:11

5 Answers 5


While many of the bullies I have seen in schools have come from homes with significant parenting problems, it would surprise you the number of kids who bully (at an older age) who come from loving homes. It can be very easy for the bully-ee to become the bully in a chain-reaction kind of way.

At its root, bullying is about power and a lack of self-esteem. A kid who has a parent who is abusive or who is an alcoholic or drug user has very little control over his/her own life. There is no sense of security or constancy in their lives, and if a child is being beaten at home then he/she will have learned that that is the acceptable way to handle anger and frustration. A kid who comes to school and is bullied can become a bully as a way to regain a sense of power and as a way to make themselves feel better about themselves--even if that child comes from a loving home. Bullies feel better about themselves after an incident of bullying.

Also keep in mind that the way that girls go about bullying is very different from the way boys go about bullying. Boys will openly make fun of other boys and threaten them; girls can be very subversive and include tactics like spreading rumors, shunning other girls from their circle of friends, etc.


Your first question is what causes a child to become a bully, and there are many possible causes, most of which directly relate to low self-esteem:

  • observing parents and siblings exhibiting bullying behavior
  • being victimized by a bully
  • receiving negative messages or physical punishment or experiencing controlling behaviors at home or school
  • living in a culture that is fascinated with winning, power, and violence
  • belonging to a family, school or workplace that doesn't have high standards for the way people treat each other
  • having a lack of social skills for dealing with negative emotions like envy or anger
  • sociopathy - it is estimated that about 4% of people simply lack a conscience

Bullies may be seeking to

  • attack before being attacked
  • gain a feeling of importance or power
  • fit in
  • gain attention through negative behavior because they do not get enough of it through positive behavior

To prevent your child becoming a bully, then, you should work to help him develop a positive sense of self. You can:

  • start young - be responsive to your young baby when he cries, making eye contact and loving noises as you attend to his needs
  • let your child know she is fun to be with by playing with her and asking her opinions
  • give your child choices whenever possible - getting to choose which plate to eat off of or which flavor toothpaste to buy gives a child a sense of control over his environment
  • choose a non-judgmental disciplinary method that recognizes that misbehaviors are a sign the child is temporarily out of control and needs help calming herself down; discipline should address the behavior and not the child herself.
    When a child misbehaves, you talk about the behavior. For example: "In our house we don't hit when we get angry, we use our words. Go to your room for a timeout to settle down." Instead of "You are a bad boy for hitting your sister. Go to your room until I tell you that you can come out." Always try to describe the behavior instead of labeling the child.

  • give your child opportunities to develop his talents

  • make your home kid-friendly
  • avoid labeling your child in any way - things like "picky eater" or "slowpoke" stick
  • give your child responsibilities of which he can be proud
  • help your child develop a vocabulary for talking about her feelings
  • model empathy

If you suspect your child is a sociopath, you will need professional help. For a person with no sense of right and wrong, life is a game, and games are about winning. To be productive and of no harm to others, this person must learn that he wins best when everyone around him wins as well.


National Association of School Psychologists

Bullying Statistics

The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, PhD

Ask Dr. Sears

  • I liked your answer much. Thanks. Please explain how to go about this point: discipline should address the behavior and not the child herself. What did you hint here and how to achieve this? May 16, 2013 at 0:21
  • 5
    When a child misbehaves, you talk about the behavior. For example: "In our house we don't hit when we get angry, we use our words. Go to your room for a timeout to settle down." Instead of "You are a bad boy for hitting your sister. Go to your room until I tell you that you can come out." Always try to describe the behavior instead of labeling the child.
    – MJ6
    May 16, 2013 at 0:39
  • I just want to comment that being a sociopath doesn't automatically make someone a bad person, it just gives them nearly unbounded potential to be. Similarly, they are not automatically selfish, but instead are devoted to "their group". It's a matter of configuring them to view humanity as their group, to mitigate malicious behaviors and utilize positive qualities. You could view the character "James Bond" as an idealization of this notion. (Able and willing to calmly take on literally any task even in the face of probable torture and death, only for the good of the group.) ...
    – MickLH
    Feb 16, 2017 at 21:11
  • ... and so, associating "sociopath" with "bully" is a critical and common error, which vastly contributes to the eventual feelings of isolation that drive sociopaths to become "big bullies" instead of "effective leaders". Please don't write off a child showing conduct disorder as an antisocial bully, because they will gladly absorb that role if it's offered in that way. Instead, focus on showing that humanity stands together as a group, especially emphasizing that the quality of life of others directly influences your own quality of life at a very large scale. Conscience or not.
    – MickLH
    Feb 16, 2017 at 21:13

Having been bullied in more than one school, I can provide these observations from the "victim" perspective:

  • bullies enjoy being mean more than being kind
  • bullies enjoy the attention they get from others who think their behavior is cool (make ten people laugh by making one person sad)
  • bullies encourage each other
  • bullies are compensating for something (you're smarter, bigger, better in some way than them)
  • bullies act when they can get away with it (if there's no authority to witness the act, then the victim must become an informer)
  • bullies don't realize or don't care about the harm they do

To stop bullying, the above points must be defused or negated:

  • teach empathy - the ability to imagine what it would feel like on yourself.
  • teach that it's only fun if everybody laughs, not if it's at the expense of someone.
  • teach that if you encourage a bully, then you're a bully too. Bullies get punished, and so will you.
  • teach to celebrate differences and admire others' skills instead of being envious.
  • teach that all acts count, not just those you do while your parents are watching.
  • teach that bullying causes problems, even life-long ones.

It's not easy being different when uniformity and/or conformity to (sometimes hidden) norms are valued. In my case, I was being bullied because I was an outsider in several ways: I was new in town, I had lived in other countries, I spoke several languages fluently (even English better than the teacher), I was bright, I was tall, I was good at most things, I enjoyed school. This was very different from the average style in my class, so I was an easy choice.

  • 3
    brilliant answer. So so true. I was told when i was at junior school to just laugh at the bullies, because if they didnt get a reaction they would stop! the one time my mother has been wrong. I told my partners son that if a bully attempts anything, walk away. Its funny trying to see a bully think of a retort when no one is there. Look whos laughting now Torben, i bet those bullies sit collecting benefits every week. Good on you
    – Cain Neal
    May 15, 2013 at 13:05
  • I had to create an account here just to upvote this.
    – user
    May 15, 2013 at 14:53
  • I agree with all your points. In order to solve a situation, you have to know with the core problems are.
    – monsto
    May 30, 2013 at 6:09
  • @CainNeal: "Laugh it off" and "walk away" are both well-meant advice but keep in mind that it can be impossible to do. May 31, 2013 at 7:12
  • I think I'm coming from "the other side of the coin" here, very sorry if I come across insensitive. This answer effectively is saying to ostracize people who have a personality that doesn't fit your subjective behavior preferences! Example: "teach that it's only fun if everybody laughs, not if it's at the expense of someone." is simply not a fact. People didn't magically start laughing at this type of humor because it's not funny :| In the observations section, only "bullies encourage each other" was an observation, the rest were speculation and judgement.
    – MickLH
    Feb 16, 2017 at 21:24

I'm not an expert at this; I do help look after my partners three kids and I have a son of my own who lives with his mother. But from my experience, and from what I have read over the years, a child usually becomes a bully if there are problems at home: not enough attention, or the child is getting bullied at home.

It is mostly a cry for help, or trying to vent some anger onto someone else.

My partner's son used to get bullied when he was 5, quite extremely, and when she went to confront the parents, she found out that the bully's dad was an alcohol and drug abuser, who really did not care.

Personally, I feel that the best prevention is someone for the child to talk to, someone they can look up to and respect. It's a real shame that in 2013, some people still would rather satisfy their own wants rather than their children.

But other people have different views; some think computer games, and that is their opinion, but I grew up on computer games and I have never had trouble.

I hope this is some kind of help.


There doesn't seem to be a huge body of research on the matter but a recent meta-analysis looked at the effect of parenting on the risk of children to become bullying victims or turn bully themselves.

Parenting behavior and the risk of becoming a victim and a bully/victim: A meta-analysis study (Lereyaa et al., 2013)

Citing from the abstract:

Negative parenting behavior [including abuse and neglect and maladaptive parenting] is related to a moderate increase of risk for becoming a bully/victim and small to moderate effects on victim status at school. Intervention programs against bullying should extend their focus beyond schools to include families and start before children enter school.


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