Bullying Is a Cry that “Something, Somewhere, Is Not Right”

As we approach Pink Shirt Day, in our continued effort to eliminate bullying, we need to think of the victims of abusive behaviour but we also need to consider the bully.

“Bullies aren’t born – and they aren’t bad people,” says George Bielay, Clinical Director at Waypoint Counselling and Referral Centre in Victoria. “It’s their behaviour that is inappropriate and needs to be modified.”

“Standing up to bullies can stop an unwanted encounter. But the reasons fueling the bully’s abusive behaviour need to be treated seriously or the cycle will repeat itself,” says Bielay.

“Bullies learn their behaviours, at times because they themselves are victims of bullying” says Bielay.  According to top Canadian researchers, children who bully may learn aggressive behaviour from their experiences at home. Some may have witnessed, or have themselves been victims, of physical, verbal or emotional abuse, or may have neglectful parents or negative role-models.

“Bullies who are also victims, often suffer more mental health problems” says Bielay.  Researchers say bullies are likely to suffer from low self-esteem, depression and behavioral problems beginning in early childhood.

“Bullying behaviour is a red-flag that something, somewhere, is not right for the bully,” says Bielay.   Although many anti-bullying campaigns in schools and communities help interrupt bullying behaviour, Bielay says more can be done for the bully, to stop the cycle.

Adults and parents can help their children in the following manner:

  • Talk to your child and learn about their life.  Assuming there are no negative home-life issues, it’s possible a peer group could be encouraging the bullying behavior. If a child is struggling to fit in and develop friendships, they may be acting in ways they think will help their popularity.
  • Talk to them about bullying. Your child may have difficulty reading social signs or may not understand how hurtful and damaging their behavior can be. Foster empathy and awareness by encouraging your child to look at their actions from the victim’s perspective. Remind your child that bullying can have legal consequences.
  • Manage stress. Teach your child how to recognize signs of stress and healthier ways to deal with it.  A child’s bullying may be an attempt at relieving stress or a way of responding to stress they see in their home environment. Exercising, spending time in nature, or playing with a pet are great ways for both kids and adults to let off steam and relieve stress.
  • Set limits with technology. Set reasonable limits on access to all screens – computers, phones and TV, and avoid access to internet in the bedroom.  This can limit the exposure to cyberbullying – both as an offender and as a victim.  Numerous studies reveal that many popular TV shows and violent video games celebrate negative values, reduce empathy, and encourage aggression in kids.
  • Establish consistent rules of behavior. Make sure your child understands your rules and the consequence for breaking them. Children may not think they need limits, but a lack of boundaries sends a signal that the child is unworthy of the parents’ time, care, and attention.

“If all else fails, don’t be afraid to acknowledge that the victim or bully may need professional help. Stopping abusive behaviour now can change the course of someone’s life in the future,” says Bielay.

WayPoint provides mental health counselling and psychological services, executive coaching and career counselling to individuals, couples, families, groups and organizations in Greater Victoria. WayPoint prides itself on the relationship between consumer and counsellor – finding the appropriate fit between a client’s needs and a counsellor’s expertise.