Understanding why a child bully’s and helping them is much more complicated in my view than the bullied, but still possible.
As I’ve mentioned before, they are balancing out the support/challenge (ease/difficulty) in the bullied child’s life. However, the question is, why them, why are they balancing it out, rather than someone else? What is the balance of support/challenge in the bully’s life?
The first hint, is in what they gain from it, which is the opposite to the bullied child. The bullied child is being taught to stand up for themselves in some way. The bully is being taught to be more humble and understand how other people feel.
We all bully in some way, but the question is, what leads them to be bullying so extremely with the kids at school. Where they bullied themselves, so they are getting a view of the ‘other side’? We all do this, criticize someone for doing something and then end up finding ourselves doing it somehow.
Plus of course, they maybe unaware of the bullying and see it totally differently. When I went back to several school reunions, (the last one being 20yrs – how scary!), the ‘bullies’ met me with what appeared to be really genuine pleasure. They were remembering the times that we had got on, whereas I had remembered the times when I had been upset. Looked at objectively, they couldn’t possibly have been bullying me 24hrs a day.
Then there is the very aggressive child with the really gentle and ‘nice’ parent. The parent is repressing all their anger and frustration, and the child tends to display it instead. When the parent is stronger with the child, giving them boundaries and clarity, then the child calms down. This is the balance of aggression within the family. I remember a really lovely girl looking at me desperately as her daughter smacked Max over the head again, and in her sweet quiet voice saying ‘I just don’t understand why she does that’. The answer was that the Mum didn’t like upsetting people, so she didn’t express her true feelings and the daughter was attempting to push her to do so.
Then look at what the bully is attempting to achieve? Is it to have Freedom/Choice, Power/Recognition, Love/Belonging or Fun/Progress (Thes are 4 psychological needs according to Dr William Glasser’s Choice Therapy). What do they think that they are going to get out of it, and are there other ways for them to get it.
For example, if they want freedom/choice, then they are feeling that they don’t have enough of that elsewhere, maybe they have a very domineering parent, who could do with stepping back a bit?
Or if they would like more Power/Recognition, then maybe then need to feel useful and be given a role and responsibility. Are they picking on the other child because they are being reminded of their own powerlessness?
If it is to do with Love/Belonging, are they concerned that they are not loved, in which case, is there a way to help them to feel more confident?
If they are getting enjoyment out of it, maybe they need to understand the consequences and have their fun reduced by some kind of punishment, with additional encouragement and ideas of alternative ways to have fun, so they aren’t bored any more.
Punishment alone is unlikely to help, as it won’t address the child’s problems. I’m not say don’t punish, it depends on the situation and scenario. But what is more important is to address their perception of where they have Freedom/Power/Love/Fun and looking at any imbalances at home that can be addressed in the support/challenge balance.