How A Bully Is Born
There's a fine line between thoughtless or selfish actions and true bullying among young children. Most experts agree that a child crosses the threshold if his actions are intentional and if they occur habitually. Why do some kids choose to inflict physical or emotional pain on others? "Bullies tend to have low self-esteem," says W. Michael Nelson, Ph.D., coauthor of Keeping Your Cool: The Anger Management Workbook, which is designed to help counselors who work with aggressive kids. "They lack empathy and have a need to dominate others."
Preschoolers are still mastering basic social skills and figuring out how to manage their own emotions, so their overly assertive actions may simply be a way of testing the boundaries of what?s acceptable. "Teasing and grabbing are part of every little kid's development," says Dr. Swearer. At this age, a kid acts less deliberately and is more likely to torment whichever child is around her at the moment.
By kindergarten, children begin to grasp the concept of social power among their peers, notes Elizabeth K. Englander, Ph.D., director of The Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University. That's when aggressive kids start to actively target others whom they see as vulnerable -- whether it's because they're shy, sensitive, small, or simply different.
Teachers tend to respond differently to a bully depending on his age. In preschool, they make an effort to instill kinder, gentler behavior. But by elementary school, their emphasis shifts toward protecting the victims. However, this overlooks the fact that it's not too late to reform a budding bully, says Dr. Swearer. "Some kids need guidance with conflict resolution well into middle and high school."
While teachers do their best to control bullying, they can't always be there to witness or prevent it. School administrators may not even be aware that bullying is occurring. Victims tend to keep quiet because they fear they might be treated even worse if they tattle. And in some cases, principals simply don't know how to deal with the problem. A recent national poll from the University of Michigan C. S. Mott Children's Hospital found that only 38 percent of parents would award their child's elementary school with an "A" grade when it comes to preventing bullying and violence; 16 percent rated their school a "C"; 6 percent a "D"; and 5 percent gave it a failing mark."
More on Bullying: