I wrote this article about bullying in April of 2007 and would like to share it again since bullying continues to be a problem in school and in society.

Bullying behaviour is really a cry for help. One that we ignore at our peril. Esther William’s book entitled Help for Bullies, Victims and Bystanders is a very useful resource. One that I’ve used in preparing this post. It’s always nice to have your own observations supported by someone else, and it’s always nice to learn something new. I recommend it highly. It’s available through Youth Light Books.
Why do people bully other people? Notice, I didn’t ask why do kids bully other kids. I asked why do people bully other people? I did that for a very good reason: kids aren’t the only ones to bully other people. Adults bully other people as well. In fact, kids who bully often will grow up to be adults who bully if nothing is done to help them change their behaviour. Why do bullies bully? There are numerous reasons. We know that bullies bully because they get something out of bullying. What do they get? Well they get material things. They just intimidate kids or worse and take what they want. It could be money, clothing, ipods, bus tickets, sex etc. It could be anything. Bullies also bully because it gives them a sense of power over the victim. They feel omnipotent. They stand out in the crowd because they are bigger, meaner, louder than anyone else , and they enjoy the attention they get.

Interestingly, bullies are not less intelligent than other kids- although sometimes it seems that way because they’re behind their peers at school. Basically, this is what happens. Kids who bully and exhibit aggressive behaviour fall behind their peers in school because they miss classes due to the suspensions and detentions they get because of their inappropriate behaviour. They can’t keep up if they are not in class- especially in subjects like math where one concept builds on the previous one. I found this to be the case when teaching math to at-risk kids. They have huge gaps in their knowledge because they’re out of class so often between the skipping, sitting in the office after being sent out of class for bad behaviour or being suspended. Often, they have no idea what’s going on. When they go back to class, they simply misbehave again to amuse themselves. The vicious cycle continues.

It seems to me that many at-risk classes just consist of bullies and victims. There are no positive role models for the bullies to emulate, and there are no good role models for the victims to emulate. What seems to happen is that instead of encouraging each other in positive ways, these kids encourage each other in negative ways so the inappropriate behaviour escalates. It’s really difficult for teachers to teach when we have to deal with all the behaviour first. It’s taken me over two months to develop a positive relationship with all the kids in my math class this semester- over two whole months. It’s just now they are starting to change their behaviour so that they can actually learn math. They ‘re becoming more respectful of one another and me. Unfortunately, with these at-risk classes the behaviour gets much worse before it get’s better. I work hard to develop positive relationships with these kids because that is the only way I can reach them. I could almost send everyone of them to the office almost everyday. But, what’s the point of that! They need to be in class so that I can develop a positive relationship with them. Once I have a positive relationship with these kids , I have a better chance of helping them them change their attitudes and helping them make better choices that result in better consequences. It’s not an easy job, and I sometimes wonder why I actually choose to do it.

Bullying is mostly a learned behavior, although there is a genetic component. Violent video games, TV programs and movies can teach kids to deal with the world and it’s frustrations in violent ways. Kids model the behaviour that they see. Of course the longer the inappropriate behaviour continues the more difficult it is to change. What is encouraging though is that bullies can be taught appropriate behaviour at school that will change their tendency to bully even if bullying and aggressive behaviour is the norm at home. Inconsistent discipline, lack of parental emotional support, family problems, and a history of physical and emotional abuse manifest themselves in depression and increased thoughts of committing suicide that bullies exhibit. Imagine living in a home environment like the one I described above with its physical or emotional abuse, inconsistent discipline, lack of emotional support, and family problems. It would be terrible for adults to have to live in such an environment, never mind kids. Oh sure, we can all point to people who did not become bullies who lived in environments like that. That’s great. I wish more people could rise above all those problems and not use aggression to deal with life. But, there are many people who can’t. We need to recognize that bullying behaviour is an indication that a person’s basic human needs haven’t been met. Their actions are speaking louder than their words. We need to see this inappropriate behaviour as a cry for help, and we need to help them so they can meet their needs in more appropriate ways. That’s the way I see it.

Next time, I’m going to talk about what schools can do to help kids who bully meet their basic human needs in more appropriate ways. I’m going to start by looking at teachers who bully their students. Yes, you heard correctly. Some teachers bully their students, and yes some teachers bully other teachers. The bullying needs to stop.

I’m going to ask for a favour. I’m writing my blog and doing these podcasts because I want to share what I have learned after teaching all this time with as many people as possible. Life at school is tough. I’ve learned things that can make it easier for teachers, for kids and their parents. If you think what I have to say is helpful, please go to itunes and write a review of my podcast. I have the itunes link on my website.

Jason was kind enough to write one for the UK site, and I believe that is the reason why itunes put my podcast in the New and Noteworthy section. Itunes says there are over a 100 new podcasts each day so it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. I don’t want my podcasts to get lost. I want to share what I have learned with as many people as possible with the hope that something I say will be useful. If you can help me make my podcast more visible, I would really appreciate it. Thanks.


Here are links to other articles I wrote about bullying. I hope you find them helpful

Cyber-Bullying:Relational Aggression-Part 1

911 for kids who bully

How effective are anti-bullying programs?

Fear Not- a new role playing game to help stop bullying

Cyber-Bullying- Educating Kids is Better than Incarcerating them

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12 Responses to “Bullying is a cry for help.”

  1. Laurie on April 22nd, 2007 8:39 pm

    I am thoroughly enjoying this blog.

    Has anyone suggested that you write a book?

  2. Elona on April 22nd, 2007 10:57 pm

    Laurie, thank you. I’m glad you are enjoying my blog. I enjoy sharing what I have learned. I hope what I say is helpful. As for writing a book, I’m flattered. Writing a blog is one thing; writing a book is quite another thing. You may have just planted a seed, though. 🙂

  3. Frank on April 26th, 2007 2:05 am

    I am also against bullying. As much as posible, it should begin in schools. If children were disciplined to avoid bullying, then they will less likely become a bully when they grow up.

  4. Elona on April 26th, 2007 5:25 am

    Yes, schools can and should help both the bully and the victim. Actually, the anti-bullying training can start before kids reach school. In a future post, I am going to discuss what parents can do to help their kids deal with bullying. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Barbara on April 26th, 2007 9:57 am

    Your article on bullying is excellent! I firmly believe that Cho Seung-Hui was a victim of bullying. I want to ask, why aren’t their policies and procedures in place in our schools to protect the victims of bullying? Why aren’t their methods to report the people who bully? Why aren’t there classes about it? When you research the VA Tech shooting, the classmates as well as one of the instructors of Cho admitted that they laughed at Cho! That is very very sad, and I think laws should be made to prevent this kind of behavior.

  6. Elona on April 26th, 2007 10:46 am

    You have raised some excellent questions. Why aren’t schools doing more to deal with bullying? I think that up until recently, educators have thought that it’s just what kids do. You know, “the kids will be kids” line. Some people think it’s no big deal, but of course it is. Some people don’t know what to do about bullying. They need to be taught. People need to stop accepting bullying as part of the childhood experience. It’s absolutely amazing that some people don’t see it as a problem. That perception must change.

    I recently read that most if not all of the school shooters over the last fifteen or so years were bullied and killed people because they just couldn’t take it anymore and didn’t know what else to do.

  7. Geri on April 26th, 2007 7:35 pm

    I agree with you. It’s time to put an end to bullying. Lots of children and grown-ups have become victims to this kind of cruelty. I believe that it’s only fair to punish these bullies.

  8. Laurie on April 27th, 2007 2:23 am

    This is so sad, but I thought you’d be interested in reading the article. A boy in Quebec was killed in a schoolyard “fight”.

    We’ve got to get rid of this “boys will be boys” nonsense.


  9. Elona on April 27th, 2007 5:18 am

    Laurie, thanks for the link to the article. The incident is truly sad. Imagine the pain felt by both sets of families. You’re right in saying that we have to get rid of “the boys will be boys” nonsense. The way I see it, that’s a tall order but that should not discourage us. Every little bit be do will help.

  10. Shellie Bird on June 30th, 2007 7:30 am

    I read your article with interest. I have worked in child care for over 25 years with infants, toddlers and preschoolers and want to share what I have observed – in large part because how we understand what causes bullying will help us to more effectively support children not to bully. I have worked with literally hundreds of children over my career and can tell you that children cope with (separation, fear, uncertainty, loneliness, sadness etc) in very different ways. Some children cry and cry and cry and will take no comfort from a new caregiver. These children literally exhaust themselves from their lament. Some children cry and cry but will take comfort and stop if they are held, distracted and encouraged by their new care giver. Some find a hiding spot hold on tight to a favourite item from home trying to avoid their feelings and their new surroundings – they stay quite as mouses. Some children strike out; hitting, pushing, biting others in response to thier fears and anxiety. They are dealing with exactly the same emotions as the other children, only they act on them differently. If, as some of your readers suggest we further disapprove and punish these children for these behaviours we do them more harm and will increase the bullying behaviours. These children like those that cry or grow quite need to be reassured, comforted and to have the adults in their lives focus on building relationships of trust, respect and regard. Bullies are not bad tainted humans to be singled out for additional punishments, shaming and disapproval by the adults in their lives. They need the same caring and concern we would give to a crying child or a child in obvious distress. It’s this that will help them to find more acceptable ways to deal with their fears and anxieties.

  11. Elona on June 30th, 2007 3:48 pm

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights. I truly believe that bullying is a cry for help. I agree with you that kids who exhibit bullying behaviour need the same caring and concern as kids who are victims of bullying. Unfortunately often this is not the case.

  12. Katie on November 16th, 2012 5:46 am

    I actually work in a school where we have had bullying training. How to recognize bullies, often the verbal abuse is under the radar and can be difficult to spot without knowing the signs. Our school district has taken a stand and began educating staff and students about the effects of bullying. Our district has also taken on a nontolerant policy for bullying. I have seen what bullying can do to its victims. It lowers self-esteem and makes the victims feel powerless and unworthy. Teachers need to work hard to first notice the bullying and then harder to address it. Often the victims are afraid to report it due to the lashback from the bully. It will usually be worse than the initial attack. Bullying can leave life long damage.
    On another note, we now have some students and parent who are crying “bully” at every turn. They are aware of the policy and are using the term losely. For example: If a student does something mean to another student this does not constitue bullying. Bullying is usually directed at a particular victim and ongoing. We also have students who use the term bullying to place blame on a student when there has been no wrongdoing just to turn attentiona away from themselves. Has anyone else had these similar effects from trying to be more aware of bullying?

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