The psychology of school bullies: which children mock peers?



The psychology of school bullies: which children mock peers?

Speaking about school bullying and bullying, parents, teachers, and psychologists usually pay more attention to victims. At the same time, they often forget about another part of the problem – the tormentors themselves.

“Harassment is not a single occurrence, but a constant, systematic aggression against another child who, for some reason, has a lower status,” explains school psychologist Rebecca Branstetter. She emphasizes that bullying is different from other forms of aggression in conflicts between children.

Of course, children who poison their peers do this for various reasons. You can not make a single psychological portrait of a school tormentor. But nevertheless, they often encounter certain character traits that it will be useful to pay attention to.

“If we can identify common features of such children – for example, increased bashfulness, problems with social thinking and social communication skills, we can prevent bullying and bullying in advance,” says Branstetter.

“Personality, character, moral principles, self-image – all this is still fragile at school age, still developing. The sooner we can help both the aggressor and the victim with their problems, the more opportunities they will have for reconciliation and personal growth, ”explains child psychologist Gillian Roberts.

Here are 10 features typical for aggressive children:

Lack of empathy

Aggressive children who scoff at their peers often have underdeveloped emotional intelligence, their ability to empathy is reduced, they poorly understand themselves.

“Due to the lack of empathy, they are unable to put themselves in the place of another and ask: how would I feel if I were teased in the same way?” Explains consultant psychologist Kathleen Goodman. Many people believe that empathy and empathy are innate qualities, but in fact they are also skills that can be taught. Parents and teachers can change a lot by teaching children empathy – including by example.


“All bullies are characterized by insecurity. By intimidating others and mocking them, they try to hide her from others, ”says family therapist Tom Kerstling. For children with low self-esteem, humiliation of others sometimes becomes an unhealthy way of psychological defense, helping to feel more confident.

Sometimes aggressors even envy their victims. However, Rebecca Branstetter explains, the popular stereotype that all school sadists and tormentors suffer from self-doubt does not reflect the fullness of the picture.

“In fact, many aggressors and tormentors are popular in the classroom and, in their own words, their self-esteem is not lower than average or even high. However, many of them are very susceptible to shame and feel vulnerable, fearing that others will see some of their weaknesses. Therefore, grass and ridiculing others, they turn their attention to other people’s shortcomings, successfully hiding their own, which are very ashamed. This is an important detail that is easy to miss: tormentors often defend their own self-esteem by transferring their shame to others, ”explains Branstetter.

The psychology of school bullies: which children mock peers?

Need for control

“Many aggressors seek to control everything and everyone, since it seems to them that otherwise they themselves may become victims. They try to subjugate others so that no one can become stronger and harm them, ”says neuropsychologist Sanam Hafiz.

Rina Patel, a school psychologist, agrees with this: “Children who think that their peers do not like or do not support them often start to mock others, trying to gain at least some power and control. They mistakenly believe that by controlling other children, they make them their friends. ”


Sanam Hafiz claims that aggressors and tormentors are often impulsive and do not know how to control themselves: “They just don’t think about what consequences their actions lead to, as they affect the physical and emotional state of another person.”

“Impulsivity arises for some reason. For example, due to the fact that the child does not know how to solve problems and problems that arise and does not know how to get what he wants, ”explains Kathleen Goodman.

Thirst for power and status

“Many aggressors really want to get power and high status in their group. Due to lack of social skills, they have only one way – bullying others, ”explains clinical psychologist John Mayer. Mocking others, such a child feels stronger than them, especially if he feels his inferiority in other aspects.

Often, those who find it hard to study, begin to harass more successful students out of envy. Nevertheless, modern research refutes many of the established stereotypes. For example, a study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that high school children are most often bullied in high school.

“It turned out that children most popular among peers more often poison others. It seems to them that, mocking the weak, they emphasize and maintain their high status, ”explains clinical psychologist Scott Symington.

“Children who are popular among peers because of their clothing style, appearance, unique talent, rich family, and expensive things are secretly afraid that if it were not for this single factor, they would not be interesting to anyone. Therefore, they poison others to maintain their own status, ”said Kim Metcalf, a teacher and child psychologist.

Simington is sure: it’s very important to teach children that mocking others is not “cool.” Then the “cool” and popular children will disappear motive for bullying. The anti-smoking campaigns work in much the same way.

The psychology of school bullies: which children mock peers?

Hard childhood

“It is sometimes said that those who are ill do other things badly. This is true for many school bullies. As a school psychologist, I have seen many such children. Often they told stories about their lives that made their heart break, ”says Rebecca Branstetter.

A study by scientists from the University of South Florida showed that children who have experienced life difficulties (violence, distress, financial problems in the family) are more prone to bullying their peers. Many of them themselves were victims of bullying. Someone has experienced physical or sexual abuse from parents, guardians, older siblings, or other children. They could observe similar behavior in the family or elsewhere.

“It is important to remember that if a child makes fun of his peers, he most likely learned this somewhere. If he humiliates others to feel better, he may have grown up in an environment that destroyed his self-esteem, ”explains Gillian Roberts.

Early experience of violence

Children who use physical violence against their peers have probably seen examples of such violence since early childhood. Perhaps they saw him on TV, in computer games or in the family. “Many aggressive children have a positive attitude to physical violence, for them it is a form of entertainment, a way to satisfy their needs. This is often due to the fact that their parents actively used physical or other cruel punishments, ”explains Sanam Hafiz.

Complicated relationship with parents

Even if parents do not openly abuse the children, the family may have unhealthy relationships that often contribute to aggression. “School sadists rarely have loving and caring parents who are actively involved in children’s lives,” says Rina Patel. Some parents are simply not interested in children, and sometimes a child is raised by a single parent who always gets tired at work.

“In some cases, children become aggressive and ruthless because parents require them to be better than others in everything – in sports, school, social status,” adds Patel.

The aggressor is afraid of losing control – including control over their own emotions

Different psychological theories explain the reasons for bullying differently. “The theory of attachment says that the tendency to bullying arises from the lack of reliable attachment to parents at an early age. The theory of family systems considers patterns of behavior and the dynamics of relationships within the family; it follows from it that children who have experienced or observed domestic violence are more likely to mock peers. They learned that aggression is a way to resolve conflicts, ”Kathleen Goodman explains.

Propensity for aggression

“Most children try to show aggression, but soon abandon it as speech and social skills develop. But in school bullies, this process seems to stop. In conflict situations, they rely primarily on aggression, rather than on pro-social behavior – discussion and joint solution of the problem, ”Scott Simington explains.

These children do not know how to control their anger and other emotions. “The aggressor is afraid of losing control – including control over their own emotions. Such children are often impatient and irritable. Some of them are constantly under stress or emotionally unstable, and because of this they often experience outbreaks of aggression, ”explains Sanam Hafiz.

Inconsistency in education

Parents raise many aggressive children inconsistently and neglect discipline. Such parents do not explain to children where the boundaries of the permissible go, and do not force them to be responsible for bad behavior.

“If children are not given clear rules of behavior and neglect their upbringing, they often begin to try to control their peers. Too soft parents do not limit the child, who as a result believes that everything is allowed to him. Children want their parents to establish rules of behavior and a daily routine for them, they perceive this as a manifestation of care. Excessive parental gentleness may seem indifferent to the child, ”explains Hafiz.

In many cases, parents are not ready to admit that their child is mocking their peers – especially if he was “exemplary” earlier, and aggression appeared only later. Many parents and other adults unconsciously indulge in bullying and bullying, taking the problem frivolously (“yes, the boys just messing around”) or even ignoring it. It is very important to recognize the reality of what is happening, to seriously talk with children, to clearly indicate the inadmissibility of bullying and bullying, and to show with your own example a respectful attitude towards others.

Prepared by: Nikolay Protsenko
Photo Source: Getty images

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