Elementary School children draw out their emotions during a therapy session

Bullying: How to Identify and Address Peer Aggression

Bullying, or peer aggression, is more common than you think. It consists of any behavior – verbal or physical – directed at peers and intended to cause harm. Some people shrug off bullying as a child being a leader or they assume it is just a passing phase. But kids who use peer aggression can have long-lasting issues like isolation from peers, academic difficulties and even bigger behavior problems. It can cause stress for the child being bullied, the bully and the parents.

Consequences of bullying

Often, children who bully others:

  • Are disliked by their non-aggressive peers, which may cause them to hang out with other aggressive children, worsening their behavior
  • Perform poorly in school and face detention, suspension and expulsion
  • Continue negative behaviors as adults, including criminal behavior, and often have trouble with their relationships and problems at work

Turning a bully into a softie

Aggressive kids need support from caring adults. There is a lot you can do to help them — and indirectly help the kids being bullied, too:

  • Create a plan for addressing the behavior that is specific to the child. There is no one-size-fits-all model. Professionals can help narrow down the underlying cause(s) of the aggression and come up with suggestions for how to deal with the behavior.
  • Monitor the child to help figure out what triggers negative or aggressive behaviors. Does the child become aggressive or angry in situations that might make him or her feel insecure? Being aware of those triggers can help shape conversations with professionals and with teachers or administrators.
  • Work with your school and other parents to set up school-based programs to address bullying. Programs should explain what bullying is, but they should also give kids examples of positive behaviors and problem-solving techniques. They should provide educational opportunities, instead of focusing solely on removing aggressive students from the classroom.
  • Talk to your kids about bullying. Equip them with the necessary skills to deal with bullies and to prevent them from becoming one. Access resources like Bullies Are a Pain in the Brain, a book for kids and adults with practical tips on dealing with bullies.
  • Seek help or encourage the bully's parents to seek help if there are relationship problems or domestic violence at home. If you feel as though someone is in crisis, provide the Military Crisis Line that they can call 24 hours a day (1-800-273-8255 and Press 1). The person can also start a conversation via online chat or text (838255).

Bullies aren't born that way. Taking the time to get to know the child, understanding what might be behind those aggressive behaviors, and teaching better coping and social skills can help that child get back on the right track toward a successful and well-adjusted adulthood. By talking to your children about peer aggression and sharing the right information with them, you can teach them to become bully-proof.