Bullying is a form of behavior in which a person causes another person repeated injury or discomfort. It may be a learned behavior and may occur due to certain characteristics and past experiences.

Bullying is a widespread problem in the United States.

Bullying behavior can come in many forms and happens for various reasons. There are ways parents, caregivers, and teachers can help children who display bullying behaviors.

This article discusses what bullying is and why people may engage in this kind of behavoir. It also outlines how people can help those who are experiencing bullying.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 5 high school students report that they have experienced bullying on school property.

People may engage in bullying for several reasons. Below are some factors that may increase a person’s likelihood of displaying bullying behaviors.

Learned behavior

In some cases, bullying can be a learned behavior. Children can learn different behaviors from their parents or other people in their lives.

If a child’s parent or caregiver exposes them to aggressive behavior at home, it may increase the risk that the child will go on to engage in bullying.

Individual characteristics

Research suggests people who engage in bullying may be more likely to display certain qualities. These qualities may include:

People who engage in bullying behaviors may also have difficulty controlling their impulses and may tend to blame other people for their problems.

They may also find it difficult to accept responsibility for their actions. In some cases, a child may show a desire for power or dominance, which may increase their risk of engaging in bullying.

Past experiences

In some cases, people who engage in bullying behavior may have experienced bullying themselves.

Some research refers to children taking on a “bully-victim” role. This is when a person experiences bullying while also engaging in bullying behaviors themselves.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), peers often reject these individuals.

The APA states that early adolescents who take on a bully-victim role report experiencing the same level of psychological issues as victims but have little social support.

Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior where a person intentionally and repeatedly causes injury or discomfort to another person.

According to the CDC, bullying often involves an observed or perceived power imbalance.

Forms of bullying

Bullying can take several different forms. Common forms include:

  • Physical: This may include:
    • hitting
    • kicking
    • tripping
  • Verbal: This may include name-calling and teasing.
  • Relational: This may include spreading rumors or leaving individuals out of certain groups and activities.
  • Damage to property: In some cases, a person may bully another person by damaging their property.


Cyberbullying is the act of bullying using technology, such as computers, cell phones, and other electrical devices.

Cyberbullying will often take place in an online setting. Examples include:

  • social media
  • video or computer games
  • online discussion boards
  • text messages on mobile devices

When carrying out cyberbullying, a person will aim to demean or inflict harm on others.

According to a 2021 article, children who others perceive as being “different” in any way are at greater risk of being bullied. It states that these perceived differences may involve various factors.

Research suggests children most commonly report experiencing bullying that involves teasing, taunting, or threatening behavior directed at their physical appearance.

Bullying which involves taunting or threatening behavior related to a child’s race, nationality, or skin color is the second most common form.

According to research, other groups of children who may have an increased risk of being bullied include:

  • those with physical or intellectual disabilities
  • those who others view as not conforming to gender norms
  • those from immigrant families
  • those who come from households with a lower income than average

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, it is best to provide a child who is experiencing bullying behavior with opportunities to talk openly and honestly about their experiences.

It also suggests a person may wish to ask the child what steps they would like to see the people around them take to address the bullying behavior. They can ask the child what steps they have already tried, if any, and what has worked or not worked.

Other specific suggestions include the following:

  • Seeking help from a teacher or counselor: Speaking to the child’s teacher or school guidance counselor can help alert them to the issue. People working at the school can provide information about anti-bullying programs or other initiatives in place to help address bullying.
  • Not encouraging the child to fight back: It is important not to encourage the child to fight back. Instead, people can advise the child to walk away from bullies and seek help from an adult, such as a teacher or a coach.
  • Helping the child prepare: People can help the child practice what to say to the bully the next time bullying occurs. This can prepare them with a response that may help. In some cases, simply insisting that the bully leaves them alone may be effective in preventing bullying.
  • Teaching the child about staying with friends: It is also worth encouraging the child to stay with friends when traveling back and forth from school and on other outings. This is because a child who engages in bullying is less likely to pick on another child who is in a group.

If a parent, caregiver, or teacher thinks a child is displaying bullying behavior, they may wish to take some of the following steps:

Educate the child about bullying

A child may not be aware that their actions are causing other people pain. They may also not be able to read social signs effectively.

This is why it is important to educate the child and remind them that bullying others can be hurtful. It is also worth reminding the child that bullying other people may have legal consequences or consequences at school.

Model positive examples for the child

Some children learn bullying behavior from other people around them.

This means it is important that parents and caregivers display positive examples of how to manage relationships and social situations.

Look for issues with self-esteem

Children who have low self-esteem may be at a higher risk of exhibiting bullying behavior. They may do this to try to feel better about themselves.

Identifying and addressing self-esteem issues may help the child feel better about themselves without bullying others.

Speak to others

If a parent or caregiver suspects a child is bullying others, it may be best to speak with the child’s:

  • teacher
  • principal
  • school counselor
  • pediatrician
  • family doctor

These individuals may be able to offer advice and support and help the person address the issue with the child.

If the bullying behavior continues, a person may wish to ask a mental health professional to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of the child. This can help the person and the child to understand what is causing them to exhibit bullying behavior.

It may also help parents or caregivers to develop a plan to help the child stop engaging in this behavior.

Engage with the child

It can be helpful to engage with a child that is displaying signs of bullying behavior. It is best to do this in a nonconfrontational manner while still expressing concern for the person who is experiencing the bullying.

A person may ask the child to suggest ways that they may be able to adjust their actions. They can also explore the reasons why the child is behaving this way to try and address them.

People also need to set boundaries around acceptable and unacceptable behavior with the child.

Mental health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being.

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Bullying is a form of behavior in which a person repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. There are many different types of bullying, including physical bullying, verbal bullying, relational bullying, and cyberbullying.

People bully for several reasons. Factors that may cause people to engage in bullying include learned behaviors, personal characteristics, and past experiences.

It is best for a person who suspects a child may be bullying others to speak with the child about their concerns. If bullying is occurring, it may be necessary to speak with the child’s teacher, pediatrician, or school counselor.

Parents and caregivers can also educate children about bullying and its impact on others and set good examples of how to behave.