Bullying: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Bullying: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

With the growth of social media and other unmonitored forms of communication, more and more children are becoming victims of bullying. In recent years, bullying has come to the forefront as a catalyst for school tragedies such as shootings and suicides. There are as many causes, forms and symptoms as there are children who participate or watch it happen. However, common threads are beginning to emerge that can point to what may cause bullying and help in the treatment of the troubling behaviors that accompany it.


Although bullies often seem self-confident, even overly so, often bullies are scared or sad people who want others to hurt as much as they do. There are several common causes of this hurt:

  • Dysfunctional families: Not all bullies come from dysfunctional families, nor are all children who come from dysfunctional families destined to be bullies. However, often if a child lives in a family where there isn’t a lot of affection or love shown they will lash out at those they see as weaker than them.
  • Need for control: Typically, bullies feel like they don’t control much in their own lives so they seek to gain power and control in any way possible.
  • Rewards: When bullies get the desired outcome, whether it is their victim’s possessions or adult attention, the behaviors that got the reward are reinforced and thus repeated.
  • Lack of empathy: Some children are unable to see how their behaviors affect those around them while others just don’t seem to care.
  • In ability to regulate emotions: Lack of ability to regulate emotions means that the bullies cannot regulate how they react to a situation, big or small. Often the smallest events can garner the strongest responses.
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While very serious and daunting, all of these behaviors can be treated through several different avenues.


▪       Social: Humans are social creatures and bullying is an extremely social and public action. With social therapy children are placed in groups that provide structure and a positive support system with a focus on equality among group members. Emphasis is placed on personal responsibility. Through strong social connections and focus on teamwork, children learn to cope in a variety of social settings and to form healthy peer relationships. Children prone to bullying learn to be empathetic and how to cope with a variety of social interactions. Social therapy is used in a variety of psychosocial environments including inpatient and outpatient youth programs, therapeutic schools, residential treatment centers for children and juvenile rehabilitation programs.

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▪       Psychological: There are a variety of psychological therapies that can be used to change bullying behaviors in children. These therapies are done with a psychiatrist, psychologist or trained therapist in an outpatient or i therapeutic school or residential treatment center for children.

▪       Psychoanalysis: Individual therapy focusing on the behaviors of concern and the subconscious thoughts fueling those behaviors.
▪       Behavioral Therapy: Uses classical conditioning system of rewards and punishments to change or reinforce target behaviors.
▪       Cognitive Therapy: By learning how to manage their thoughts and impulses, bullies can then have more control over the troublesome behaviors they exhibit.
▪       Humanistic Therapy: A form of cognitive therapy that emphasizes proper treatment of others. This is directly aligned with treating bullying attitudes and behaviors.

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Developmental: This form of therapy moves beyond the cognitive to the developmental. Children are assessed for developmental delays and deficiencies that may be exacerbating the behaviors of concern. If delays or deficiencies are found they can be treated in positive, therapeutic ways in order to resolve any troublesome behaviors.

Bullying is a very serious set of behaviors. Through one or a combination of the treatments discussed here, children who exhibit these behaviors can be helped and the bullying can stop.

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