7 Indicators a Bully Is Open to Change

How to know if a bully has changed

boy talking with teacher
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We have all heard the saying “a leopard doesn’t change his spots.” This quote implies that if a child is a bully he will always be a bully. But that is not always the case, especially with children who are still growing and learning. Many times with correct coaching and early intervention, bullies gain the skills needed to make better choices.

If you have been working with a bully to make better choices and to treat other students better, you may be wondering how to tell if your work is having an impact.

Here are seven indicators that a bully is open to change.

1. The bully no longer minimizes the problem.

Rarely, a bully will immediately take responsibility for his actions. Instead, he will often attempt to minimize his actions. The goal is to downplay the significance of the bullying and discount the impact it had on the victim. If you are a teacher, a school administrator or a counselor, you need to be able to recognize minimization techniques. Once a bully stops using these techniques, he may be open to changing.

2. The bully does not rationalize about his choices.

Once a bully is able to own his choices without any rationalization or justification, this is a real step toward change. The bully should be able to articulate what choices he made without coming up with explanations about why these choices make sense. If this happens, then you will know you are making progress.

3. The bully does not make excuses for his behavior.

It is not uncommon for bullies to try to present themselves as victims and therefore attempt to excuse their behaviors.

Be prepared for stories about a hard home life, divorced parents or abuse at home. While all of these things are truly catastrophic when a teen must deal with them, they still do not excuse the behavior. The bully must own his choices. His bad home life does not give him permission to treat others poorly.

Be sure to show empathy for what he is experiencing while still holding him accountable.

4. The bully shows some remorse for his decisions.

Once a bully truly feels sadness over the pain he caused others, you will know you making an impact. After all, if the bully recognizes the effect his actions had on another person, then your interventions are working. He is making real progress when he is able to feel remorse.

5. The bully does not sidestep the issue.

When a bully can discuss the bullying incident without deflecting, you will know he is close to changing. No longer will he sidestepping the issue, but instead able to discuss it openly and honestly while taking responsibility for his actions and choices.

6. The bully no longer tries to shift the blame.

Almost all bullies try to blame someone else for their choices. Typically, they engage in victim-blaming and try to convince you that the victim provoked them or deserved the treatment in some way. They also may point in flaws in the victim and indicate that if they were different in some way the bullying would never have happened.

7. The bully is empathetic toward others.

This is perhaps the biggest indicator of change in a bully. If you notice that the bully now can empathize and truly understand not only how the victim might feel but how others in similar situations might be feeling, then you will know you have made real progress. Anytime someone can articulate and truly understand how others might be feeling, then you will know that your bullying interventions are making an impact.

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