7 Skills Bullies Need In Order to Change

Ideas for helping bullies change their behavior

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Many people wrongly assume “once a bully, always a bully.” But some bullies can and do change. The key is to catch the bullying early and intervene. This early intervention involves not only disciplining the bully for his poor choices, but also equipping him with the skills he needs to interact with others in positive ways. Here are seven skills every bully needs in order to change.


Bullying is a choice. It is not caused by something the victim said or did. And bullies need to learn to take ownership for these choices. They also need to recognize that what they did was wrong and how it made the victim feel. Stress that no one “made” them do it. Even in situations involving peer pressure, group bullying or bully-victim cycles, the bully is responsible for his choices. While there are many different ways to get a bully to take responsibility, the key is that he can verbalize what he did wrong and sincerely own his actions.

Empathy. One of the best ways to address bullying behaviors is to incorporate social and emotional learning into the discipline plan. Many bullies feel entitled to behave in the way they do. Consequently,  teach them to look at the situation from a different perspective. Ask them to talk to you about how they would feel in a similar situation. Developing empathy will go a long way in preventing future bullying incidents.

Anger management. Many bullies struggle with anger management and often lash out without thinking. As a result, it may be beneficial to incorporate some anger management tips in the discipline plan. Help the bully learn to recognize anger triggers and develop healthy solutions for dealing with that anger.

Remind the bully that anger is a normal emotion, but that he has a choice in how he expresses that emotion. Choosing to express his anger in hurtful ways is unacceptable.

Impulse control. Sometimes bullies lack impulse control. This is especially true among cyberbullies who post mean things online without thinking about the consequences and how it might impact others. Work with the bully to find ways to control his impulses and make better choices and decisions.

Self-esteem. Some bullies target other kids because they lack self-esteem. As a result, they bully others in an attempt to feel better about themselves. This is especially true of bully-victims. They feel so beaten down that they turn their anger and frustration on other people. To combat self-esteem issues, work with the bully to enhance his strengths and improve his weaknesses. Determine what things he needs to work on such as social skills, assertiveness, perseverance and resilience and a build a base for improved self-esteem.

Friendship skills. Many times bullies are motivated by an intense desire to be popular. So they lash out at anyone who might threaten their goal. This is where mean girl behavior and other forms of relational aggression originate. If the bully is obsessed with status and popularity, remind him about the pitfalls of popularity; and work with him on developing bully-proof friendships. Many times, bullying results from wanting to fit in with a clique or feeling pressured to bully. Address these issues by helping the bully develop healthy friendships.

Respect. This is perhaps one of the most crucial elements of bullying prevention. When a bully can recognize that everyone deserves respect, he is less likely to engage in bullying. The key is to show him that he can use his power in positive ways, rather than negative ways. For instance, if the bully tends to target kids who are weaker than him, he can turn that around. He can begin to support and help those weaker students rather than bullying them. This is ultimate way to display respect.

Remember that in the end, change is determined by the bully’s motivation. Bullying is a choice. And if a bully truly wants to change, he needs to make a different choice.

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