How does a child develop a pattern of bullying others, of using their power aggressively, to control and distress others?
Well, it can come from many, many different sources.
The child can be genetically pre-disposed to that; there are some genes that we know lead to aggressive behaviour, but those genes don't express themselves if the child is raised in a nurturing and caring environment.
The child can learn by observation, so the things that happen at home really make a difference.
And the child can learn in the peer group, because often other children stand around and give encouragement to those who bully.
So what about the home?
I think this is the hardest thing for each of us to think about. As parents we have a huge role in shaping a child's development. And that means we have to think, every moment of every day, about what it is that we're doing, and what it is that we're teaching by our behaviour.
Now I'd love to tell you that I never bullied my 3 children... and that just wouldn't be true.
I got home, after a really hard day at work, and they were screaming and hungry -- especially when they were little -- and sometimes I'd lose my temper, and I'd yell at them.
I didn't mean to, but I did it, and then I would look at their faces and see how frightened they were. They were very frightened, because I'd used my power aggressively to control them, and it distressed them. So what I had to do was I had to repair. And that's probably one of the most important things we can do as parents, is tell children you're sorry, tell children you made a mistake, and that it's not good to use power aggressively, or to use aggression to solve a problem.
For children it's as if we're on the stage and they're in the audience all the time. They watch what we do, they watch how we speak, they watch how we interact with other adults, and with them, and that's part of the biggest learning in their lives.
So we have to be aware of what we're doing, and how we're doing it, because if we're not, if we're using power aggressively, if we're fighting, if we're yelling, that's just what children are going to learn.
Parenting Tips: - Think about what behaviour we're modeling in front of our children - Be aware of the messages that you send to your children
In video: What makes a bully?: Debra J. Pepler, Ph.D, C.Psych, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology, York University
This video does not constitute medical advice, and is not meant to be used or relied upon by anyone without additional guidance and supervision from a qualified physician. Do not perform the procedures described in this video unless your child's physician has reviewed this video and provides you with specific instructions and directions about performing these procedures.