Bullying: Why behaviour can be a communication of unmet need

7th November 2023| Blogs | News

Bullying is unsafe behaviour that requires quick action to prevent further harm. Addressing the underlying causes of bullying behaviour is another crucial part of the process. Bullying can be a communication of a child or young persons unmet needs, emotional distress and trauma responses. Happy, confident, secure children and young people are far less likely to participate in bullying behaviour. Bullying can be a complex situation with multiple causes and contributing factors. Here are some of the main things that may underly bullying behaviour: 

Unmet needs 

Some children may resort to bullying as a way to gain attention, power, or control when they are struggling with unmet emotional or social needs. These could include: abuse; a lack of positive healthy relationships; bereavement; parental divorce or feelings of insecurity. 

Social dynamics 

Peer pressure, social hierarchies, and a desire to fit in can also contribute to bullying behaviour. Children and young people may bully others to gain acceptance among their peers or because they witness others engaging in bullying.  

Modelling behaviour

Children and young people often learn behaviour from their environment, including their family, peers, and media. If they are exposed to aggressive or bullying behaviour in these settings, they may imitate it without understanding the impact it has on others. 

Emotional regulation 

Some children and young people may struggle with regulating their emotions, leading to aggressive or bullying behaviour as a way to cope with their feelings of anger, frustration, or insecurity.  

Lack of empathy 

Bullying can be related to a lack of empathy, where children  and young people do not fully understand or appreciate the feelings and perspectives of others or the impact their behaviour has on them. 

All of the above factors are indicators that a child or young person needs guidance and support. They don’t make the bullying behaviour OK – it isn’t – instead, they mean that educators need to be curious and ask the question ‘why are they behaving in this way?’ There is no quick fix solution to bullying but an approach that recognises nuance and does not make generalisations about anyone involved will be the most effective so that all children and young people feel safe and supported in school. 


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• A clear grasp of the neuroscience and motivations behind bullying behaviour 
• An understanding of why punitive measures can have an adverse effect on creating an anti-bullying culture in schools 
• Tips for tackling bullying behaviour in-the-moment as well as kickstarting a preventative approach 
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