7 Warning Signs That Your Child Is a Bully and What to Do About It

Your Child Is a Bully

Being bullied in childhood is associated with a range of negative effects, with physical changes taking place in the brain and a greater risk of anxiety, depression, suicide, and substance abuse. It’s devastating for any parent to discover their child is being bullied—but finding out that your child is the bully can be just as troublesome.

There are warning signs that may indicate whether your child may be prone to—or already engaging in—bullying behavior. When faced with such a situation, the initial instincts of a parent may generate feelings of denial, anger, dismay, or indignation. But it’s a better idea to evaluate the situation with a calm head, sit down with your child to discuss the issue, and take gentle steps to point toward healthier ways of interacting with peers. Read on for the potential signs of bullying and some healthy ways to face it.

While many equate bullies with irresponsible parenting or troubled households, not every bully is the product of a dysfunctional or fractured home life. Click To Tweet


According to the governmental organization StopBullying, bullying is defined as an aggressive act that involves a power imbalance, often occurring repeatedly over time. Though many picture this behavior as stereotypical physical aggression on the playground, bullying doesn’t stop (or start) there—it can also include actions like threats, rumors, verbal attacks, or excluding someone from a group with harmful intent. Today, it may even take place virtually, with cyberbullying a growing problem in the age of social media.

While many equate bullies with irresponsible parenting or troubled households, not every bully is the product of a dysfunctional or fractured home life. The Child Mind Institute notes that bullies can be basically good kids who simply made mistakes, perhaps as a result of wanting to fit in with friends, a desire for extra attention, or a tendency to incorrectly perceive peers’ behavior as threatening.

However, there are some red flags that a young person may demonstrate before or while engaging in bullying behavior. STOMP Out Bullying, an organization for kids and teens, notes that a bully may exhibit a range of signs or characteristics, including:

  1. Trouble with authority figures. Does your child behave aggressively toward adults, teachers, parents, etc.? Emotional dysregulation can lead to outbursts and bullying behavior in adolescents.
  2. A need for control or dominance. The child may be excessively competitive or overly preoccupied with social status.
  3. Impulsive or limit-testing behaviors. Failure to think before acting, as well as rule-breaking and pushing boundaries, can accompany a tendency toward bullying.
  4. Lack of sympathy for those who are bullied, or positive views of violence in general. Studies have shown a link between violence on TV and video games with decreased sensitivity to others’ suffering, and an increase in aggressive or harmful behavior.
  5. A hot temper. Be aware that excessive anger issues can also signal a more serious mental health condition.
  6. A knack for talking their way out of difficult situations. Bullies’ manipulative and controlling tendencies may fashion them into smooth operators.
  7. A history of being bullied. Interestingly, some bullies are simply trying to regain a sense of control after they have fallen victim to bullies themselves, including within their own family system, such as by a sibling.


Plenty of researchers have looked at the link between bullying and the human brain. A study published in 2019, which examined the interaction between the brain’s amygdala activity and being shown angry and fearful faces, showed that a combination of higher amygdala activity to angry faces and lower amygdala activity to fearful faces predicted more bullying behavior. On the other hand, lower amygdala activity to both angry and fearful faces predicted less.

In other words, the participants more prone to bullying were more reactive to anger and less disturbed by fear (i.e., of potential victims). The report noted previous studies’ findings—for example, that bullying adolescents have shown heightened activity in the brain’s emotion and motivation regions during risk-taking, and decreased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex when they anticipated a reward.

Bullies have also demonstrated “enhanced sensitivity toward social exclusion,” a topic explored in another 2019 study. It found that adolescents’ bullying was associated with greater activation in certain brain regions, including the ventral striatum, amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, and insula, when viewing social exclusion. “Activation in these regions is commonly associated with reward-learning, salience monitoring, and motivational processes,” the study noted, which suggests that bullies may simply process things differently when it comes to interpreting interpersonal cues and experiences.


With research showing clear links between bullying and the brain, technology such as brain SPECT imaging can help determine activity in the still-developing brain of a young person (and if deeper issues may be lurking). Since young brains continue to develop until their mid-20s, issues that go undetected have the potential to alter brain development and potentially lead to lasting effects on how the brain functions. Behavioral problems are some of the most commonly diagnosed conditions in adolescents, and receiving the proper treatment can make a lasting impact—not only on the child in question but on everyone who interacts with that child, including victims of bullying.

If you suspect bullying, it’s a good idea to sit down with your child and look at the behavior, without overreacting or jumping to conclusions. The Child Mind Institute reveals helpful tactics for this kind of talk:

  • Be direct and ask for your child’s point of view about what happened, trying to understand why the behavior took place.
  • Try to come up with alternate solutions to situational problems (perhaps with role-playing) and have your child attempt to envision the victim’s point of view.
  • Work on noticing and eliminating bullying-type behavior in the home if necessary, but discipline the child if appropriate.
  • Finally, encourage the child to apologize to the victim, and encourage maintaining an open dialogue about such events going forward.

By employing a nonjudgmental and empathetic approach, you’ll not only encourage better behavior—you’ll be an exemplary parental model for solving problems without the use of anger or aggression.

Bullying behaviors and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Will this leads to them beating up their parents,grandma or helper when they become teens?

    Comment by Kris Lau — June 8, 2022 @ 3:29 AM

  2. Bullies RAISE bullies! Usually parents that are dysfunctional and abusive, create bullies. Past bullies create an environment at home that encourages those children to become nasty bullies.

    Comment by Liz — June 8, 2022 @ 4:28 AM

  3. What do you do when your FIRST grader is being bullied, by certain Other first graders.. What kind of world is this when FIRST graders are bullying…AWFUL!

    Comment by JoAnn Murphy — June 8, 2022 @ 5:07 AM

  4. Insightful information, but my question is as follows:
    How does one deal with bullies when the parents encourage it?

    Comment by Anne — June 8, 2022 @ 5:40 AM

  5. Thank you for speaking about this.

    Comment by Sally — June 8, 2022 @ 8:51 AM

  6. You must take care of the bullies, they are very dangerous propres. Nobody seem to care.
    The professors, the directors are effraie of them. Nobody does somerhing. When a young man is
    Troubled by them, he feel very alone and desesperate…Nobody is there to give him some help…

    Comment by Lise Fauchrr — June 10, 2022 @ 1:55 PM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us