7 Skills Bullies Need in Order to Change

Teen girls laughing at another girl

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It is natural to assume “once a bully, always a bully.” But sticking a person who bullies with a label of "bully" for the rest of his life does not help prevent bullying. In fact, with hard work, some people who bully others 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 person who engages in bullying needs in order to change for good.


Bullying is a choice. It is not caused by something the victim said or did, and people who bully others need to learn to take ownership of 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.


One of the best ways to address bullying behaviors is to incorporate social and emotional learning into the discipline plan. The goal is that kids who bully will increase their emotional intelligence in the process. Many people who bully others 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 teens who bully others struggle with anger management and often lash out without thinking. As a result, it may be beneficial to incorporate anger management tips in the discipline plan. Help the person engaged in bullying learn to recognize anger triggers and develop healthy solutions for dealing with that anger. Remind him 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. It is important that he understands that.

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.


Some kids who engage in bullying target others because they lack self-esteem. As a result, they lash out at 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 person bullying to enhance his strengths and improve his weaknesses. Determine what things he needs to work on such as social skills, assertiveness, perseverance, and resilience. These skills build a base for improved self-esteem.


Many times kids who bully 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 person bullying others 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.


This is perhaps one of the most crucial elements of bullying prevention. When someone who bullies others begins to 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 in negative ways. For instance, if the person bullying 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 the ultimate way to display respect.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that in the end, change is determined by the motivation of the person engaged in bullying other people. Bullying is a choice. And if someone who bullies others truly wants to change, he needs to make a different choice. While you cannot make someone change, you can teach the healthy behaviors he needs in order to make lasting change. The key is to be consistent and reinforce the positive mindset and healthy behaviors he needs in order to handle situations differently. 

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gregorino T. The Chance & Choice Challenge: A Game for Addressing Bullying Behavior From Within. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. 2016;11(3-4):436-445. doi:10.1080/15401383.2016.1241731

  2. Garandeau CF, Vartio A, Poskiparta E, Salmivalli C. School Bullies' Intention to Change Behavior Following Teacher Interventions: Effects of Empathy Arousal, Condemning of Bullying, and Blaming of the Perpetrator. Prev Sci. 2016;17(8):1034-1043.  doi:10.1007/s11121-016-0712-x

  3. KidsHealth from Nemours. Teaching kids not to bully.

  4. US Department of Health and Human Services. How to prevent bullying.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.