Characteristics of Bullies

When identifying characteristics of bullies, one can never be sure how accurate they are or that we are not stereotyping. No one symptom stands out to label a bully. Educators, parents and community members must observe children for certain traits. In this way, they can establish whether there is a pattern of mild, moderate or severe levels of bullying. This will help them to increase the ability to recognize early warning signs by establishing close, caring and supportive relationships with children and youth. Bullies tend to do one or more of the following:3,27

  • Harass or intimidate others, both verbally andnonverbally
  • Call other childrennames
  • If they are boys, bully more often and use more physicalmeans
  • If they are girls, use more subtle means such as whispering about others, spreading rumors and shunning theirvictims
  • Perpetrate bullying in and around school, where normally an audience isavailable

In most cases, there are early warning signs that children who have bullying tendencies will harm themselves or others — certain behavioral and emotional signs that, when viewed in context, can tell us we have a troubled child. However, early warnings are just that — indicators that a child may need help. Such signs may or may not indicate a serious problem. When a profile was presented to school principals, their response was: how many characteristics does a child display before I seek action? Early warning signs provide school staff with the impetus to check out concerns and address the child’s needs; they allow staff to act responsibly by getting help for the child before problems escalate.

It is important to avoid inappropriately labeling or stigmatizing individual students because they appear to fit a specific profile or set of early warning indicators. Teachers and administrators — and other school staff — are not professionally trained to analyze children’s feelings, motives and behaviors. However, they see these children every day, eight hours a day. Effective schools offer special training to identify children who are bullies and may have violent tendencies. Educators, families and communities can increase their ability to recognize early warning signs by establishing close, caring and supportive relationships with children and youth. Unfortunately, however, there is a real danger that early warning signs can be misinterpreted. Nonetheless, certain behaviors and characteristics should alert educators to the possibility that a child is bullying others. These may include the following.24,130

Verbal Abuse (General Name-calling)

  • Using accusatory terms such as fag, gay, lesbian, orshrew
  • Calling other people names just to be mean, i.e., geek, four-eyes, shrimp, wimp,fruitcake
  • Giving other children dirtylooks
  • Making fun of their religion or nationality by calling them names like Jew Boy, Wop, Spick, Yellow, orJap
  • Telling others they are no good: “You can’t do this, nobody likes you, getaway.”
  • Calling otherscrazy
  • Abusing their parents or family members: “Your mother is poor as dirt,” “Your brother’s dumb as a door nail,” or “Your whole family is crazy.”

Verbal Abuse (Appearance)

  • Making fun of a child’s appearance by using terms like metal face, metal mouth ormidget
  • Using put-downs like “You’re skinny as a rail,” “Your smile looks like your teeth fell out,” “You’re ugly,” or “You’re fat,” or “You’re tootall.”
  • Questioning another child’s care: “Don’t you have anything else to wear?” or “You stink — don’t you takeshowers?”

Verbal Abuse (Academics)

  • Assailing another child’s academic abilities by calling them retarded, teacher’s pet, and thelike
  • Making another child feel inadequate by saying things like, “You sure got the short end of the stick when they gave out brains, “Don’t you have any common sense?” “You’re stupid because you can’t read,” or “You’re dumb because you can’t do that mathproblem.”
  • Belittling another’s successes with phrases like, “Don’t you have a life after school?” or “He’s a geek, he knows more than theteacher.”

Verbal Abuse (Athletics)

  • “Can’t you run anyfaster?”
  • “You are soweak.”
  • “What awimp!”
  • “You kick like yourmomma.”
  • “You can’t do anythingright.”
  • “What? You got two leftfeet?”
  • “You are so slow you wouldn’t be able to catch thelice.”
  • “Our team won—because we’re the best. Your teamstinks.”

Spreading Rumors

  • Talking behind other people’s backs and startingrumors.
  • Telling someone a secret that really is not the truth. Then the next person tells someone else and the entire thought ismiscommunicated.
  • Passing notes which contain cruel statements aboutothers.
  • Telling lies on others that are demeaning andhurtful.


Calling other names like white trash, black trash, or Mexican trash. Putting down another’s religion.

Physically Hurting

  • Beating up on smaller and or youngerchildren
  • Punching others until they start tocry
  • Pushing and shoving others orelbowing
  • Fighting with others in front of the victim’s friends orgirlfriend
  • Throwing things at or on them — such as milk or food in thecafeteria

Pranks and Mean Games

  • Making others drop their books orpapers
  • Tripping others and laughing when theyfall
  • Emptying another person’s book bag in front ofothers
  • Hitting others as they are standing inline
  • Cutting in line and cutting others off when they aretalking
  • Picking smaller kids up and making them into flyingairplanes
  • Stuffing others into a trashcan ordumpster

Destroying Property

  • Taking lunch money fromothers
  • Spitting on an individual’s clothing orpossessions
  • Cutting someone’s hair (this can also be consideredassault)
  • Destroying others’ property such as throwing paint on someone’s jacket or cutting holes in someone’s gymshorts

Personality Characteristics

  • Mean
  • Arrogant
  • Always putting other kids down — verydegrading
  • Acting like they’re better than everyoneelse
  • Acting like they can do anything they want because they’re older or bigger than everyoneelse
  • Always having to be the best or the center ofattention

Poor Emotional Self-Control

  • Having a lot of hatred or built-upfrustrations
  • Hot tempered — veryexcitable
  • Rude, always in your face, and crowdpleaser
  • Always the classclown
  • Always going with what their friends say — not what their heart tells them

Physical Characteristics

  • Average size or the largest one in theclass
  • Possibly athletic and think they’re better than theothers
  • Wearing baggy pants or shorts — cool clothes, especiallyboys
  • Wearing very fashionablehairstyles

Poor Support System

  • Treated poorly at home (Bullies often witness the violent behavior of parents or relatives; and children from violent homes are three or four times more likely to become abully.)
  • Parents lack a solid bonding or attachment with the youngchild
  • Poor supervision and neglect of the child’sneeds
  • Acceptance and modeling of aggressive or bullying behaviors by parents or oldersiblings


  • Don’t have a lot of closefriends.
  • Are envious of fellowclassmates
  • May not be very popular and use bullying as a way of gettingattention

Behavioral Characteristics

  • Getting in trouble at school either with the principal orteacher
  • Showing a lack of respect for authority or resisting authoritative figures
  • Talking back toadults
  • Performing poorly in academicareas

Attitudes and Feelings

  • Arebossy
  • Are nice to others outside of class or when others are notaround.
  • Interrupt when others arespeaking.
  • Laugh when something is not funny but isdemeaning.