Recognizing the Signs of Bullying
Every parent's worst nightmare is finding out that their child is being bullied in school. Many don't realize how common this sad fact is: up to 30% of students are bullied either online or in school. And bullying has long-term impacts that a child can carry with them into midlife such as depression, anxiety, alcohol or drug abuse and even suicidal thoughts. But there IS help for you and your child, and the first step is recognizing when there is a problem.
Is My Child a Victim? What to Look For
Children don't always exhibit outward warning signs when they are being bullied but when they do, they may appear in the form of:
- Injuries that come without explanations
- Lost or damaged clothing or personal belongings
- Frequent headaches, stomach aches, and even faking illness to avoid school
- Changes in eating patterns
- Trouble sleeping, frequent nightmares
- Lack of interest in school, falling grades, staying home
- Sudden loss of friends; avoiding social activities or events
- Decreasing self-esteem; feelings of helplessness
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away, harming themselves, or talking about suicide
Recognizing Bullying Behaviors in Your Child or Others
Not only do parents need to be concerned if their child is being bullied, but parents also need to take action if they suspect their own child or another is exhibiting bullying behaviors. A few common behaviors may offer clues that there is a problem:
- Reports of physical or verbal fights with others
- They have friends who are known to bully
- They are increasingly aggressive
- Being disciplined frequently at school (detention, sent to Principal's office)
- Unexplained extra money
- Blaming others and not taking responsibility for their actions
- Overly competitive and worried about their popularity*
Action Steps for Concerned Parents and Adults
- Talk to your child (whether bully or victim) and let them know you have their best interest at heart and are there to help them. Many of these problems stem from feeling different, isolated, and alone.
- Contact a psychologist or mental health professional immediately to help you address the child's needs and limit the long-term pain and damage being done to the child.
- Contact the bully's parents in a non-confrontational manner and tell them you want to figure out how to help them get along better. See if they have any suggestions and if they are willing to step in to stop the behavior.
- Discuss your concerns with administrators where the bullying is taking place. Many schools have therapists and training programs that can support your child and help them regain feelings of confidence and security.
- Lead by example and explain to your child how admirable it is to be a leader and resist violence and bullying. Give them suggestions and role play how to deal with teasing, hurtful, or harassing comments and behaviors, whether this is happening to them or to someone else.
- In extreme cases where you have a lack of cooperation from school administrators, local authorities and other parents, consider moving your child to a new school or social environment.
Where Can I Get Help?
There are several helpful resources that can help children and adults deal with a bullying situation.
- In most extended bullying scenarios, the professional care of a pediatrician and/or psychologist can be enormously beneficial and are covered by many or most healthcare plans. Help with identifying a psychologist is available on the American Psychological Association's website (www.APA.org).
- Articles addressing bullying, how to recognize it, and how to solve it can be found in numerous places. Here are just a few:
- American Psychological Association (www.APA.org)
- Government agencies can also lend support, such as www.stopbullying.gov
- Parents Magazine (www.parents.com) has helpful tips on how to teach your child to react to a bully and what to do if you suspect your child is a bully. https://www.parents.com/kids/problems/bullying/bully-proof-your-child-how-to-deal-with-bullies/
- Speak with your school administrators, who have experience dealing with bullying but are often not aware that it is occurring until a parent comes forward (many children remain silent out of fear or embarrassment). Ask about access to school therapists and about informational programs or training that may be available. Find out what the school's protocol is and how you should handle the other child and parents.
- If there is an incident of serious physical violence or abuse, always contact the police.
If this article was helpful to you, please check out the others we've prepared to help bring awareness to the terrible problem of Bullying (October is National Bullying Prevention Month):
- The Tragedy of Bullying
- What to Do When Witnessing a Bullying Event
- Protecting our Teens from Abusive Dating Relationships
*Warning Signs for Bullying, www.stopbullying.gov, Feb. 7, 2018