Signs of bullying can be hard to see at first. Perhaps it is because it is something no parent wants their child to experience, so we tend to overlook these signs of bullying as something else, like tiredness. Your child might also be trying to hide what is going on, embarrassed to admit they are a victim.
Whatever the case, you are your child’s number one ally and they are counting on you to protect them. If you notice any of these signs of bullying, do not ignore them!
Aggressive behavior — Signs of bullying can manifest in ways that might make it appear that your child is the bully. You might be surprised to be contacted by the school, with notice that your child hit another student. This type of behavior might seem unbelievable for your child; they may not act this way at home. Aggressive and violent behavior at school that is out of character for your child is a red flag that can’t be overlooked. With an ongoing bullying situation, this behavior will likely happen again and again, even if you punish your child. Your child knows that hitting a classmate is wrong — they are trying to send a message that won’t be ignored.
Being labeled as a “problem child” by the school — This is often related to the aggressive behavior described above. A school that is not properly trained in bullying prevention or signs of trauma in children may take what your child is doing at face value. They hit, so they are the problem. Again, discipline will be ineffective, as this is punishing a victim who already knows what they are doing is wrong.
Unexplained bruises — You might notice an unusual number of bruises or scrapes on your child, but your child hasn’t said anything. This might also be the same child that normally cries and begs for a adhesive bandage for the tiniest of “boo-boos.” So why wouldn’t they have told you about injuries that look like they might have actually been painful? If you ask about them, is your child “forgetful” or dodgy? Unexplainable injuries and reluctance to talk about them could be signs of bullying.
Trouble focusing at school or on homework — Your child spends hours in school and usually comes home with a book bag crammed with books and worksheets. It might seem natural that they can’t seem to concentrate or you have to keep nagging them to finish. However, when a simple worksheet that you know your child could complete in minutes takes them an hour, this could be a sign of trouble. If this homework battle is an everyday occurrence, or if your child’s teacher informs you that the same thing is happening in the classroom (they won’t sit still, they disrupt the class, they just won’t finish their work) then there could be an underlying problem.
Avoiding talking about school — I’m sure just about every parent has had this conversation with their child: “How was school today?” “Fine.” That in itself doesn’t signal an issue, so go further than simple yes or no questions. Ask questions that require your child to talk about their day: what did you learn about today? who did you play with at recess? If your child still tries to keep it to one-word answers, avoids eye contact, and seems to want to avoid the subject altogether, this could be a sign that there is something bothering them at school.
Verbal Clues — Your child might be telling you something, without directly saying it. Pay attention for verbal clues your child might be sending. Maybe when you ask who they played with at recess, they answer “I don’t have any friends.” That would be a more obvious response. However, they might be more clever about it: “Darla said she can’t play with me today because she has to play with Carla.” Dig deeper to find out what that means: does Darla usually play with you? Did Carla say something to you? This might even be the time to come straight out and ask: Is Carla bullying you? Your child might be relieved you’ve figured it out and tell you more.
Other signs of bullying to watch out for: coming home with damaged belongings, expressing fear or reluctance to go to school, an increase in claims of illness, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, anxiety or clinginess, withdrawn or sullen behavior.
What to do when you notice ANY of these signs of bullying:
- Don’t ignore them. You can’t afford to ignore them and be wrong. Your child’s safety and mental well-being could be in danger, so always investigate if you have suspicions.
- Talk to the school. Find out their side of the story and if they have noticed any changes in behavior or problems with other students. If your child’s teacher isn’t helpful, ask to meet with the school counselor or even the principal. It is their job to keep your child safe.
- Seek professional help. If you have reasonable suspicion that your child is being bullied, or if they have admitted it, you are dealing with a serious situation that is more than a parent alone can handle. Don’t be afraid to “call for backup.” A licensed professional counselor can be your best ally to help your child process their feelings, find positive ways to cope, and they are obligated to report if they think your child is in grave danger.
- Trust your instinct—even if you just feel like something is wrong, but the signs aren’t obvious. You know your child better than anything else and you know when they are not themselves.
- Document everything. Write down places, dates, times, and people involved in all incidents. As much as possible make note of your child’s actual testimony.
- Don’t stop. YOU are your child’s advocate. If the school is not on your child’s side, YOU have to be. Keep fighting for your child until they are safe.
For more information about bullying or to get help, Stomp Out Bullying is an excellent online resource.
Helpful books for dealing with bullying:
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