8 Ways to Spot Bullying in Your Child's Life

sad girl being bullied in hallway

When it comes to bullying, many kids never say a word. Not only do they keep it from their friends, but they also rarely tell the adults in their lives, including their parents. Instead, they often suffer in silence allowing the bullying to escalate. While this fact may be confusing for adults, it makes perfect sense to a young person.

First, bullying is embarrassing and painful for kids. These emotions are compounded when they tell another person that they are being bullied. Also when they recount what happened, they may feel like they are reliving the bullying. Additionally, they may worry that others will agree with the bully or believe that they deserved the treatment.

Second, kids sometimes worry that telling someone will only make the situation worse. And in some cases, this may be true. Retaliation is a very real risk when it comes to bullying. And third, children may fear that their parents or other adults will be disappointed in them. Instead of placing the blame for bullying on the bully, they often shoulder the blame.

Signs That Your Child Is Being Bullied

Consequently, as a parent, you have to be able to recognize the signs that your child is being victimized. You cannot count on them to share the information with you, no matter how solid your relationship is. Here are eight ideas for spotting red flags in your child’s behavior.

Listen to What Your Child is Telling You

Many kids will not actually use the word “bullying” to describe what they are experiencing. Take note if your kids say there has been a lot of “drama” at school or that others are “messing” with them. Ask them to describe what happened and how they felt.

Try to gather the facts surrounding the situation. If your child does confide in you, do not minimize, rationalize or explain away the experience. Assure your kids that they did not cause the bullying. Instead, give them some ideas for overcoming bullying.

Watch for “Vanishing” Friends

As a parent, you are most likely familiar with your kids’ friends. Take notice if your child’s usual friends are no longer calling or inviting them over. Sometimes friendships break up because the kids are growing apart. Other times, vanishing friends can be an indication that bullying is taking place. Ask your kids about their friends. If your child answers, “I have no friends,” that is a major red flag and you need to find out more.

Pay Attention to Your Child’s Moods

Look for a significant change in your child’s typical behavior and personality. Kids who are being bullied will sometimes appear anxious, clingy, sullen or withdrawn. They may also appear sad, moody, teary or depressed, especially after school or after being online. Dig deeper when kids suffer from low self-esteem, blame themselves for things or say they are not good enough.

Self-destructive behaviors like running away from home, cutting, or talking about suicide need to be addressed, whether or not bullying is the root cause.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Take Note of Minor Health Complaints

When kids are bullied they will complain frequently of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments. Other signs of bullying include unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches. Kids also may exhibit changes in eating habits like skipping meals or binge eating. They may even come home from school hungry because they skipped lunch to avoid bullying. Another explanation could be that someone destroyed or took their lunch. If you notice any of these signs, it is time to find out what is going on in your child’s life.

Watch Your Child’s Sleeping Habits

Changes in sleeping patterns often indicate that something is amiss in your child’s life. Kids who are being targeted by bullies may have trouble sleeping or may experience nightmares when they do sleep. Other indicators include sleeping more than normal, crying themselves to sleep and bedwetting. Because quality sleep is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle, investigate any changes in your child’s sleep patterns.

Look Deeper if Their Grades Begin to Fall

Kids who are being bullied often find it difficult to focus on schoolwork. As a result, they may lose interest in school and grades may drop. Routinely ask your children whether or not they like school. If your child says they “hate” school, find out why. Sometimes bullying will be at the root of the problem.

Make Sure You Know Your Child’s Schedule

Skipping school activities or claiming that regular activities are canceled may indicate that your child is being bullied. Also, pay close attention if your child loses interest in a favorite sport, hobby or activity. Deviating from their usual routine is usually an indication that something is wrong. Find out why things have changed.

Watch for Reports of Lost Possessions

Coming home from school without personal property and supplies may indicate more than just irresponsible behavior. Many times bullies will damage or steal a victim’s property. So if your child comes home with torn, damaged or missing pieces of clothing, books, toys, electronic items, and other belongings, dig a little deeper. You may find that your child is being bullied.

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3 Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Warning Signs of Bullying.

  2. KidsHealth. Helping Kids Deal With Bullies.

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Warning Signs for Bullying.