Bullying is a very real problem, even among young children. However, by understanding what bullying is, knowing how to spot the signs of bullying, and learning what to do if your child is affected by such behavior, parents can be prepared to address bullying if and when it happens.
What is Bullying? Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which one or more people repeatedly and intentionally intimidate, humiliate, harass, or harm someone perceived as less powerful. The targets of bullying are often someone smaller, weaker, younger, or in some way more vulnerable than the bully. Other factors that can lead to bullying include differences in socioeconomic status, race, physical (dis)ability, and sexual orientation. And, with the rise of social media, bullying is spreading faster and more aggressively.
Bullying can take many forms:
Physical (hitting, punching, kicking, beating, as well as the destruction of the victim’s property) Verbal (teasing, name-calling, threats)
Emotional (intimidating gestures, spreading rumors about the victim, social exclusions)
Cyberbullying (online harassment, hate messages, threats, and other digital abuse, such as sharing embarrassing or incriminating videos and photos electronically)
The consequences of being bullied can have both short-term and long-term effects on a child’s psychological wellbeing, physical health, and educational achievement.
Signs Your Child is Being Bullied Children who are victims of bullying may be reluctant to tell anyone about what is going on. They might remain quiet out of fear, shame, or embarrassment. Additionally, though especially teenagers, children do not talk about bullying because they are worried about retaliation; or believe they can handle the situation independently.
So, how can you tell if your child is suffering from bullying?
Firstly, be mindful of changes in your child’s behavior, even subtle signs. If your child has always been quiet or shy, this may not be a tip-off. However, if your child always loved the spotlight and now shies away, there may be a problem. Has your child become quieter than usual and spending more time alone? Has your child become more irritable with no explanation?
While warning signs may be vague, recognizing the following red flags is key to identifying a problem.
Depression or anxiety
Loneliness or isolation
Change in eating habits
Trouble sleeping and frequent nightmares
Frequent headaches, stomach aches, or other physical ailments
Unexplainable injuries and damage to belongings
Sudden loss of friends or avoiding social situations
Poor performance in school and reluctance to go to school
Self-harming behavior / Suicidal thoughts and actions
Alcohol or drug use
What to do if You Suspect Your Child is a Victim of Bullying
If you suspect your child is being bullied, it is important to address the situation quickly.
Parents should get in the habit of regularly talking to their child. Ensure your child knows he or she can confide in you about school problems and listen to what they say. If you feel something is amiss, ask your child about it. You might not get all the details, but you should at least start the conversation. Studies show that having open communication and a loving relationship at home provides increased resilience for children experiencing bullying.
It is important to teach your child safety strategies such as walking away, seeking help from an adult such as a teacher or coach, or finding a safe public place. You may also need to talk to the school. Does the school have an anti-bullying policy? Find out if the school is aware of the bullying and what is being done to address the situation. Make an appointment to speak to a school counselor or administrator. Changing schools typically will not solve the problem. “New kids,” such as recent transfers, are at the highest risk for bullying. However, if your child is about to start a new school, tell the school administration and teacher(s) about past problems. Ask what the new school will do to keep such situations from happening again. Can they assign your child a “buddy?” Even having one person can help your child assimilate seamlessly with their new peers.
While you may not be able to solve all of your child’s problems, bullying is one problem that needs to be addressed. Your child needs an advocate who will supply them with valuable tools to deal with this type of aggressive behavior.