Is My Child Being Bullied? 6 Telltale Signs to Watch For

Child with braids sits on a windowsill and looks out into garden beyondTwelve-year old Veronica frequently comes home from school in tears, as her peers have been excluding her from their group activities and spreading nasty rumors about her. Jimmy, who just turned 14, has also been struggling at school, with several older boys taunting and picking fights with him. Both have been experiencing problems with bullying, which can take on a number of different forms including physical and verbal aggression, exclusion from a group, or cyberbullying (CDC, 2016).

Bullying has become a serious problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015), 20% of U.S. high school students surveyed in 2015 indicated they’d been bullied at school in the 12 months prior to the survey. Examples abound of children who have been bullied past their breaking point, leading to suicide attempts (and, tragically, completion in some cases). Although it doesn’t come to that for the vast majority of bullied youth, many will develop mental health issues if the problem is not swiftly dealt with.

Children may not always feel comfortable communicating the difficulties they are experiencing at school, so it’s important for parents and guardians to be on the lookout for warning signs. Some of the red flags to be aware of include:

  1. Unexplained sadness or depression. If your child appears unhappy for no apparent reason and/or starts to isolate, exploring with them what might be occurring at school is critical. Children who feel picked on and excluded from peers are at risk for becoming depressed, which can lead to suicide ideation if the problem is not addressed.
  2. Unexplained irritation or anger. If your child starts to display more anger than usual, this could be another sign they may be having problems with peers. Children who are bullied may become irrationally agitated due to pent-up feelings they are unable to otherwise express. They are also at increased risk for perpetrating bullying behavior themselves.
  3. Anxiety and/or reluctance to go to school. Children who feel powerless to change their situation may begin to display symptoms of anxiety. Anytime a child appears afraid to go to school, their parents should question them as to what the problem may be.
  4. A decline in academic performance. If a child is being bullied, they may become preoccupied with stress and worry, causing them to lose focus on schoolwork.
  5. A decrease in self-esteem. When children feel put down, teased, taunted, or harassed, their self-esteem may suffer. Even a child with a healthy sense of self-worth may start to doubt themselves over time if they feel criticized or rejected by peers.
  6. Unexplained cuts or bruises. If your child begins to come home with wounds or bruises they say they cannot account for, this could be a sign that a bully or bullies at school are physically attacking them.

If you have reason to suspect your child may be experiencing bullying, the first step is to try talking with them about what may be going on.

If you have reason to suspect your child may be experiencing bullying, the first step is to try talking with them about what may be going on. Discussing your concerns with school officials should also be a top priority. Many schools have a no-tolerance policy for bullying behavior, but you may need to make sure the policy is being enforced. If your child’s school does not have an anti-bullying policy, you may want to advocate to have one implemented.

Counseling is another helpful option to assist your child in dealing with any psychological effects the bullying may have caused. A counselor can provide a safe place in which to share their feelings and help them to increase their self-esteem. Although bullying is a serious problem everywhere, we can try to mitigate its effects by implementing anti-bullying programs in our schools, holding those schools accountable, and providing psychotherapy in a timely manner to those who may have experienced its harmful effects.

Editor’s note: Names in the preceding article are fictitious, though the stories associated with them are all too common.

References:

  1. Kann, L., McManus, T., Harris, W. A., Shanklin, S. L., Flint, K. H., Hawkins, J., … Zaza, S. (2016, June 10). Youth risk behavior surveillance – United States, 2015.Surveillance Summaries, 65(6). 1-174
    5
  2. Prevent bullying. (2016, October 3). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/prevent-bullying

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Wendy Salazar, MFT, therapist in San Diego, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Desiree

    October 25th, 2016 at 9:11 AM

    So thankful that my daughter felt comfortable enough talking to me to let me know what was happening to her at school.

  • Lucas

    October 25th, 2016 at 10:29 AM

    I wish that we had better thoughts on how to earlier intervene when kids are being bullied and stop the behavior against them before it does real and lasting harm. I guess that the biggest thing is just to keep our eyes pen and really listen to what they are saying even if they are saying little to nothing at all. I would hope that my kids could come to me with anything but let’s face it, they are kids and are not always going to believe that this is what they should do. You can tell them over and over again to tell their story but if they aren’t comfortable with it you might not even hear about it until it has been going on for a long long time.

  • ronan t

    October 26th, 2016 at 8:25 AM

    It baffles me that most of the time we as parents can easily see when something like our child being bullied is happening and yet the teachers who are with them for hours a day fail to see that there is definitely something going on there that needs to be addressed.

    Look I am not putting it all on the teachers because I KNOW that they have a tough job and lots of kids to look out for, but sometimes I think that they look away and hope that the problem just goes away and we all know how that usually works out.

  • Dante

    October 26th, 2016 at 2:25 PM

    My daughter is the quintessential social butterfly so if she became distant and withdrawn then I would immediately know that something was up.

  • Lisa

    October 27th, 2016 at 8:27 AM

    This has become such a prevalent topic!
    Is this more new or has it always gone on quite like this?

  • daisy

    October 27th, 2016 at 10:48 AM

    my mom and dad have been asking me if there is something going on at school that I want to talk to them about but I am too embarrassed to talk to them. i am also scared that if I say anything then this will only make things worse with the people who are picking on me. i feel like if i could understand why they do what they do then maybe i could change somehow to make myself less of a target but i don’t know, it all feels so hard to explain. i don’t think that i am ready to tell them yet.

  • Margaret

    October 27th, 2016 at 3:59 PM

    Daisy- I really do wish that you could find someone to talk with who could help you. This is not something that you should feel like you have to do alone. There are adults who are trained to help and this could get very dangerous for you. I beg you to talk to someone either at home or at school who could possibly help you fight this.

  • Regina A

    October 28th, 2016 at 11:43 AM

    Most parents I think that are pretty attuned to their child is going to know when there is something going on that is out of the norm for them. We all have to be very aware of how they normally act and be willing to step up and say something when things are not feeling quite right. Many times your child may want to tell you what is going on but they may be afraid or they may not have the right words to express to you what is going on and how that is making them feel. Even as an adult I think that would still struggle with that so the big thing is knowing your child and knowing how they are going to act in most situations and settings. If something feels a little off to you, then it probably is.

  • Jerry

    October 29th, 2016 at 10:35 AM

    Look at the grades, always look at the grades.
    When a straight A student starts failing in areas where typically they have always been strong, that is a huge red flag.

  • Sallie

    October 30th, 2016 at 8:42 AM

    My dad, bless his soul, always told me that if someone picked on me and I didn’t fight back then he would spank me for not standing up for myself.

    Think that line of “reasoning” didn’t mess me up?

  • annika

    October 31st, 2016 at 10:16 AM

    I knew that there was something that was bothering him but we finally had to go to a counselor before the whole story came out.
    Kids were making fun of him, taking his lunch, taking his homework and tearing it up before he could turn it in, just being plain cruel.
    Talk about one mad momma- I thought that this could never happen to my own child until it did.

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