There are many signs that may indicate a child is affected by bullying. Recognizing these warning signs is an important first step in taking action against bullying, because not all children will or can ask for help.
If you notice the signs, talk with the child who is experiencing the bullying. This action can point to other underlying issues and problems, and you can help take the appropriate next steps.
Signs a Child is Being Bullied
Keep an eye out for changes in the child, but be aware that not all children who are bullied show these warning signs:
- Reluctance to go to school
- School is a hot spot for bullying. A child may be reluctant to wake up and go to school. Watch for recurring excuses to stay home, such as aches and pains, or frequent calls from the school nurse to pick up the child from school. Keep an eye out on Mondays when a child wants to avoid school, as they tend to feel safer at home on the weekends, and going back to school can be hard.
- Frequent aches
- Head and stomach aches are common physical symptoms of the stress and anxiety caused by bullying. These can be easy to fake as excuses to stay home from school and other activities. If your child complains about these symptoms regularly, start a conversation about it. Asking open-ended questions creates a safe space to discuss the root of the problem.
- Changes in friendship
- Another important sign of bullying is changes in a child’s friendships. A reluctance to hang out with friends could be a sign bullying is happening in their friend group. Stay connected with other parents in your child’s friend group to know when a child is being left out of group activities.
- Sleep difficulties
- Nervous and anxious thoughts for the next day may cause a child to experience difficulty sleeping. A common symptom a child may be experiencing sleep troubles is looking more worn out than usual in the morning. Other symptoms to indicate their troubling experiences can include an inability to focus throughout the day or inability to maintain proper hygiene.
- Intense emotional reactions
- Intense emotional reactions could be a sign children are holding anxiety about school or social activities, especially when you have a conversation about these things. You may notice an emotional lag, or unwillingness to talk about their feelings.
- Minimal family interaction
- One sign of bullying could be minimal interaction with family members. If a child seems to avoid conversation with family members, or goes straight to their room after school, they could be experiencing bullying. Children experiencing bullying may also act out against their siblings and can become reactive, instead.
- Withdrawal or obsession with electronic devices
- If the bullying is occurring online, you may notice an obsession with their electronic device or a total withdrawal from their device. An over attached child could get angry if you try to limit their use of the device, while the detached child could have difficulty getting a hold. When your child first sets up a social media account, set rules and guidelines, and even consider setting up a screen-time rule. Some kids may be scared to tell their parents about cyberbullying because they are scared their devices could be taken away.
- Physical marks
- Torn, ruined, or stolen clothing and belongings can be another physical sign of bullying. Scrapes and bruises can also be an indicator of bullying. Asking open-ended questions can help you understand what happened and why your child has scrapes and bruises.
- Pay attention if your child is the new kid
- New children at school are at the top of the list for being the victims of bullying. If your child is about to start at a new school, ask if the school can assign your child a buddy so they have at least one friend on their first day of school.
- Victim stance
- Children who lack the skills or assertiveness to stand up for themselves may develop what is called the “victim stance.” This stance is where the child walks with their head down and is unwilling to comment or speak their mind. These children are typically bullied year and year, and they eventually embrace this stance to avoid confrontation.
A child experiencing bullying may not be able to ask for help. As parents, we need to pay attention to the signs and symptoms of bullying. Some signs can be subtle, but others can be red flags that we can’t ignore. Take the time to start a conversation with your child today.