It can be pretty distressing to think that your child is either being bullied or is bullying another child. As parents, it’s our responsibility to look out for the signals that something is wrong and take action.
Bullying is loosely defined as unwanted and repeated harm, intimidation or coercion involving an imbalance of power. Physical violence, intentional reputation damage, verbal taunting or embarrassment, name-calling and issuing threats are all forms of bullying. For children, confrontations aren’t just confined to school – they can also occur on the bus, in the playground, online or even close to home.
Bullying affects both the victim and the bully, though it might be hard for parents to feel much sympathy for the latter. However, in both, mental health and social development are likely to suffer as a result of bullying.
While it’s completely normal for every kid to have an off day once in a while, keep your eyes open for any changes in their overall behavior or temperament. Puberty is an awkward time, so remember that could be a cause of any shifts too. Other issues, such as depression or anxiety, could also be at the root of some changes.
Signs your child may be a victim of bullying
- They have repeated physical injuries with no known cause
- Their possessions or daily supplies are damaged or lost on a regular basis
- They have multiple days of feeling unwell in an effort to stay home
- Their eating habits change noticeably – they’re either eating very little or binge-eating
- School grades have suddenly dropped and they’re struggling in many or all subjects
- They try to avoid social situations after previously being happy to join in
- Your formerly outgoing, confident child now seems self-conscious and shy – maybe even clingy
- They engage in self-destructive behaviors such as self-harming or running away
- Suddenly, they no longer want to participate in group activities they’ve previously enjoyed
- You notice they’ve started to act aggressively towards younger children, including siblings
Online bullying can be particularly difficult to detect unless you monitor all your child’s activity, which comes with its own set of issues. Many children won’t want to tell you they’re being bullied. They might feel dealing with it themselves gives them a feeling of control. Alternatively, they could feel ashamed or believe that speaking out about the bullying is ‘telling tales’.
If you think your child is being bullied but they seem reluctant to talk about it, try discussing it with a trusted adult at your child’s school. Most have strict policies regarding bullying. It’s also important your child feels you’re listening to them – they need to know you believe them and will help resolve the bullying.
Signs your child may be bullying others
- They have started getting into more fights, either physical or verbal
- There is a known or suspected bully within your child’s group of friends
- Their demeanor and reactions to provocation or unhappiness are increasingly aggressive or hostile
- You get more alerts from school that they are acting up or behaving badly
- Extra money or new belongings are showing up with no explanation
- They blame others for their problems and refuse to take responsibility for their choices
- Their personality becomes increasingly competitive and they worry a lot about their reputation or popularity
- Other parents are reluctant to allow their kid to spend time with yours
If you suspect your child is bullying others, you need to respond quickly. Talking to them can often give you insight as to what is driving them to bully others. You need to let them know that you will help them, but that bullying is not acceptable.
Most parents are mortified to learn their child is bullying others. It’s important to remember their behavior isn’t necessarily a reflection on your parenting skills. It doesn’t mean your child is a bad kid, either. They might have issues with processing emotions and feelings. Perhaps they’re struggling with social skills or something specific has happened and this is their way of reacting or coping. They could have mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.
Whatever the reason or cause, it’s important you take an active role in remedying the situation. Find the resources your child needs but make sure they also acknowledge their mistake and apologize to the other child or children involved.