Bullying is a problem of epidemic proportions, and can affect every aspect of a child’s life. While visibility around the issue has been raised as the most severe cases make national news, there is still a prevailing idea that bullying is part of childhood and is only a sign of “kids being kids.” Parents of children who are frequently the butt of bullies’ jokes know that the problem is much more severe than mere child’s play. If you’re concerned that your child may be the target of schoolyard or cyber-bullying, here are some signs to be on the lookout for.
Withdrawal from Activities – Has your child lost interest in extracurricular activities he once enjoyed? This could be a sign of your child being bullied. If he once loved his after-school clubs or teams and now actively avoids them, there could be harassment taking place that makes him reluctant to attend.
Eating and Sleeping Habit Changes – Noticeable changes in your child’s eating or sleeping patterns can indicate that she’s under some sort of stress, which could be the result of being targeted by bullies. She could have a lessened appetite because of the thoughts running through her mind of her tormentor. If she’s eating more at home than usual, it could mean that her lunch is being stolen. Her sleeping habits could have changed because she now has nightmares about the person picking on her. There are a variety of potential causes for these changes, so they should be investigated.
Irritability – Being picked on can put anyone in a bad mood, so try to look for the root of increased irritability or a shortened temper after school. Bullies wear on a child’s self-esteem, and a child with low self-esteem can lash out from that added tension.
Avoiding School – The occasional faked stomach ache is a common ploy to get out of school for a few hours of sleep or to miss a test she’s not prepared for, but regular attempts to get out of going to school may be a sign of a child who’s actively avoiding her tormentors.
Decrease in Grades – It’s difficult to concentrate on school work and getting good grades when that mean kid in class keeps kicking your chair or making fun of you. Your child’s grades might be suffering, not due to indifference to school, but due to a bully constantly nagging.
Fidgeting – If your child used to sit still very well and for long periods of time but now seems to fidget, it could be because of a bully. A physical bully may spur the “flight” half of the “fight or flight” instinct, causing them to be hyper-aware of their surroundings and always ready to bolt.
Unwilling to Discuss School – A child who avoids answering questions about his day or answers evasively could be hiding the fact that someone was picking on him. The part of the school day that has the longest impression on your child right now may be the fact that someone doesn’t like him and he’s being made fun of. It’s tough to remember the exciting parts of the day when your child’s thoughts are consumed by the torment of a classmate.
Acting Out – Increased aggression and violent outbursts can be an indicator of bullying, as kids who spend their days being harassed seek an outlet for their frustrations. Any sudden personality change should be cause for concern, but a turn in a more aggressive direction should be addressed immediately.
Being Mean to Younger Siblings – Is your child starting to pick on your other children? If so, she might have a bully she’s dealing with when you aren’t there. It’s natural to want to unload your burden onto someone else in the same way it was unloaded onto you. Your child could just need to get her anger out of her but doesn’t know how to, so she resorts to doing the same thing to her younger siblings that is being done to her.
Unexplained Bruises or Injuries – Physical bullies do still exist. If your child comes home with bruises or injuries that are not linked to the regular rambunctiousness of a child, it’s time to get concerned. Yes, it’s possible that he fell down on the playground, but it’s also possible that he was pushed down by a bully and is scared to tell you about it.
The shame and embarrassment that can accompany being bullied is often enough to keep kids quiet about their troubles, especially if they’re afraid that they’ll be subjected to retribution for tattling. Be patient with your child and let him know that you’re on his side, and that you’ll find a solution to the problem together.