Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied

a child being bullied
*This article was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp

As a parent, the last thing you want to hear is that your child is being bullied or harmed in any way. Whether they’re being bullied in person or online (known as cyberbullying), the effects of these experiences can be far-reaching, extending to their mental, physical, and emotional health. Without the right guidance, support, and intervention, these impacts can carry into adulthood, making it crucial to confront situations involving bullying with empathy and encouragement. 

However, children may not always be open with their parents, leading many to feel powerless in providing support. Kids may also keep quiet out of fear of being labeled a snitch or making the situation worse by telling someone. Therefore, it’s essential for parents to recognize the signs of bullying, as this is what can allow them to intervene.

In this article, we’ll cover several potential indicators of bullying as well as what you can do to help your child through these situations.

Warning Signs Of Bullying

Keep in mind that every child responds differently to bullying. Some kids may fight back, while others might feel timid or scared about engaging with the bully. Certain kids will be quiet about their experiences and try to keep the bullying hidden from other people, whereas others might be open about what they’re going through and ask for help.

Making sure that your child is safe is many parents’ top priority. If your child shows any of the following signs, it can be crucial to ask clarifying questions to determine whether the cause could be bullying or something else, and then get them the right support.

  • Lowered self-esteem: Does your confident, carefree child suddenly feel poorly about themselves? Are they dressing differently because they feel insecure or have their teachers noted that they’re speaking up less in class? Bullying can take a toll on a child’s self-esteem, as bullies may target the way your child speaks, dresses, or behaves, causing your child to feel self-conscious.
  • Avoidance of friends or school: If your child is being harmed physically or emotionally at school or whenever they’re with a certain person, they may try to avoid that place or individual. For example, they might want to stay home from school more often or tell you that they don’t want to be friends with someone anymore.
  • Sleeping difficulties: Sleep disturbances can be common among those who are bullied. Nightmares may interrupt their sleep, or they may be so anxious about going to school the next day that they struggle to fall asleep at night.
  • Anxiety or depression: Mental health concerns like anxiety and depression can develop when a child is exposed to bullying. Kids may feel left out and defeated, leaving them to believe that no one wants to be their friend or that there’s something wrong with them. These thoughts can take a toll on their mental wellness and may necessitate a visit with a child therapist. BetterHelp offers online therapy to busy parents who have questions about getting their children support through therapy. 
  • Battered clothing or possessions: Has your child’s books, lunchbox, and school supplies gone missing? Do their clothes look rugged and messy? If your child isn’t prone to losing things and tends to stay clean at school, it could be cause for concern if they’re suddenly showing up in a battered state.
  • Health issues: Kids experiencing bullying may experience new problems with their health, including stomachaches, headaches, muscle tension, nausea, and more. These illnesses may be real, or your child may make them up to avoid responsibilities like school or sports practice where their bully or bullies might be.
  • Behavioral or mood changes: Just like adults, it’s natural for kids to experience a bad mood now and then. Given that they’re still figuring out the world, their behavior may also change as they develop. However, sudden and drastic changes in mood or behavior could indicate that your child is trying to cope with something (such as bullying) and feeling overwhelmed.

It’s important to put all the information you collect into context when assessing whether your child is being bullied. For example, a child who cares about their grades could be in a bad mood after scoring poorly on a test at school. A child who is nervous about a presentation in one of their classes could experience a tummy ache from anxiousness and try to skip school by feigning an illness.

Before jumping to conclusions, take some time to consider other explanations for the way your child is behaving. As their parent, you likely know them best and can make an informed decision based on their previous patterns compared to their current ones.

Supporting Your Child

One of the most important things you can do for your child when they’re being bullied is listen to them. Allow them to share their experiences openly and take the time to respond in an empathetic, gentle manner. Ask your child if anyone else knows about the bullying, and whether they’ve done anything to try to get the bully to stop.

Next, take some time to empower and encourage your child. Their self-esteem may be low, and they’ll need you to build them back up again. Remind them that being bullied doesn’t say anything about their worth or strength and that it’s more of a reflection of the bully’s character than anything.

Instead of attacking the bully, encourage maturity by attributing the bully’s actions to lack of knowledge. For example, you can tell your child that the bully must not have learned how to be kind with their words. Remind them of the lessons you’ve taught them about using their words to build others up instead of tearing them down. Reassure your child that they’re not doing anything wrong; rather, it’s the bully who is behaving badly.

If your child is being bullied online, you can put parental controls on their devices to try to limit their contact with the bully. You may even block the account that the hurtful messages are coming from. Having your child’s login information to whichever social media platforms they’re on can also be important and allow you to stay aware of what’s happening.

Don’t be afraid to involve others in the process of safeguarding your child’s well-being. This could include asking teachers about your child’s behavior at school or inquiring about the friend group they are hanging around. It could mean questioning your child’s coach about their energy level during practices or meeting with one of the parents of your child’s friend to figure out how they’re behaving at homes other than your own.

Kids Are Resilient, Right?

Children are often seen as resilient because they can go through hard situations and still grow into capable adults. However, as resilient as kids can be, bullying can still be incredibly challenging to experience. Unaddressed, bullying can create lasting trauma and lead to the development of mental health disorders.

As a parent, you can help by providing a safe, supportive home environment in which your child feels comfortable coming to you about the concerns they’re facing. While it’s natural to want to lash out at anyone harming your child, teaching them about the importance of staying respectful, calm, and kind can go a long way in raising them well.

Remember to do your best to avoid jumping to conclusions when your child is acting differently, taking the time to ask questions and understand where they’re coming from. You can be the difference between your child feeling isolated and helpless or empowered and supported.

Fostering strong communication skills and teaching emotional regulation within your family unit can help your child navigate bullying as well as other difficult situations they’ll face. By listening to your child’s experiences and advocating for them when needed, you can help show them that they are not alone.

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