Is Your Child Being Bullied in School? What To Do About It

Published by Catherine Durkin Robinson on

Back-to-school time is here. Parents buy supplies and clothes. Children pick out their favorite lunch boxes and backpacks. Lists and plans are put in place for a great academic year. But what about school’s social challenges? For example, studies say 1 in 5 American students are bullied.

Much of that takes place in school or online. 

Parents must sometimes advocate for their children in order to keep them safe. In addition, teachers and school officials can help catch problems early and keep parents informed. When everyone works together, children benefit.

Here are some ways to do that.

Signs a child is being victimized or bullied

Parents keep an eye on their children. Teachers do the same with their students.

This is true whether the child is in elementary, middle or high school. 

Academic pressure at all ages, combined with social challenges, creates turmoil if adults aren’t a supportive presence. There are many ways to help kids who are being picked on by other kids.

The first step is knowing the warning signs 

Drastic changes

Any kind of sudden change in a child’s behavior is cause for concern. Parents know their kids better than anyone. They are often the first to notice a red flag. Teachers get to know their students and can usually confirm a parent’s concern or provide another point of view.

Here are some examples of changes that might signal a problem:

  • If a child leaves the house in clean clothes only to return home looking disheveled, with ripped or dirty clothing.
  • Lack of interest in school and failing grades.
  • Any sudden weight gain or loss. This could be the result of a child overeating due to stress or stopping eating altogether.
  • Self-destructive behavior such as running away, self-harming, or acting out in emotionally unstable ways.
  • Starting to drink alcohol or take drugs.
  • A bullied child will often have difficulty sleeping at night. They also might want to stay in bed all day rather than go to school.
  • Friends begin to disappear.
  • Mood swings transform a previously happy child into someone who is sullen and withdrawn.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, sports or after-school activities. These are things they recently enjoyed but now have no desire to continue doing.
Young children might not realize they’re being bullied
  • They won’t use adult language. Instead they might complain about “drama” at school.  
  • Sometimes a child might say people are “messing” with him/her/them on social media.
More red flags
  • A child exhibits depression-like symptoms. For example, they might suffer deep periods of sadness or melancholy. Or they may cry a lot.
  • Seems isolated and alone a great deal of the time. 
  • Missing or “lost” personal items. They might not readily talk about people stealing things from them. Rather they shrug their shoulders when parents or teachers ask where something might be. Younger children might pretend not to know.
  • A child might be routinely sick or not feeling well. Complaining of aches and pains, either real or imagined.
  • Low self-esteem, makes disparaging comments about him/herself. Saying things like “I’m stupid” or “I’m a loser.”
  • Anxiety and fear about school or other areas of life. Making up excuses why they’d rather stay home.

Signs your child might be a bully

It’s hard for parents to admit that their child might be harming other children. Although some kids who harm others come from a family with problems, many do not. Studies show that many children come from families with no record of violence and end up bullying others for a sense of control.

This type of aggression might be a sign of a deeper issue.

Regardless, keep in mind that bullies are children, too. They need help before their behavior gets worse.

Many children harming others are:

Socially savvy
  • Acting in ways similar to healthy, well-functioning children.
  • Popular.
  • Outgoing.
  • Athletic.
  • Proud and/or arrogant.
  • Exhibiting unusually low or high self-esteem.
Different at home

Some students who bully others will behave as an extrovert at school and an introvert at home. This is another area where good parent-teacher communication is key.

Is your student:

  • Depressed?
  • Secretly struggling in school, dealing with learning disabilities and feeling frustrated?
  • Having trouble sleeping at night?
  • Obsessed with popularity and social media?
  • Dealing with violent family members?
  • In a strained parent/child relationship?
Acting out
  • Getting into trouble with law enforcement?
  • Behaving badly in school?
  • Using/abusing alcohol and drugs?
  • Harming animals?
  • Bringing home friends who are aggressive or mean?
Blaming everyone but themselves
  • Refusing to take responsibility for their actions?
  • Lacking empathy?
  • Needing to be in control almost constantly?
  • Prior victims of bullying?
  • Showing contempt for peers and/or adults?

There are solutions

Kids who either bully others or are being bullied themselves can break free from harmful patterns. With proper intervention, they can get through this awful situation and heal.

If you’re a parent or teacher spotting some signs and worried, here’s what you can do:

  • Make sure your child knows they can talk to you. Initiate a conversation.
  • Listen. Repeat back the words to make sure you both understand each other.
  • Take notes afterward. Include as many details as possible after gathering all the facts.
  • Do not make excuses or blow this off. It might sound like “kids being kids” to you, but children respond differently to trauma. Show empathy.
  • Make sure your kids understand they did not cause the bullying. This isn’t their fault.
  • Monitor their social media accounts. Take screen shots of anything that is disturbing. Same with text messages.
  • Alert the school and schedule a meeting with teachers, administrators and counselors.
  • Ask to see the school district’s bullying policy in writing. Most school districts take this issue seriously and it’s nice to know there is a team on your side.

Both bullies and their victims might need therapy or counseling. This is normal and healthy. For aggressive children, working in the community helping others can encourage empathy where it is otherwise lacking.

In conclusion, if you suspect your child is being bullied or doing the bullying, know the signs. Make sure your children feel support and love. And contact the school for help in solving this crisis so the rest of the year can be a pleasant learning experience for all.


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