For some kids mum’s the word when it comes to bullying. In fact, most children don’t tell anyone, especially adults, that they have been bullied. While this makes little sense to adults, it makes perfect sense to a young person.
First, it’s embarrassing and painful for kids to tell someone that bullies are targeting them. Second, kids sometimes worry that telling someone will only make the situation worse. And third, children may fear that their parents or other adults will be disappointed in them.
Consequently, as a parent you have to be able to recognize the signs that your child is being victimized. You can’t count on them to share the information with you, no matter how great your relationship is. Here are some ideas for spotting red flags in your child’s behavior.
Listen to what your child is telling you. Many kids will not actually use the word “bullying” to describe what they are experiencing. Take note if your kids say there has been a lot of “drama” at school or that others are “messing” with them. Ask them to describe what happened and how they felt. Try to gather the facts surrounding the situation. If your child does confide in you, don’t minimize, rationalize or explain away the experience. Assure your kids that they didn’t cause the bullying. Instead give them some ideas for overcoming bullying.
Watch for “vanishing” friends. As a parent, you are most likely familiar with your kids’ friends. Take notice if your child’s usual friends are no longer calling or inviting them over. Sometimes friendships break up because the kids are growing apart. Other times, vanishing friends can be an indication that bullying is taking place. Ask your kids about their friends. If your child answers, “I have no friends,” that is a major red flag and you need to find out more.
Pay attention to your child’s moods. Look for a marked change in your child’s typical behavior and personality. Kids who are being bullied will sometimes appear anxious, clingy, sullen or withdrawn. They may also appear sad, moody, teary or depressed, especially after school or after being online. Dig deeper when kids suffer from low self-esteem, blame themselves for things or say they aren't good enough. And never ignore self-destructive behaviors like running away from home, cutting or talking about suicide . Whether or not bullying is the root cause, these behaviors should never be ignored.
Take note of your child’s minor health complaints and injuries. When kids are bullied they will complain frequently of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments. Other signs of bullying include unexplained cuts, bruises and scratches. Kids who are targeted by bullies also may show changes in eating habits like skipping meals or binge eating. Bullied kids may come home from school hungry because they skipped lunch to avoid bullying or someone destroyed or took their lunch. If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to find out what is going on in your child’s life.
Watch your child’s sleeping habits. Changes in sleeping patterns often indicate that something is amiss in your child’s life. Kids who are being targeted by bullies may have trouble sleeping or may experience nightmares when they do sleep. Other indicators include sleeping more than normal, crying themselves to sleep and bedwetting. Because quality sleep is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle, investigate any changes in your child’s sleep patterns.
Look deeper if your child’s grades begin to fall. Kids who are being bullied often find it difficult to focus on schoolwork. As a result, they may lose interest in school and grades may drop. Routinely ask your children whether or not they like school. If your child says they “hate” school, find out why. Sometimes bullying will be at the root of the problem.
Make sure you know your child’s schedule. Skipping after school activities or claiming that regular activities are cancelled may indicate that your child dropped an activity because of bullying. Also, pay close attention if your child loses interest in a favorite sport, hobby or activity. Deviating from their usual routine is usually an indication that something is wrong. Find out why things have changed.
Watch for reports of lost possessions. Coming home from school without personal property and supplies may indicate more than just irresponsible behavior. Many times bullies will damage or steal a victim’s property. So if your child comes home with torn, damaged or missing pieces of clothing, books, toys, electronic items and other belongings, look deeper into the situation. You may find that bullying is at the root.