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How to Recognize Signs of Bullying

October 30, 2019

School friends bullying a sad boy in corridor; blog: signs of bullying

As a parent, there are a million little things to worry about when it comes to raising a happy, healthy, confident, and capable child. One issue that concerns parents of school-aged children is bullying. Bullying is a huge problem for many children in the U.S. and efforts to decrease and prevent it have gained public attention. Because October is National Bullying Prevention Month, we have come up with a guide so you can learn how to recognize signs of bullying.

What is Bullying?

Because bullying has become such a widespread problem in the United States, the government has set up a website, stopbullying.gov, to serve as a resource for children, parents, and professionals like teachers. They define bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” These behaviors are repeated over time and can have lasting negative effects on both the bullied and the bully.

To qualify as bullying, aggressive behavior must meet two requirements: 

  1. The behavior involves the bully using an imbalance of power to control or hurt others. Things that can create power imbalances include physical strength, popularity, access to resources, and knowledge of embarrassing information about the bully’s target.
  2. There is repetition of the behavior or the potential for repetition exists.

Bullying may take the form of making threats, physical attacks, verbal assaults, social exclusion and spreading rumors about someone else. Bullying is classified into three categories: verbal, physical, and social. Cyberbullying, which continues to become increasingly more common, is usually a form of either verbal or social bullying depending on the tactics the bully uses. 

Effects of Bullying

The effects of bullying can be varied, but none of them are positive. As mentioned before, bullying can have long-term effects on both the child who is bullied and the child doing the bullying. 

Children who are bullied can experience the following effects:

  • Depression and anxiety that may manifest as loss of interest in things they used to enjoy, social isolation, changes in sleeping and eating habits, and feelings of sadness, helplessness, loneliness, and isolation. These issues are not always resolved after childhood and some adults still feel these effects.
  • Declining participation in school and extracurricular activities. Grades will drop and kids who are bullied are more likely to skip school and eventually drop out.
  • Health complaints caused by stress or injuries from physical bullying.
  • A small percentage of children who are bullied will react by retaliating in violent ways.

Children who bully others may also experience negative long-term effects such as:

  • Increased risk of dropping out of school
  • Alcohol and drug abuse that can continue as an adult
  • Escalation of destructive behaviors including fighting more frequently and damaging, vandalizing, or destroying property
  • Increased likelihood of criminal convictions as an adult
  • Early engagement in sexual activity
  • Becoming abusive (physically or emotionally) towards family members such as romantic partners/spouses and children as an adult

Signs Your Child is Being Bullied

If your child is being bullied, it can be a heartbreaking experience to see them so hurt. It is important to become familiar with the possible effects of bullying because the earlier you recognize signs of bullying, the sooner you can intervene and prevent further damage. Signs your child is being bullied can include:

  • Unexplained injuries
  • Declining grades
  • Loss of interest in schoolwork
  • Declining grades
  • Trying to avoid going to school or participating in activities previously enjoyed
  • Sudden loss of friends and avoidance of socializing
  • Change in eating habits, including loss of appetite and binge eating
  • Sleep disturbances and nightmares
  • Frequent stomach aches, headaches, and feeling sick; these are signs of anxiety issues
  • Faking illnesses to avoid school and other activities
  • Lost or destroyed belongings (clothing, school supplies, electronics, etc.)
  • Expressing feelings of helplessness and lowered self-esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors like self-harm, running away, or mentioning suicide.

If your child – or any other child you know – talks about taking their own life, take immediate action to help them. It is best to exercise an abundance of caution in these situations and intervene early to prevent potential suicide instead of waiting for more warning signs. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.

Signs Your Child is Bullying Others

No parent wants to believe their child may be responsible for intentionally causing distress to others. However, in some cases, you may need to deal with the fact that your child is being a bully. It’s important to address this for the wellbeing of the recipient of your child’s bullying, but also for your own child’s happiness and wellbeing. If your child is exhibiting signs that they are bullying others, it is usually a sign of an underlying issue. Signs your child is bullying others may include: 

  • Positive attitude toward violence
  • Increased aggression or impulsivity
  • Getting into physical and verbal fights often’
  • Blaming others for their problems
  • Being competitive and overly concerned with reputation or popularity
  • Socializing with other children who engage in bullying
  • Lack of empathy for those who are bullied
  • Defiance and aggression towards authority figures
  • Being sent to detention or an administrator’s office frequently
  • Having money or new belongings without explanation

Dealing with Bullying

Once you know how to recognize bullying, you will need resources to help you deal with it and repair the damage the bullying has caused. Professional help is available if you feel you need it. You can talk to a counselor at your school or your child’s pediatrician to get recommendations on how to handle the effects of bullying, whether your child is the one being bullied or the one doing the bullying. The school and pediatrician may be able to refer you to a counselor or therapist that can give additional help if necessary. For a list of what resources are available for different situations, go to stopbullying.gov.

Schedule an Appointment

At Holly Springs Pediatrics, we focus on keeping your child healthy not just physically, but in all areas.  This includes attending to mental and emotional health. If you have concerns about bullying and could use more education on how to recognize signs of bullying in your child, we are here to help. We can help with education and refer you to other professionals if needed. Call us at 919-249-4700 to schedule an appointment