How to spot the signs of bullying
Bullying is not trivial and needs to be taken seriously by parents and educators as people who are bullied when they are younger can develop long-term emotional problems. Subtle changes in a child’s behaviour can be early indicators that they are being bullied, giving parents the opportunity to provide support as early as possible.
Bullying is the fourth most common reason for children to use Childline counselling, with 7% of sessions handling concerns about face-to-face or online bullying (Childline, 2018).
Is there a difference between teasing and bullying?
Playful teasing can be a mark of friendship and closeness and doesn’t cause the person being teased any distress. However, when teasing does cause upset and is done in a hostile way, intended to alienate the other person, it becomes bullying.
The definition of bullying according to Bullying UK is: “repeated behaviour which is intended to hurt someone either emotionally or physically, and is often aimed at certain people because of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation or any other aspect such as appearance or disability. Bullying can take many forms including physical assault, teasing, making threats, name calling or cyberbullying.”
Ten signs of bullying
A change in behaviour could be a sign that a child is being bullied. Below are a few common examples, but remember that you are the expert when it comes to your own child, so it is important to use your judgement as a parent.
- Unexplainable injuries
- Lost or destroyed personal items
- Feeling sick or faking illness
- Changes in eating habits: suddenly skipping meals or binge eating
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork
- Reluctance to go to school
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations (this can include changes in social media usage)
- Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem
- Self-destructive behaviours such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide
What to do if you are concerned your child is being bullied
It’s very difficult to manage your emotions when you find out your child is being bullied – you might lose your temper and want to stride up to the other child/their parent/the headteacher and give them a piece of your mind! But remember that you are an important role model for your child, so remember that they are likely to copy whatever they see you do.
Talking with your child is a key first step to understanding if/how they are being bullied and what can be done to help. Giving them plenty of opportunities to have your attention can encourage your child to share their worries with you – it could be while you’re washing the dishes together, driving to school, walking the dog, etc. Bullying UK has some useful advice on how to have these conversations.
It is a good idea to encourage a family culture of communication generally, so your child can feel confident coming to you for support for any issue they face. Family mealtimes are an important part of this – research has shown multiple benefits of eating together, including fewer high-risk behaviours in teens (e.g. smoking and drinking), and lower rates of depression. Tweens and teens can be more reluctant to talk about their problems, so be willing to listen when they are prepared to do so – even if that means midnight chats when you both have work/school in the morning.
Once you have encouraged your child to open up, there is lots of advice out there for next steps, ranging from reporting it to the school to teaching your child Jiu-Jitsu. What will work for one child won’t work for another, so have a look around and see what approach best fits your child’s situation. When you have found some ideas, discuss them with your child and find out what they would prefer to do about it; this shows them that you are not there to take control but to support and respect them.
Fight vs. flight
One of the big questions around bullying is whether to stand-up to bullies, or walk away. Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear-cut answer as children bully others for different reasons, therefore the wrong method can quickly backfire. We often hear that bullies are looking for a reaction, but if your child walks away or doesn’t respond, this can instead signal to the bully that they are an easy target. Self-defence training as an option to deal with bullies may give your child a way to protect themselves if physically threatened, but this can quickly escalate and they may get injured.
Being bullied can make children feel powerless and alone. While there is no way to ‘bully-proof’ your child, you may be able to prevent it or lessen the impact by focusing on your child’s self-esteem and relationships. Writing out a ‘lifeline’ list of people they can talk to and get more advice from (e.g. friends, teachers, counsellors, helplines) will show your child that they have a trusted network to turn to – these different sources can support them in a variety of ways. Joining an activity club can work wonders too; if your child struggles to make friends in school they make new friends with shared interests, plus having new skills to learn can give your child a great confidence boost.
- Childline tips, tools, forums and helpline
- NSPCC advice for parents
- CBBC’s anti-bullying clips and advice for children
This post was written by Fundamentally Children