Signs of Bullying

Bullying is just one of the many challenges children face today. Any number of factors, including bullying, can contribute to a child's change in demeanor or behavior. And keep in mind that not every child who is bullied will experience the negative consequences listed below. The key is for parents to be observant: Noticing a difference is the first step to finding out what the problem is. Parent, teachers, coaches, and even friends can benefit from learning what signs to look for that may indicate a deeper problem.

The following excerpt by Dr. Dobson deals with identifying children who are suffering as a result of a family breakdown, parental neglect, abuse, bullying, or some other negative influence:

We must also identify the children and teenagers who appear to be experiencing self-hatred or are harboring deep resentment and anger. They symptoms to look for include overreactions to minor frustration, fear of new social situations, experimentation with drugs or alcohol, difficulty sleeping or eating, extreme isolation and withdrawal, chewing the fingernails, inability to make friends, disinterest in school activities, and the bullying of others.

Watch also for signs of threatened suicide. Be especially vigilant when a child who has mentioned killing himself suddenly seems carefree and happy. That sometimes means he has decided to go through with the death wish and is no longer struggling with what has been bothering him.

In each of these cases, I urge you to obtain professional help for those kids. Do not console yourself with the notion that "he'll grow out of it ."

It used to be believed that most kids were basically happy and carefree. That is changing. According to psychologist and author Dr. Archibald Hart, we are now seeing more signs of serious depression in children, even as young as five years old.

If a five- to ten-year-old is depressed, he may show signs of lethargy: he may not want to get out of bed in the morning; he may mope around the house; he may show no interest in things that would normally excite him. Sleep disturbances and stomach complaints are also warning signs.

Another symptom can be open anger, hostility and rage. He may lash out suddenly or unexpectedly at people or things around him. If you suspect that your child is depressed, you should help him put his feelings of sadness or frustration into words. Make yourself available to listen without judging or belittling the feelings expressed.

Simply being heard can go a long way toward lifting a child's depressed mood. Most important, you need to look for the root cause that is behind the distress. What is happening in your child's school may hold the answer.1

Experts agree that other factors can indicate a child is being bullied:

  • "Losing" lunch money
  • Aggression with siblings
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Insomnia
  • Desire to avoid playing with others
  • Cuts or bruises
  • Sudden change in temperament; being moody or angry

Just because your child shows one or more of these behaviors, you should not assume that your child has been bullied without talking to him or her. Approach the subject with sensitivity, and remember to offer support and encouragement.

Take notice of possible signs your child is dealing with cyber bullying. According to Dr. Mary Manz Simon, a child being harassed might hesitate to answer his cell phone, choose to check his e-mail when no one else is around, prefer solitary activities because he is afraid to trust even those he considers friends, or even show signs of stress-related symptoms like stomachaches, sleep problems, or irritability.2 It's often difficult for schools to get involved in cases of cyber bullying, in part because it's usually necessary to prove the harassment is taking place on school property, involving school computers.

Online harassment is just as hurtful as physical bullying. Lies spread quickly across cyberspace. Many parents never realize that online bullying could be a factor in their child's change in mood or behavior. Don't be afraid to ask your child if he or she has had problems with cyber bullying.

Another important thing to remember is that every child is different. While one child may react defensively to bullying, another may be frightened and unsure of what to do. Did you ever encounter bullying when you were young? If so, don't expect your child to react just as you did. For example, a father who may have been bullied when he was young might have reacted with force. But when that same father's son is bullied, the son might be unable to defend himself. Take into consideration your child's personality and character.

Remember, your child needs your support. Hoping a bullying problem will just go away isn't realistic. If your child comes to you or confides in someone else (such as a grandparent or a school counselor), realize that telling may have been difficult.

1 James C. Dobson, Bringing Up Boys (Carol Stream, Ill.: Tyndale, 2001), 49, used by permission.
2 Dr. Mary Manz Simon, Trend-Savvy Parenting (Carol Stream, Ill.: Tyndale/Focus on the Family, 2006), 30-31.

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Other Things to Consider

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RelationshipsParents and Adult Children, Blended Families