The new school year has begun! For some kids, starting school is a welcome way to end summer’s boredom. Others have no desire to get back to the learning and structure of school. But there are some kids for whom the idea of going back to school brings fear because they are being bullied.
The first step in helping a child who is being bullied is to understand what some of the signs are. Once you notice one or more of these you can begin to have a conversation with your child to find out what is happening to them.
- Reluctance to go to school. It makes sense that a child who is being bullied will try to avoid going to school. This may mean pleading or exaggerating an illness to be out of school, missing the school bus, even dawdling in the mornings. Sometimes kids who are bullied may beg to be driven to school, or even allowed to walk great distances, to try and avoid bullies.
- Changes in friendships. Your child may become less social and stop hanging out with friends like they used to.
- An abrupt change in mood. If your child becomes depressed or anxious without any obvious reason, it may be a signal that something in their life is not going well.
- Complaints about physical health, such as headaches, belly aches, general malaise. Stress takes a physical toll on people, adults and children alike.
- Difficulty sleeping. This may include insomnia, oversleeping, bed wetting, and even nightmares. It can be hard for a child to turn off their mind and worries at night. Fears and depression that plague them during the day can follow them when it’s time for sleep.
- Attempts at staying home from school. Your child my plead for having a day off, faking or exaggerating illness.
- Coming home starving. Kids who are bullied can have their lunch taken away or lunch money stolen.
- Hesitation to use the restroom at school. Restrooms are one common, isolated and adult-free place where bullying often goes on.
- Losing or having possessions damaged. Bullies often take and/or damage possessions as a way of aggression and control. Your child may ask for a new phone or to fix a broken screen. Their toys may be mangled and school supplies could be missing.
- Physical marks, such as bruises and cuts. This is often thought of as a telltale sign that a child is being bullied and beat up at school. Your child may have excuses as to what caused the marks.
- Grades and school performance going down. Bullying overtakes a child’s mind. They can’t pay attention to what is going on in class. They might skip classes to avoid harassment. Their homework may be stolen.
- Acting out against parents and siblings. If a child is being made fun of and harassed, it’s common that they will then take this aggression out on the people in their lives.
- Changing online activities. Some kids will hide their computer or phone screen when you walk by, as they feel embarrassed about what others are saying about them. They might obsess over social media, spending large amounts of time trying to defend themselves or read what kids have said.
- Rushing to get home. Your child may be running home quickly to avoid being chased and picked on by other kids.
It’s a sad fact that bullies have always been around, and always will. As a parent, you can’t always rely on your child to tell you when they’re being harassed.
Sadly, they feel embarrassed and may feel like they’ve had a role in how they are treated. Learning what to look for can give you a place to start a conversation with them.
A comment as simple as, “you seem like you haven’t wanted to go to school lately. Is there something or someone that is bothering you?” It might be helpful if you can confide your own stories of being treated unfairly by others in your childhood: “When I used to walk home from school, this guy named Patrick would chase me and throw rocks at me. Has anything like this happened to you?”
As an adult, you may even be exposed to bullies in your work environment and can relate to the feelings of helplessness your child experiences.
It might be reassuring if you let your child know that you won’t overreact or get them in trouble. Most of us can relate to the feeling of worrying that mom or dad will go ballistic and make you look stupid. They may also be concerned that any reaction you have may make the bullying worse.
Finding out that their child is being picked on or bullied is something many parents fear. We all want to protect our sons and daughters but we can’t know what is going on unless they tell us. Looking for signs and then finding a calm, gentle way conversing with them is the foundation for getting your child the help they need and deserve.