Is Your Child Being Bullied? Learn the Signs

We’ve heard the numbers: Over 13 million kids will be bullied this year. Between 20 to 30 percent of school-age children are involved in bullying incidents, as either aggressors or victims — and even more as bystanders. While laws, programs and pledges have been put forth to curb bullying — especially in October, which is National Bullying Prevention Month — it’s still happening. But there is something we can do about it.

RELATED: Bullying Begins at Home: How Siblings Can Hurt Each Other

What is Bullying?

Some definitions of bullying can be cumbersome and confusing. When I’m presenting to audiences of school children, administration and teachers, I make it as accessible as possible with the acronym ABCD:

A: Aggressive: It’s a physical, social or emotional attack
B: Balance of power is unequal (Bigger/Smaller, Stronger/Weaker, Older/Younger, Typically Developing/Special Needs, Popular/Unpopular)
C: Consistent: There is a pattern of aggression
D: Deliberate: The attack is intentional and calculated

RELATED: 5 Ways to Handle Teen Bullying

What Are Signs of Bullying?

Children are not always forthright about being bullied at school. Some  find it embarrassing to admit that it’s happening, while others fear that the adults in their lives will make the situation worse rather than better.

So how might you know that your child is being bullied?  You know your child best. Is he or she:

•    Sleeping more or less?
•    Eating more or less?
•    Atypically aloof, agitated or emotional?
•    Withdrawing from favorite activities?
•    Trying to get out of going to school/extra-curricular activities?
•    Coming home with unexplained bruises (from others or self inflicted)?
•    Dropping in grades?
•    Exhibiting excessive name-calling and belittling oneself, showing low self esteem?

If my Child Admits to Being Bullied, What Should I Do?

It’s easy to fly off the handle and march down to the school demanding immediate recourse. But stay calm. Take a breath.  Then, say the following:

“I’m so thankful that you came to me.  I know that isn’t easy to do and I truly appreciate it. I really want to help you — what would you like me to do right now to support you? Would you like me to listen, give you my advice or something else?”

Many children do not feel that they have at least three people to turn to in a time or need or challenge. That means we have to step up but it also means we need to follow through. If we are unable to commit to doing that, we need to help our children find the right person who can help them.  Say:

“I promise you that I will stick by you and help you figure this all out. If I’m not the right person to do that, I will make sure we find the right person who can help you. You can trust me. I will not drop the ball on this.”

Keeping Your End of the Bargain

Make sure to follow through — the number one complaint children have about adults is that we say we are going to help but we don’t follow through until the problem is fixed.  You can:

•    Role play some ways for your child to assertively stand up for him or herself,
•    Brainstorm the right teachers or administrators to talk with about this problem
•    Discuss how to circumvent “hot spots” or “hot times” where and when bullying is more rampant at the school.
•    Pinpoint safe people and safe places to go at school if bullying begins
•    Adjust online safety settings to help avoid cyber-bullying

If the child feels he or she has already tried these options, offer to go with him or her and speak to the appropriate people in the school about an action plan. Keep going until the problem is addressed and alleviated.

Truthfully, as a person who was bullied herself as a child, I don’t feel that the bullying itself is what can lead to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness — it’s  the feeling of being alone or powerless to change one’s circumstance.

As key adults in the lives of our children, we can do something.  If you are unsure of how to proceed, talk to your child about getting the school counselor involved. Together, all of you can figure out how to proceed.

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About the author

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a child/teen development specialist, body image expert, sought-after speaker and award-winning writer. She graduated with her Ph.D. from Tufts University’s prestigious applied child/teen development program. She is known for her no-nonsense and positive approach to helping young people and their families thrive. Her ground-breaking research at Tufts University on young women is the foundation for her book, Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls & How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It (Harlequin Press).