19 Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied and What to Do about It

Contributed by Michele Borba

Warning signs that your child is being bullied

If your child is bullied it means that a peer or peers are intentionally causing her or him pain. Peer abuse! Just the thought can send shivers down our spines.

But the fact is 160,000 children skip school every day because they fear being attacked or intimidated by other students. Reports also confirm that bullying is starting at younger ages and is more frequent and aggressive than before. And the cruel behavior increases with age. Chances are your child may be bullied.

Also troubling is that our children don’t always tell us that they have been bullied. I’ve spent many a meeting with kids who were repeatedly victimized and in clear emotional pain.

“Why didn’t you go to a trusted adult for help?” I’d ask.

Their replies were concerning:

“I did tell my mom. She didn’t believe me.”

“I tried to tell, but I got too embarrassed.”

“If I told my dad he would have only made things worse by yelling at the bully.”

“Why bother? The stuff my mom told me to try wouldn’t work.”

Repeated bullying causes severe emotional harm and can erode a child’s self-esteem and mental health. Whether bullying is verbal, physical or relational, the long-term effects are equally harmful. Both boys and girls report high levels of emotional distress and loneliness as well as lower self-esteem, loneliness, anxiety and depression. Some situations the outcome is tragic: the child may take his or her own life.

So it’s time to get savvy and learn the warning signs of bullying. Bullying is always intentional, mean-spirited, rarely happens only once and there is always a power imbalance. The victim cannot hold his own and often will need adult help. Your child may not feel comfortable telling you about his pain, but if you know these signs your child is being bullied and tune in closer, you might be able to start bullying prevention in your home.

Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied

Here are possible warnings that a child may be bullied and needs your support. Of course, these signs could indicate other problems, but any of these warrant looking into further. See my blog, Signs of Cyber-bullying for signs of electronic bullying. Every child is different and any child can have an “off” day, so look instead of a pattern of behavior that is not typical for your child.
 1. Unexplained physical marks, cuts, bruises and scrapes
 2. Unexplained loss of toys, school supplies, clothing, lunches, or money
 3. Clothes, toys, books, electronic items are damaged or missing or child reports mysteriously “losing” possessions
 4. Doesn’t want to go to school or other activities with peers
 5. Afraid of riding the school bus
 6. Afraid to be left alone: wants you there at dismissal, suddenly clingy
 7. Suddenly sullen, withdrawn, evasive; remarks about feeling lonely
 8. Marked change in typical behavior or personality
 9. Appears sad, moody, angry, anxious or depressed and that mood lasts with no known cause
 10. Physical complaints; headaches, stomachaches, frequent visits the school nurse’s office
 11. Difficulty sleeping, nightmares, cries self to sleep, bed wetting
 12. Change in eating habits
 13. Begins bullying siblings or younger kids. (Bullied children can sometimes flip their role and become the bully.)
 14. Waits to get home to use the bathroom. (School and park bathrooms, because they are often not adult-supervised, can be hot spots for bullying).
 15. Suddenly has fewer friends or doesn’t want to be with the “regular group”
 16. Ravenous when he comes home. (Bullies can use extortion stealing a victim’s lunch money or lunch.)
 17. Sudden and significant drop in grades. (Bullying can cause a child to have difficulty focusing and concentrating.)
 18. Blames self for problems; feels “not good enough”
 19. Talks about feeling helpless or about suicide; runs away.

What to Do if You Suspect Bullying but Aren’t Sure

Kids often don’t tell adults they’re bullied so you may have to voice your concerns. Review the signs of bullying and then ask direct questions.

“You’re always hungry: have you been eating your lunch?”
“Your CDs are missing? Did someone take them?”
“Your jacket is ripped. Did someone do that to you?”

Watch your child’s reactions. Often what a child doesn’t say may be more telling. Tune into your child’s body language. Silence is often powerful.

If you suspect bullying and your child won’t talk to you, then arrange a conference with a trusted adult who knows your child. If your child has more than one teacher you may need to meet with each educator or coach. Keep in mind that bullying usually does not happen in all school settings and in all classrooms. The trick is to figure out if your child is bullied and then where and when it is happening so you can get the right help for your child.

Hint: If your child has a classmate, you might be able to gain more information from the pal than your own child.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on your child. Children who are embarrassed or humiliated about being bullied are unlikely to discuss it with their parents or teachers and generally suffer in silence, withdraw and try to stay away from school.

Stress to your child you are always available, are concerned and recognize bullying may be a problem.

Emphasize that you believe your child and you are there to help.

Please seek the help of a trained mental health professional if the signs continue, intensify, or your gut instinct tells you “something is not right with my child!” Please!

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Why Kids Bully

Why Kids Bully

Is a bully, a bystander, a victim or some combination?

Contributed by Michele Borba, CEP board member

 

It’s not easy to know that your child is bullying.

It’s hard to admit that your kid is using aggression.

But to allow bullying behaviors to continue will be disastrous to your child’s character, conscience, reputation, well-being and mental health.

No matter the age, gender, religion, or ethnicity, any child resorting to bullying needs an immediate behavior intervention.

Please do not make the mistake of thinking that bullying just “a phase” or a “rite of passage.” Behaviors and attitudes turn into habits and can easily be entrenched and much harder to change. Now is the time to help your child.

A key to changing bullying is to uncover what is motivating the child’s behavior. Each child is different and multiple factors may play into bullying so a “one-size fits all” remedy will not work.

Best intervention plans are based on the “medical model approach.” Doctors don’t give the same medication to every patient. They first identify the symptoms, and then diagnose the reason so they can use the right treatment. The wrong diagnosis means the wrong treatment, and that means your child won’t improve.

The good news is because bullying is a learned behavior it can also be unlearned. The sooner you begin, the greater your success!

Figuring Out Why a Child Bullies

Jot down your ideas helps you see a pattern in your child’s behavior you may overlook.

Roll up your sleeves and let’s get started! I’ll give you solutions, but your first step is to figure out the “why.”

Get a notebook to jot down your thoughts as I help you figure out how to help your child.

You may not need to go through all of these steps. Use those tips that help you most.

Do not expect overnight turnarounds, but know this is doable!

Also, please know that there is no one reason why a child bullies.

Each child is different, and there is no one behavior intervention plan that will work for all kids.

What’s key is to figure out what might be triggering your child’s aggressive behavior. Only then will you be able to develop a specific plan to turn the behavior around.

This may take time. You probably need others to help you develop a plan, but hang in there!

Identify the Reason

Your first step is to determine why your child is using this behavior. What might be triggering your child’s behavior?

Here are a few of the top reasons why kids bully. Could any apply to your child? Think through each item carefully. What is your best guess as to why your child is using aggressive behaviors? There may be another reason beyond this list which you can add to the end.

Your child has been allowed to get away with bullying. Adults are turning a blind eye to the behavior. Or have bullying or aggressive behaviors been rewarded or encouraged? Does your child need firmer limits and monitoring?

Your child has been handed too harsh discipline, too rigid or strict, “conditional” love. Is your child using bullying is as exaggerated need for attention or respect? Does your child need a warm, loving parent?

Your child uses aggression to gain rank, attention, power or show “toughness.” Perhaps she lacks social skills, feels rejected or isolated by peers, and is trying to fit in. Research also finds the urge for popularity — especially for kids on the second tier of the social rung – is a bully motivator. Might this be your child? Does she need to learn social skills or find ways to make and keep friends appropriately?

Your child’s empathy – or feeling for others capacity – has not been encouraged or nurtured at home. Did he have an early trauma or depression, which may inhibit the development of empathy and need counseling? Might your family need to tune up compassion? Is empathy not expected?

Your child is hanging with a group who believes it’s “cool to be cruel.” Could he be mimicking other kids? A child’s social network can inhibit or encourage bullying behaviors. Does he need a new group of pals?

Your child has been bullied and is seeking protection. Could he be serving as henchman for another bully out of fear of being victimized himself? Does he need to learn appropriate assertive skills?

Your child lacks coping skills and is impulsive, unable to control anger, and has a natural tendency to “act out.” Does he need anger management skills?

Your child has adopted the view that aggression is acceptable. Could he be watching television shows, movies and video or computer games that glamorize aggression and cruelty and the exposure affects his behavior and attitude? Has his aggression been reinforced or even encouraged by others? Is he watching others who are aggressive?

Your child… What other reasons could your child be bullying?

Uncover the Cause

Watch your child closer. I know it’s hard to be objective about your child, but try to keep an open mind so you can uncover what’s really going on.

Ask others who care about your child and see him or her in other social situations for their input.

Watch your child in different social settings. Bullying does not happen in all situations and with all kids, so check into each situation. Then answer these next questions:

  • Where is this behavior happening most often?
  • Where is the behavior not happening? Why? What’s different in those spots?
  • Are there certain adults or peers involved in situations where bullying is more frequent?
  • What about the time of days?
  • How frequently does this happen?

Do the questions help you see any pattern? It sometimes helps if you keep a journal to jot down notes to review.

What is your best guess as to what is triggering the bullying?  Don’t worry if you still don’t know. Just move on to the next step.

Get Your Child’s Take

Now get your child’s take on the situation.

Your role is to try and discover what might be bothering your child or triggering this behavior so you can help, so listen carefully and try to gather facts.

For instance:

  • Was he falsely accused?
  • Could he be the victim of bullying himself?
  • Was he trying to protect himself?
  • Is this the only way he can figure out how to find a friend?

Ask: “What do the other kids think about your behavior?”

Ask: “What would your teacher say is the reason you are doing this?”

Ask: “What help do you need to stop?”

Be calm and nonjudgmental as you try to uncover your child’s real motivation. Listen twice as much as you talk.

Keep in mind that your child probably won’t be able to put in words what’s triggering the behavior.

Also, keep in mind that bullies often deny their actions or blame the other kid. You may need to call witnesses to help you get the most accurate picture.

You will need to be the detective.

Dig Deeper

Still unclear? These details will help you piece together what is going on to help prevent a reoccurrence. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where and when did the bullying first happen? Think back…way back.
  • What started it? What was going on in your child’s life at the time? Is there anything that might have triggered the behavior?
  • Which kids were involved? Which adults were present in your child’s life?
  • Were there any adult witnesses that might be able to provide clues?

Create a Plan to Turn Bullying Around

Once you determine what preempted the offense (he uses aggression to make friends, to protect himself, for revenge, to try to look cool), your next step is to work together to try and create an immediate first solution. The objective isn’t to let your child off the hook, but to develop alternatives it won’t happen again. For example:

Problem: He bullies for protection.

Solution: Avoid the spot your child is most likely to be bullied by others; find an older child who can look out for your kid. (See Bully-Proofing Strategies for Kids)

Problem: She bullies to seek power to find friends.

Solution: Find other social avenues where your child can make a new friend; teach her friendship-making skills to boost her social competence. For instance: How to start a conversation, lose gracefully, ask permission or solve problems peacefully. Then target and teach one new skill at a time by showing your child the new strategy and then practicing it until your child can use it alone. (See Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me, by yours truly and Helping Kids Find, Make and Keep Friends).

Problem: He bullies due to inability to control anger.

Solution: Teach specific anger management strategies (See Anger Management for Kids and Helping Kids Cool Hot Tempers).

Problem: She bullies because she is mimicking other children.

Solution: Watch with whom your kid pals around. Also, check out the day care center, sports teams or other after-school programs your child is enrolled in. Ask teachers for recommendations for a peer group who won’t feed into the behavior.

Problem: He bullies because he doesn’t recognize or care that his behavior is causing his victim distress.

Solution: Boost empathy by asking him to “Switch Places” and pretend to be the victim. Then ask: “How would you feel if someone said that about you?” Tell or read a story in the about a child who is victimized. Consider doing community service as a family. Food drives, picking up trash in the park, painting battered women’s shelters, serving meals at homeless shelters or delivering meals to sick and elderly folks who are housebound are just a few options.

Problem: He bullies because he has a surplus of energy that often is acted out.

Solution: Offer positive alternatives to channel her aggression such as karate, boxing, swimming, jazzercise, weight lifting, soccer, football, or the marching band. But find a physical outlet for your kid to direct his strength and be also praised for his effort.  Also, make sure you teach strategies to help control his anger. (See Helping Kids Cool Hot Tempers).

Once you think you have an idea about the motivation behind your child’s behavior, refer to the specific chapter in my book for solutions in: The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries or on my website: Michele Borba and refer to the articles in the Bullying section.

Don’t be frustrated! This will take time. Keep a diary of your notes. Keep talking to others who know and care about your child.

Above all, don’t give up!

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Bullying in Schools: A Strategic Solution

 Written by Joseph W. Mazzola President & CEO Character Education Partnership

Bullying in our nation’s schools is rampant.

Consider the following data points from the 2010 Federal Bullying Prevention Summit: every day, 160,000 students stay home out of fear of getting bullied at school; 1 in 3 students will be bullied this year (about 18M young people); 75-80% of all students observe bullying; and, depending on definition, 15-35% of students are victims of cyber-bullying.

Fortunately, our elected officials and others are now taking bold action. To their credit, for example, 43 states have passed anti-bullying legislation. 

I had the honor of representing CEP at the Summit. The key takeaways were: (1) bullying in schools is widespread; (2) the ramifications are very serious; (3) we need to learn more through research; (4) several government agencies are truly committed to taking this issue on; (5) policies and definitions need attention and clarity; (6) there are 67 programs that claim to combat bullying; (7) none of them has been shown to be effective through research; and (8) there is no simple, silver bullet solution.

As with all complex and chronic problems in our schools, narrowly focused intervention strategies typically fail to make a lasting impact. Zero tolerance policies, hallway posters and such all sound very good in theory. There is no doubt that they are also implemented by well-meaning people who really do want to make things better. However, according to many experts, such measures are shallow in nature and thus fail to achieve their intended purpose, especially over the long haul. Continue reading

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