As we’ve discussed, bullying is a widespread issue, affecting millions of Americans over the course of their lives, and hundreds of thousands of kids every day. When it comes to children in particular, this poses a real challenge to parents: They can’t be in school with their kids all day and couldn’t possibly know everything that their children are dealing with.
Every parent needs to know that their child is safe, but victims of bullying tend to be reluctant to report it. Here are a few signs that your child may be a victim of bullying at school:
At first blush, this may seem to be an obvious, simple way to detect Physical bullying. In reality, noticing it may not be as easy as it seems, as every child that is a victim of physical bullying won’t come home with an obvious and suspicious black eye.
Contrary to stereotypes, bullies are smarter than that. Just like any other kid, they don’t want to get in trouble, and know that if they harm their victims in such a way that leaves evidence, the chances of them getting caught and punished increase.
Many bullies have become savvy enough to hide their behavior from authority, operating with impunity by causing just enough damage to have the desired effect, but not so much that anyone will notice a physical difference in the victim.
Look for unusual signs of soreness, stiffness, and bruising. Be wary of sensitivity to touch or discomfort in areas normally concealed under clothing (shoulders, back, thighs, etc.). If your child is an athlete, you need to understand what type of aches and soreness are typical of their sport – talk to coaches if necessary.
If you notice that your child is coming home from school with suspicious injuries of any degree, it’s time to get involved.
Reluctance to go to School
Stick with me here – I know that kids don’t generally want to go to school every morning. Just because your kid would rather play video games doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re being bullied.
What we’re looking for here is a noticeable change in behavior patterns. Kids who are bullied at school on a regular basis learn to dread school and may seek to avoid it altogether. This applies whether they’re being bullied verbally, socially, or physically.
Pay special attention if your child previously showed normal enthusiasm for their friends, activities, and favorite subjects at school, but has recently adopted a negative attitude towards school in general. If your child is uncharacteristically silent when asked “how things are” at school, this is an indicator that something may be amiss.
Take note of their enthusiasm for extra-curricular activities as well. It may be the case that your child begins to avoid one favorite activity in particular, while continuing to participate normally in other activities they enjoy. This may be a sign that the bullying is perpetrated by a member (or members) of one group in particular.
Don’t be surprised if they begin avoiding other favorite activities over time. As they attempt to distance themselves from their bully, it’s not uncommon for the bully to respond by following their victim to different environments in order to sustain the bullying behavior.
This is a subtle one, so you’ve got to keep both eyes open. Observe and talk to them on a regular basis, and get involved when you see changes.
Prolonged stress leads to various physical and behavioral symptoms in adults, adolescents, and children. Victims of bullying experience stressful conditions on a prolonged basis, and as such may exhibit symptoms.
Aches & Pains
Your kid might not be making stuff up when she seems to complain about headaches and stomach-aches more than usual. This is a typical stress reaction, and her pain will (obviously) be more severe if physical bullying is added on top of the psychological stimuli she’s already dealing with. Additionally, there is substantial research suggesting that there is a relationship between social and physical pain. To say it differently, the emotional damage of bullying can become physical pain. Watch out for that.
This is an interesting one. If your child is under acute stress, he may very well experience a decrease in his appetite. This is partially due to the fight or flight response, where the body prepares to respond to imminent physical danger. (It makes sense if you think about it: If you have to run away from a Grizzly bear right now, are you really thinking about a cheeseburger?) Once again, this behavior change is a red flag. Something is awry, and you’ve got to figure it out.
Stress can also cause increased cravings for fatty and sugary foods. When foods like this are consumed, they affect brain chemistry in such a way that stress is inhibited. Additionally, if your child isn’t eating at lunch for social reasons, or because a bully is literally taking their lunch money (yes, this actually happens), they’re probably going to be more hungry than usual when it’s dinner time. Once again, be on the lookout for unexplained changes here.
So there we have it: An abbreviated checklist of things to look out for. This is not a comprehensive discussion, but a brief guide to give parents a starting point.
Every parent reading this now has a homework assignment: Study your kids. Learn their habits and tendencies. Talk to their teachers, coaches, group leaders and chaperones to understand how they interact with their peers when you’re not around. Make a project out of it.
You’ll be glad you did.