A child who is being bullied may not know how to ask for help or feel too ashamed to do so. As a parent, be aware of the signs so that if you seem them in your child, you can have a conversation and find appropriate help.
1. Self-Harming Behaviors
Children who have a difficult time expressing their emotions, or feel they have no outlet to do so may turn to self-harming behaviors as a way to internalize their pain. In a longitudinal study, 56 percent of children who were frequently bullied engaged in self-harm. You might notice the following signs:
- Blood stains on their clothing or personal items
- New cuts on their arms and legs although many children will hide their cutting by doing so under their breasts and around their inner thighs
- Burning, scratching or picking at skin
- Hair pulling, also known as trichotillomania, from the scalp, eyebrows and eyelashes.
- Wearing clothing that hides injuries
- Becomes secretive or defensive when questioned about their choices in clothing (long sleeves during the summer for example) or blood stains.
What Parents Can Do
Gently speak with your child about some behaviors you have noticed. You can say, "Over the past week, I've noticed that you have a few new scratches on your arm. I want you to know you can talk about anything and I love you very much." It's also important to find a therapist who specializes in self-harming behavior in children and adolescents.
If your child opens up and names the bully, notify the school so the problem can get resolved. Unfortunately, notifying the school will not always take care of the problem. In that case, think about other options such as switching schools, home schooling or online classes to ensure your child's safety.
2. Symptoms of Anxiety
Children who experience bullying regularly may develop anxiety as their body's way of trying to protect and warn them of danger. A study of around 92 students concluded that in-person and online bullying both show a significant association with anxiety. You may see:
- Increase in nervous behavior or habits
- Newly developed social anxiety, meaning your child is no longer comfortable in social situations
- Phobias that were not there before, such as debilitating fear of going to school or being in large crowds of people
- Panic attacks, especially around school hours
- Restlessness, trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating
What Parents Can Do
Start by speaking with your child about what you're seeing and ask if they've noticed any changes in their behavior lately. If your child is open to the conversation, try teaching them some relaxation exercises such as deep breathing techniques and mindfulness to help ease their anxiety. Other tricks to help decrease anxiety include making a nighttime playlist of soft, relaxing music.
While you want to help your child with tools that might decrease anxiety, it's also important to get them talking. Encourage them to express their emotions, both good and bad. Make sure you are modeling this behavior for them in an appropriate way. In addition, don't tackle this big problem alone. Locate a counselor or support group that specializes in childhood and adolescent anxiety.
3. Depressive Traits
A 50-year longitudinal study noted that children who were bullied had an increased risk of developing depression as young adults and midlife adults to a greater degree than their non-bullied peers. Children who are frequently bullied are also likely to develop symptoms of depression during their childhood, making early intervention critical. You may notice:
- Chronic, low-grade depressive mood, also known as dysthymia
- Change in appetite, with either an increase or decrease in eating
- Difficulty sleeping and possibly waking up frequently
- No longer wanting to participate in activities or hobbies he once enjoyed
- Bouts of anger, sadness and agitation
- Feelings of isolation
- Possible thoughts of suicide or passive suicidal comments
What Parents Can Do
If your child has a plan, a means and imminent suicidal intent make sure you get them help right away. You can call the police and request a welfare check or have him monitored in the hospital until they have stabilized. From there, be sure to get him into an intensive program or a multi-weekly therapy schedule with someone who specializes in teen or childhood depression.
Talk to her about her mood and if she has noticed any shifts. Gently share your observations and work with her on healthy coping skills like writing, painting, going for a walk and talking with a trusted loved one or friend. In addition, encourage and foster a social connection to help with feelings of isolation. Finally, help him get on a regular sleep schedule.
If your child is experiencing frequent bullying, she may begin to avoid certain locations and activities as a way to protect herself from potential encounters. A study on adults and school children indicated that avoidance was one of the most prevalent symptoms experienced by victims of bullying. You may also notice:
- Fear or anxiety around certain locations or individuals
- Other symptoms of PTSD such as jumpiness, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts
- Hesitancy or resistance to go to school or after-school activities where he may encounter the bully
- Anger or defensiveness when confronted about her avoiding behaviors
What Parents Can Do
Even though this may feel frustrating, be kind to your child and try to get him to help you understand what's going on. It's especially important to try to take note of where or what he is avoiding. This might give you clues as to who to go talk to or who is involved. However, ensure your child that her safety is of the utmost importance to you and if there is anything you can do to help to let you know.
5. Missing or Broken Items
Your child may come home with broken personal or school related items if he is being bullied. He may also have items stolen from him while he is at school. Be mindful of:
- Your child's belongings and which ones are damaged or missing
- Certain items that your child refused to take to school because of their emotional value
- Your child being upset or angry about the items that are missing or damaged
- Your child may try to hide his emotional response when questioned about the missing or damaged items
What You Can Do
Stay in touch with your child's teacher, especially if you start to notice things that go missing or get damaged. Make sure to speak with your child's teacher to see if she knows what might have happened to the things. Also, make sure your child feels like you support her and believe her if she discloses what happened.
6. Changes in School Performance
Children who are bullied tend to have a difficult time being present in the classroom because of the hostile environment that they are subject to. You may notice:
- Declining grades and missed homework or projects
- His teacher may ask to meet with you because of his withdrawn behavior
- She may ditch a class that she has with the bully or the entire day altogether
- He may show a lack of effort toward school work despite typically having high grades and an interest in learning the material.
What You Can Do
The first thing you should do is check in with their teacher if you begin to notice these signs. She may have additional insight as to how to handle the situation. Encourage your child to speak with her teacher as well or go to a peer counselor at school. Believe your child and provide emotional support if she decides to talk about being bullied.
Helping Your Child
Bullying puts children at an increased risk for developing psychosomatic disorders so it is critical that you pay attention to the subtle warning signs that your child is showing you. In all scenarios, it's important to try to address the bullying behavior via the school (or other authority in charge where the bullying is happening.)
By being proactive, you can help your child find a healthy outlet for her emotions and ensure her physical and emotional safety. If possible, begin speaking to your child about bullying when they start school and continue the conversation as they get older. That way, it will be a normalized topic of discussion and may be easier for your child to discuss with you if it comes up.