Since the day your child was born, you've worked hard to teach them good manners. They've learned to say "please" and "thank you," and they've heard how important it is to share countless times. You've taken steps to ensure your child doesn't become a bully — but you may not have considered your child becoming the bullied. Unfortunately, your child may not even tell you if there's a problem. These are some of the most common red flags that your kid is being bullied at school — and if you spot these, it's time to take action.
It can be difficult to remember what being in school is really like; things that seem minor or silly to us can be a huge deal to young children. On the flip side, your child may think that serious and unacceptable problems, like bullying, are inevitable burdens to bear. Often, they'll struggle with these problems in silence, afraid or embarrassed to speak out and unaware that you can help. While the following are some of the most common signs that your child is being bullied, nothing beats those "spidey senses" you develop when you become a parent. If your gut tells you that something is wrong, trust and follow those instincts.
1. They Repeatedly "Lose" Their Belongings Or Come Home With Damaged Belongings
While your child will inevitably lose a jacket or a lunchbox during their time in school, it is a major red flag if this happens frequently. According to StopBullying.gov, bullies often taunt their victims by stealing or damaging clothing, toys, devices, or school supplies. Before you get angry at your child for losing or breaking something, give them a chance to explain. If they're unwilling or unable, there may be a bigger problem.
2. They Frequently Claim To Have Headaches Or Stomachaches
A lot of us faked a stomachache to get out of running the mile in gym, so we already know it's an avoidance strategy. Your child may be faking these ailments in order to get out of going to school and being around their bullies, or they may be telling the truth.
When Maxine Poorman experienced severe bullying in middle school, she experienced very real physical symptoms along with it. "I would wake up sick every morning, either throwing up or severe stomach pains due to the anxiety of having to go to school," Poorman tells Romper. "At the time, we didn’t know it was my anxiety from bullying causing physical symptoms. My parents thought something was actually wrong. They took me to the emergency room, specialists, and couldn’t find anything wrong with me."
If your chid is complaining of illness or pain, or you're witnessing it first hand, they may be experiencing bullying as well. Start a loving (and patient) conversation with your child, and give them a chance to talk about how they're feeling.
3. Their Grades Have Dropped & They've Lost Interest In Their Hobbies
We can all relate to losing focus when we're stressed out. If your child's grades have started to plummet, or they're totally uninterested in things they used to love, they might have something weighing on them. Bullies at school or in extracurricular hobbies can cause kids to lose focus or motivation — so avoid lecturing them about grades until you've investigated this potential cause.
4. Their Eating Habits Have Changed
Did your picky eater suddenly become ravenous? Did your bottomless pit suddenly stop eating? StopBullying.gov says to pay attention to changes in eating habits, because they could indicate bullying. Anxiety and stress can decrease appetite, causing your child to skip meals altogether. Conversely, your child may come home starving if they are avoiding the cafeteria (the scene of the "crime") or getting their lunch taken away.
5. You've Noticed Unexplained Injuries On Them
Sporadic skinned knees are an inevitable aspect of childhood, but take note if your child is constantly coming home with new bumps and bruises that they can't explain — these injuries can be big indications of playground bullying. In an interview with Reader's Digest, Bailey Lindgren, an associate at the Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights' National Bully Prevention Center, urges parents to "ask open-ended questions: 'What happened today at recess?'; 'How did you feel when that happened?'"
6. They Seem Sad, Withdrawn, Or Anxious With No Clear Reason Why
You know your child, and you know when something seems "off." Are they less talkative than normal? Has it been awhile since you've seen them smile? If you've noticed that they seem really down, especially after school or other organized activities, they might be being bullied.
Nowadays, their sadness and anxiety may even be broadcast. Laura Cather knew something was wrong with her niece, even from afar. "Some signs I noticed were mainly cries for help through her social media. She would post things like 'Who thinks I’m ugly?' and 'I want to die,'" says Cather, in an interview with Romper. After seeing these red flags, Cather was able to reach out and talk to her niece about the issues going on at school.
Dealing with a bully would take a toll on anyone, so this stress response isn't surprising. Make sure to check in often, and give them a safe, openminded place to share how they're feeling.
7. They've Started Bullying Siblings
Take note if your child has started picking on their brother or sister. "Noticing your child begin to bully their siblings at home would be another way they could be transferring what is happening to them at school," says Lindsay Aja, mom of two, in a message to Romper. Sometimes kids who are experiencing bullying will want to come home and turn the tables, becoming a bully to their own siblings. While it's important to intervene and stop this behavior, it's equally important to figure out why your child is acting out in the first place.
8. They're Having A Hard Time Sleeping
If your child repeatedly looks exhausted at breakfast and seems to be dragging after school, ask them if they're falling asleep (and staying asleep) during the night. If they're tossing and turning, it might be due to anxiety and fear about facing a bully at school, according to Reader's Digest. Ask them questions like, "What are you thinking about when you can't sleep? Is anything making you sad or nervous?"
9. They've Stopped Talking About Friends
The movie Mean Girls might be funny, but it also has moments of scary accuracy. Just like Regina George strategically alienated her "friends," bullies will often exclude their victims, making them feel lonely and excluded. If your child has stopped mentioning friends they've played with, or sat with at lunch, ask about them. If your child becomes emotional or angry when asked about friends, this is another big red flag.
10. They Become More Emotional Or Reactive Before The School Day
If your child is getting taunted or bullied at school, it's no wonder that their emotions will be heightened before heading there for the day. In an interview with Reader's Digest, Donna Clark-Love, a school bullying expert, says Monday mornings might be the hardest. “Kids tend to feel safer at home on the weekends, and the idea of going back on Monday is difficult for them,” says Clark-Love.
If you've noticed these red flags and believe your child is being bullied, it's time to notify the school. StopBullying.org recommends contacting the teacher and the school counselor, then involving the school principal, the school superintendent, and the State Department of Education if the problem isn't adequately addressed and resolved. In the meantime, StopBullying.org recommends finding a local counselor or other mental health service if your child is struggling.