The Bully and the Bullied: Red Flags and What Parents Should Do

Bullying is an intentional epidemic. It manifests in aggressive behavior, such as attacking someone physically, making threats, spreading nasty rumors, and excluding someone from a social group on purpose. Many red flags pinpoint that someone is affected by bullying — either as the bully or the bullied. Recognizing warning signs is a crucial first step in acting against bullying in schools, mainly since 62.4 percent of students do not report it.

Signs a child is being bullied

Not all children exhibit warning signs of bullying. But as a parent or guardian, you must know your child well enough to notice significant changes in behavior or appearance. Common signs of a bullying problem include:

  • Lost or damaged personal items, such as books or clothing
  • Unexplainable injuries, including scratch marks, scars, or bruises
  • A change in eating habits, such as suddenly skipping meals or binge eating
  • Sudden shyness, loss of friends, or complete avoidance of social situations
  • Declining grades and loss of interest in schoolwork
  • Lack of enthusiasm to go to school, especially on Mondays
  • Difficulty sleeping or refusing to sleep to avoid school in the morning
  • Feelings of hopelessness or decreased confidence
  • Self-destructive behaviors, such as harming themselves or talking about suicide
  • Severe mood swings
  • Frequent pains and aches, or tendency to fake an illness

If you feel your child is in distress or danger, get help right away to avoid serious, lasting problems.

Signs a child is bullying others

Most parents are always on the lookout for bullies — but what if your child is the bully? Your son or daughter may be physically or verbally “harassing” others if they:

  • Display behavioral issues, such as sudden aggressiveness or meanness even towards adults
  • Blame others for their problems
  • Refuse to accept responsibility for their actions
  • Come home with new bruises and scars, especially hand injuries
  • Have unexplained extra money or new belongings
  • Get sent to detention or the principal’s office frequently
  • Always worry about their popularity and reputation
  • Hang out with children who display rude and aggressive tendencies

What to do if your child is a bully or being bullied

Kids, whether as the bully or the bullied, rarely tell adults their problems in fear of humiliation, rejection, or backlash. In most cases, you will need to voice your concerns. Review the signs of bullying and then ask direct questions like:

  • “You seem extra hungry after school. Have you been eating your lunch?”
  • “I found a new toy in your backpack. Where did you get it?”
  • “Your shirt is ripped. Did someone do that to you?”

Keep a close eye on your child’s reactions and body language. Often, silence or what a child refuses to say may be more telling. If you suspect bullying, arrange a talk with a trusted adult who knows your child, including homeroom and extracurricular activity teachers. Keep in mind, however, that bullying does not always occur in all school settings and classrooms. The key is to figure out if your child is bullied or bullying others, including where and when it is happening to get the appropriate help for your child. If your son or daughter expresses suicidal thoughts, it is essential to seek immediate evaluation from a licensed mental health practitioner.