The good news about bullying is that schools and parents are more aware of the problem than ever, but the bad news is that it continues to happen every day. The key for parents is to know what the signs of bullying are so that they can step in when they believe their child may be a victim. When it comes to bullying, understand that bullies can be boys or girls; bullies typically span the ages of kindergarten to high school; and they come in every ethnic and socioeconomic demographic.
Your child desperately tries to avoid going to school.
Reality check: You were a kid once, too, which means that you probably had your fair share of days when you really didn’t want to go to school. Perhaps you even feigned illness a time or two, or skipped school on the rare occasion. When a child is getting bullied at school, he will do everything in his power to avoid it except to tell you the real reason why he doesn’t want to go. Self-disclosure alert: I was bullied to an extreme degree throughout my school years, but didn’t have the guts to tell my parents until I was about 16. Why? Because admitting it felt so humiliating. The number one sign that your child is getting bullied – aside from coming home with a busted lip – is avoiding going to school at all costs.
How to handle this problem: If your child says that she feels sick once in a blue moon, believe her. If you see a pattern where she says she doesn’t want to go for a couple weeks or even longer, ask her if she is getting bullied. If she says “yes,” let her stay home the day she tells you and talk about it. Then decide if you need to schedule a meeting with a guidance counselor at school to discuss next steps. In addition, ask your child if she wants you to find a therapist for her to talk to, and ask her to brainstorm with you about ways to make the bullying stop. Finally, do something extra nice and generous for her so that she knows how much you care. Even teenagers need a little TLC – as much as they deny it!
Your child seems withdrawn, overly anxious, or tearful for a few days or longer.
If your child is a teenager, you may see these signs when your teen has a romantic breakup. These signs are also often seen when a child is getting bullied at school. When you see major emotional changes that last a few days or longer, remember that bullying might be the problem.
How to handle this problem: I find that boys are more resistant to admitting it when they get bullied than girls, because boys are still socialized more than girls to be tough and to blow things off. Whether your child is a boy or girl, don’t ask them directly if they are getting bullied; that would be way too threatening. Instead, wait until you can engage in an activity with your child – cooking, driving, walking somewhere – to ask them. This technique avoids the ultra uncomfortable Locked Eye Contact which is especially stressful and uncomfortable for teenagers.
Your child asks you for money more than usual, or asks for larger amounts than usual.
Bullying is often motivated by a bully who wants the victim to give her money. You’ve heard people talk about bullies stealing milk money, but bullies these days may ask for more than the amount to cover a lunch. If your child asks you for money more than usual, one of the first things you should consider (aside from potential substance use) is that your child may be getting bullied.
How to handle this problem: One technique that helps parents talk about bullying with their kids is for the parents to share any of their own experiences when they got bullied as kids. Even if you didn’t get horribly bullied, it might serve a larger purpose to embellish your own history a bit. If your child is asking for money more than usual, odds are that something fishy is going on. The first thing you should ask about is bullying, rather than drugs, alcohol or anything else. In addition, this problem requires a call to the school guidance counselor. Trust me: Your call won’t come as a surprise because school staff respond to these parental concerns every single day.
If a child is getting bullied, there will be signs. Make a mental note of the signs above and you will be better armed to protect your child in the unfortunate event that a bully targets them at school.