Four red flag signs your child is being bullied, and what you can do

Posted: 9th November 2023

Finding out your child is being bullied is a distressing experience, and it can often be difficult for parents to determine the best course of action to help solve the issue. A study found that almost one in five children experienced some form of online bullying over a 12 month period, whilst another study found that nearly three in ten (29%) English secondary school heads had received reports of bullying.

Ahead of anti bullying week Catherine Talbot, Education Learning Designer at safeguarding course providers, High Speed Training, has revealed the telltale signs that parents should look out for to tell if their child is being bullied, and the best course of action to stop the bullying taking place.

Four signs your child is being bullied

Catherine says: “There are several signs that could indicate that your child is being bullied at school. It’s important to note that whilst these can often be signs of bullying, there may be other explanations, so it’s best to avoid jumping to conclusions until you have the full picture. Children are often reluctant to raise the issue with adults as well, fearing that the situation may get worse if they tell someone.”

Physical signs

Catherine said: “The most visible and obvious signs of bullying are often physical injuries, such as cuts or bruises on your child, that indicate physical abuse. When asked, your child may not have an explanation for how these injuries occurred, or may offer a reason that doesn’t seem to fit with the injury.

“There may be a reasonable, unconcerning explanation for these injuries, but it’s important to discuss them with your child and to raise them with the school. Physical abuse can quickly escalate, so it’s vital that you get on top of it quickly.”

Emotional signs

Catherine said: “Changes in your child’s behaviour can also be a strong indicator that something isn’t right. For example, are they isolating themselves from family and friends? Do they appear withdrawn and uncharacteristically quiet? Are they eating more or less than they were previously?

“Any sudden changes in how your child behaves could be an indication of bullying. You know your child and how they usually act, so if their behaviour becomes unusual it’s worth speaking to them to try to encourage them to open up. A good way to do this is by raising it during a relaxing or informal activity, such as a trip to the cinema.”

Academic signs

Catherine said: “Does your child appear to be more anxious than usual about going to school, or say they are feeling unwell more often? These may be signs that your child is being bullied. You may also notice that their academic performance is also declining, in the form of lower grades or feedback from teachers suggesting they’re underperforming.

“You may also notice that personal items appear to be going missing unexplainably, lunch money is disappearing, or that their clothes or belongings are being damaged. If you do notice this is happening, raise the issue with the school to bring it to their attention and to help address the issue.”

Online signs

Caroline Allams, Natterhub Co-founder and former educator, said: “Cyberbullying takes many forms but some of the most common examples include direct messages containing upsetting or humiliating content, deliberate exclusion from group chats with peers, posting hurtful comments, tagging inappropriate images or videos to the child in question and creating memes designed to be offensive or personal.

“Setting rules around screen time and taking devices out of the bedroom are great ways to oversee a young child’s online use. Have regular discussions about their digital experiences and take an interest in the games they play. These actions will ensure a child knows where to turn if something upsetting happens and helps guide them towards digital independence.”

Catherine said: “Seemingly harmless emojis such as a frog can hide harmful subtext, in this case meaning that the recipient is ugly. Similarly, text abbreviations might look like nonsense to you, but could be deeply hurtful to your child. The abbreviation ‘182’ for example means ‘I hate you’.”

How to address bullying with your child

Catherine said: “If you’ve discovered that your child is being bullied, it’s important to respond calmly and be supportive. Finding out your child is in distress will likely make you feel angry and protective, but it’s important not to act rashly in a way that could make the situation worse.

Catherine shares her expert advice on addressing bullying with a child:

Discuss the facts

Catherine said: “Sit down with your child and find out what is happening to them. Let them talk through their experiences and how they’re feeling without interrupting or prompting them. You may have your own thoughts or suspicions about what’s happening, but it’s important to stay neutral for now to allow your child to tell their version of events.

“You should also try to establish some key facts. Who is the child, or children who are bullying them? How long has this been happening? What does the abuse involve? Have they spoken to anyone else about it? This will help you understand how to proceed.”

Support and reassure them

Catherine said: “The most important thing to do is to reassure your child and offer them all the support they need. They’ll likely be feeling a range of emotions, and may blame themselves or feel shame for what they’re going through. Reassure them that it’s not their fault, and that you’re going to help them get through it. It’s important that your child doesn’t feel like they’re going through this alone, and know they can talk to you about it.”

Discourage retaliation

Catherine said: “Some children may feel angry about their experiences or feel that they do not have control over their situation, and may want to retaliate against the bully, or even against someone else. It’s important to strongly discourage this.

“Instead, discuss non violent solutions that can help your child. Find out what they want to happen, and what they don’t want to happen. Some children may be scared about the bully finding out that they’ve been exposed, so it’s important to discuss the best way to proceed that your child is comfortable with. Consider running through scenarios with your child to help them prepare for possible outcomes.”

Control your own emotions

Catherine said: “It’s also important to remember to keep your own emotions in check, and not let them dictate your actions. Storming off to confront the bully or their parents, or kicking up a fuss in school might be the last thing your child wants, and could even make the situation worse. This will also likely put your child off from wanting to discuss this or similar issues with you in future.”

Raise the issue with the school

Catherine said: “Once you’ve spoken to your child, and discussed how to proceed, you may want to raise the issue with people at school to address it. Make an appointment with the school, and work with them to solve the problem. Remain calm and confident, and avoid blaming the staff at the school. Make sure you have all the information you need, and a clear idea of what you and your child want to happen next.

“You should also continue to monitor the situation going forward in case things don’t improve, by documenting any instances of bullying and raising them as soon as possible with the school. If you find that things don’t improve, or not enough has been done by the school to address the issue, you may want to consider following the school’s complaints procedure. If things still don’t improve, consider writing to Ofsted.”

You can find more information about where to find help and support from the Anti Bullying Alliance here:

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