How to spot if your child is being bullied

Coloured snap of two little boys in school uniform with the arms wrapped around each other
Could you spot if your child is being bullied? — Image from Gemma Gray Photography

Would you know how to spot a child being bullied? Although I knew how to spot if a child’s being bullied, fortunately, my now adult sons were never bullied. Not long-term at least and nothing to worry about. But I do think most kids go through it, even if it is mild and happens only once or twice.

I also think that if children have hobbies or groups to attend after school, it keeps them off the streets. And it might just keep them away from potential bullying and danger.

Personally and how I kept my children safe

Shotokan Kata —Image by Jonathon Fowler, USA Airman

The boys were brought up on a council estate, in a large borough of London, and we never moved home until they were in 6th form. Although there were street fights and territorial ‘wars’ in our area, I didn’t want the boys going through what I did. I knew what it was like to keep moving around, and never being able to make long-term friends. So I wanted for my sons to feel stable and safe and to have good and positive friends.

The boys started karate around the age of five and became black belts at ten-ish. Although they never spoke of the countless trophies they won, local newspapers printed such news, so lots of kids knew. And it was kind of like don’t mess with the brothers. The boys were actually quite shy and reserved, but because of their prowess in martial arts, they were feared and left alone.

How social activities can prevent kids from being bullied

I also believed that because they played football, did karate, swimming and athletics, they had friends in various areas all over the borough. This made it safer for them to go out and about, because they were known, and if there was bullying, someone would stand up for them i.e. “Leave him, he’s alright, I play football with him.” Fortunately, they appeared popular and our house was always full of kids (then teenagers) every weekend.

What is bullying

Children who are bullied will often isolate themselves
Girl being excluded by her friends is bullying

If somebody physically hurts your child, or verbally abuses them, that’s bullying.

A Fine Parent suggests that “bullying is a form of emotional or physical abuse that has three defining characteristics:

  1. Deliberate – a bully’s intention is to hurt someone
  2. Repeated – the behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time
  3. Power Imbalanced – a bully chooses victims he or she perceives as vulnerable”

Bullying behaviours can include:

  • physical bullying like hitting and throwing things, slapping and punching – normally done by bigger or older child
  • verbal bullying like shouting, being aggressive, swearing, repeated teasing or putting a child down
  • bullying because they are different i.e. it could be the way they dress or what they wear
  • relational aggression bullying i.e. like deliberately ostracizing, excluding, putting down or spreading false or malicious rumours about one of the group. The aim of this type of bully is to increase their own social standing by bullying another child.
  • homophobic bullying based on their sexual orientation
  • sexist bullying focusing on them being of the opposite sex i.e. lude comments, uninvited touching, rude gestures or sexual propositioning,
  • Sizeist bullying referring to their body size i.e. they might be chubby
  • racist bullying because of their skin colour – if your child is bullied for his sexual orientation, race, or religion, it should be reported
  • religious bullying because of their beliefs or faith.
  • cyberbullying targeting them online, often anonymously, through social media

The bullying might be a one-off or it can go on regularly for long periods of time. And bullying can happen to anyone, including adults – see here.

Various studies have found a link between bullying and a higher risk of mental health problems during childhood. They might suffer from low self-esteem, poor school performance, depression and an increased risk for suicide. You might want to read this interesting blog post about suicide and being bullied, from Make the bullies pay.

Types of bullies

Four multi racial children sitting on steps laughing at another little boy - excluding him, which is social bullying
Social bullying by excluding another child

Bullies come in all different shapes and sizes. they have various styles of bullying, personalities, and aims. Sherri Gordon suggested that “their motivations for and methods of bullying are all different. And not all bullies will fit neatly into a category. Some bullies will fall into several categories and some may appear to be in a category all their own.”

How to spot the signs of your child being bullied

You might not be aware if your child is involved in a bullying incident. He or she could be being bullied, is a bully, or is distressed because they have seen others bullying. Knowing both the types of bullies and the bullying behaviours that your child might come across, you’ll be better equipped to help your child in any situation.

Bully attacking an innocent child
Signs to spot if your child is being bullied

If you suspect that your child is involved in bullying then look out for these red flags:

  • anxious about going to school or to their usual activities
  • changes in eating habits, eating more or less all of a sudden
  • becoming withdrawn, preferring to spend more time alone, not talking to you or siblings
  • changes in friends like not wanting to hang about with the ‘gang’ anymore
  • sudden changes in behaviour, getting angry or aggressive both verbally and physically
  • new scars, bruises, or possible blood on clothing
  • missing or broken personal possessions i.e. cracked glasses or phone, ripped clothing
  • changes in sleeping pattern, not sleeping, early morning waking, having nightmares
  • wetting the bed now
  • complaining of aches and pains like stomach ache, headache
  • sudden changes in school reports i.e. getting lower grades or behaving badly
  • sudden emotional changes, sad, weepy, nervous
  • talking about death or engaging in self-harm (cutting)
  • changes in body language i.e. slouching, moping around, chewing nails and curled up in the foetal position
  • talking about having no friends or being “hated”

Of course there could be other reasons for these signs, like a new step-dad, separation or a divorce, so try to avoid jumping to conclusions. If there’s been no major changes at home that might affect your child and you think that they’re being bullied, talk to them. You must try to ‘nip it in the bud’ as quickly as you can

What to do if your child is being bullied

Spot the bully before he hurts your child
What if your child is bullying? — Image from treat.tier

We all know that gut feeling we get when someone dares or threatens to harm our child! It’s like, Whoa! You want to mess with my child — you’ll have to get through me first! So, I dare say that’s how any parent feels when their child is being threatened or bullied.

Kids are often reluctant to tell adults about bullying because they feel embarrassed and ashamed that it’s happening, or worry that their parents will be disappointed, upset, angry, or reactive, Kidshealth. So……….

If your child comes to tell you he’s being bullied:

Spot if your child is being bullied
What if your child is being bullied — Image by Kat @ Unsplash If
  • let him talk about it and listen calmly and actively. Ask open-ended questions like, “Tell me what happened? How did it make you feel?” and “tell me more, I’m listening.” Listen, without making fun and don’t dismiss the problem by saying “Oh come on, all kids get bullied.”
  • encourage him to also tell you about the good parts of his day, and listen equally attentively.
  • suggest and encourage participation in clubs, sports, or other enjoyable activities to build confidence and develop positive relationships and friendships. Encourage him to spend more time with friends who have a positive influence.
  • praise him for having the courage to tell you and let him know it’s not his fault – it’s the bully’s.
  • don’t automatically think your child has done something to bring the bullying on and don’t say “what did you do to make him hit you?”
  • validate their experience, don’t be judgemental and don’t try to solve the problem. Reassure your child that you’ll figure out what to do about it together. This is important to your child and if you get it wrong, it may stop them coming forward again.
  • make sure they know you believe in them and that you’ll do what you can to help address any bullying that occurs. 
  • try to find out a bit more about the bully to see if you know why he may be acting out, bullying and teasing, and is this a regular thing for. We’re not talking about making excuses for the bully, but asking about him might give you some ideas of how to tackle the problem.
  • take it seriously. If you hear that the bullying will get worse if the bully finds out your child told you, you might want to speak to the bully’s parents. Or, if it’s happening at school, teachers and counsellors are the best people to contact. Schools ought to have policies and procedures to deal with bullies, and often have anti-bullying programmes.
  • it’s important to tell your children not to respond to bullying by fighting or bullying back. Kidshealth suggests it might escalate into violence, trouble, and someone getting injured. So, tell them it’s best to walk away from the situation, hang out with others, and tell an adult.

Any bullying behavior should be taken seriously by parent, teachers, and peers. Acting quickly might help prevent the bully continuing and prevent any long-term mental health consequences.

What if your child is the bully?

Coloured image of young girl with long auburn hair, face scrunched uo, arms crossed - looking grumpy
Girls can be bullies too — Image from G1 Globo

Although we don’t want to think of our child as a bully, it’s important you know these red flags if your child is one. He’s a bully if he:

  • the bully frequently teases relentlessly, or taunts other children
  • needs to be in control of everything and everyone all the time
  • has poor social and interpersonal skills, the bully doesn’t quite know how to interact and engage with people in good ways
  • seems to get pleasure from the suffering of others and laughs at this
  • a bully continues the unpleasant behavior, even though you’ve told him to stop
  • has no empathy, doesn’t understand the pain his bullying is causing
  • it is possible that a bully also hurts animals, someone’s pet
  • tends to attack before someone else does, and is hyper-sensitive to potential danger
  • has been bullied himself, by friends, by peer group, parents or older siblings
  • is really concerned about being and staying popular i.e. within gangs and groups or at school
  • refuses to include some children in play or at school and perhaps tells lies about them so they lose favour with the in-crowd
  • the bully seems intolerant of other children who are a bit “different” or “weird”, perhaps the way they dress or the music they’re into
  • frequently plays extremely aggressive video games, and becomes aggressive, i.e. shouting at the screen characters, or throwing the controls

We know that children mimic parents behaviours. If they hear us gossiping, exhibiting aggressive behaviours towards others or see us excluding others, they may mimic these traits. None of us are perfect and we’ve all made mistakes, that’s natural, and it doesn’t make us bad people. We just need to be careful about what our children see and hear at home.

Over to you

What do you think about children bullying

Tell me, if you have children, have they ever told you about being bullied? How did you handle it or how would you handle it? My first thought would be “I’ll take his head clean off his shoulders!” Of course, when I’d calmed down, I could think more rationally and just say, “The little b*stard.” I look forward to reading any comments and I’m happy to answer questions.


Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

23 thoughts on “How to spot if your child is being bullied”

  1. Thanks for sharing this information. Bullying is a sad reality for such a large number of children and dealing with it can be very difficult for the adults involved.

    1. It’s a horrible thing to go through but if enough children are able to speak about about being bullied, hopefully they can nip it in the bud and stop it from getting any worse 🙂

  2. I was bullied quite a bit in elementary school. No one cared about boy-on-boy bulling in the 80s, at least not where I grew up, and no one taught me how to stand up for myself. My parents just told me to ignore the bullies and they would go away. They didn’t. And I didn’t really have any friends at all until high school, and I didn’t have friends or family who took interest in things I was interested in until adulthood. I feel like I still haven’t recovered from all that…

    1. That must be hard to deal with. I think all boys need a good strong role model, someone that has their back, always.

      I think I had to be a bit of both mum and dad when my sons were growing up 🙁 But they turned out okay 🙂 Fortunately.

      1. I agree. And it is difficult for kids being raised by single parents. My parents were together, but my dad worked nights, and what little time he was awake during the day he was with my brother, coaching or volunteering with his sports teams, because he was into things my parents understood (baseball, basketball) and I was into things my parents didn’t understand (math, computers, video games).

  3. I really appreciate this guide! I was bullied a lot even up until I was an adult. I often felt very alone, like no one could help. I want to be able to help my kids through it if it happens to them. I’m so glad to have these tools now, thank you Caz!!

    1. Aaawww. Thank you Maria, much appreciated and I’m so happy to hear that you found it useful.
      It’s awful that you had to go through all those years of bullying. And it’s understandable that you wouldn’t want your kids to experience it.

      Glad to be able to help 🙂

  4. I really appreciate how thorough this post is! Bullying is a serious issue that should not be shrugged off just because most kids experience it at some point. By the way, I like your way of proactively shielding your boys by giving them martial arts lessons in a place where their achievements would be broadcast to the community. It’s a nice way to send a message while giving your children a useful outlet for youthful energy.

    1. Thank you Ceridwen for your lovely kind words. I really appreciate your feedback, as always!

      The boys asked if they could start karate and I’m so glad they stuck at it. Their cousin was in the same school and she loved ‘showing off’ when the boys won trophies. Ha! So all the kids in school knew too.

      I do believe parents can do a lot to help promote confidence in their children so that they can assert themselves and not be bullied.

  5. Such a powerful post. My heart breaks for anyone who is bullied. I feel their pain because I too was bullied from grade six until I finally switched schools during my senior year. It got so bad that I attempted suicide at age 14 and almost didn’t make it. But luckily I survived the attempt and now, I use what I went through to help those who are bullied today. I believe in turning negatives into positives and if I can help one, just one bullied victim see their worth and go on living, then I know what I endured all those years ago wasn’t in vain. And I get healing and closure from it.

    Thank you so much for speaking out and bringing awareness to bullying. It’s an issue that still isn’t addressed enough.

    1. Oh my word, that’s terrible! For you to be bullied to that point is heartbreaking. I hope the bullies know how you almost died because of them.

      I’m delighted to read that you now help others who’ve been bullied. I was bullied at every new school I went because of my different accents – we move around a lot 🙁

      Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your experience of bullying. I agree that it’s an issue that’s not going away and more people need to be aware of the damage it does, to young people in particular.

      1. You’re very welcome. The best way to curtail bullying is to empower victims and give them the confidence to stand up to bullies. If we shrink the victim pool, then bullying will go down as well.

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