Childhood Bullying: The Signs, Risks, and Ways You Can Help

Sometimes children can be mean to one another. They can tease, insult, fight, and exclude other kids from group activities. These behaviors might be a one-time thing, but they are often a sign of something more serious. When these actions become regular or focused on a single child, this behavior can be considered bullying.

Bullying is a problem for children of all ages and backgrounds. It can be hard to identify when bullying is happening. It can be even harder to know what to do about it. But bullying can be stopped. Whether your child is being bullied, is the one doing the bullying, or both, knowing what to look for can help put an end to this bad behavior.

What is bullying?

Bullying is unwanted and aggressive behavior. It creates an unsafe environment and makes it harder for a person to feel comfortable and live a happy life. Bullying usually involves a real or perceived power imbalance. That power could be physical strength, social popularity, or embarrassing information. Bullying is not a one-time thing. Bullying happens more than one time or can have the threat of happening again.

Not all bullying looks the same. It may not involve physical violence at all. Sometimes it will be between two children. Other times it can involve groups of kids. Some children who bully may also be bullied themselves.

Many times, bullying occurs at school. In 2015, 20 percent of high school students said they were bullied on school property. It can also happen on the school bus, after school, or at a playground.

The different types of bullying

There are three different types of bullying: physical, social, and verbal.

Physical bullying involves harming a person or a person’s belongings. It can include:

Hitting, punching, or kicking

Inappropriate touching

Tripping or pushing

Stealing or breaking other people’s belongings

Social bullying affects a person’s relationships, status, or image. Examples of social bullying are:

Spreading rumors or lies

Embarrassing or shaming someone in public

Avoiding and excluding someone, and telling other people to do the same

Verbal bullying is harassment that is spoken or written, such as:

Name calling

Threatening

Insulting

Making inappropriate comments

All types of bullying share common aspects. It is always unwelcome and always intended to cause harm. It isn’t a game, even if the bully says he or she is “just playing.”

Who is likely to be bullied?

All children are at risk for bullying. It could happen because of someone’s appearance, opinions, or family. There may be no reason at all. But some kids are at greater risk than others. The following are risk factors that may cause a child to be bullied:

Being seen as different, such as being overweight or underweight

Being depressed, anxious, or antisocial

Being seen as weak or helpless

Being unpopular

Being in an ethnic minority group

Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT)

Having a disability or special needs

Having a religion different from most other kids.

How children are bullied may vary depending on who they are. For example, boys are more likely to be physically bullied than girls. High school girls are more likely than boys to be bullied on school property. And African American and Hispanic children who are bullied are more likely to do worse in school than white students.

Bullying can have negative and lasting effects on children. Kids who experience these attacks are more likely to experience:

Depression

Anxiety

Loneliness

Trouble in school

Loss of interest in activities

To protect your child from these experiences, learn the warning signs so you can step in and help.

Warning signs of bullying

It can be hard to know when bullying occurs. Many kids don’t want to talk about it. They may be ashamed. They may also fear what the bully will do if parents or teachers find out.

If you think your child is being bullied but he or she won’t talk about it, there are some warning signs to watch for. Pay attention for any of these signs:

Unexplained injuries

Lost or destroyed toys, electronics, or clothing

Changes in eating habits, like being more hungry after school because he or she wasn’t able to eat lunch

Loss of interest in going to school

Declining school performance

Loss of interest in socializing

Lower self-esteem

Self-destructive behavior, such as running away from home or self-harm

Not all bullied children will show warning signs, and not all of these signs mean a child is bullied. But if you notice any of the changes above, talk to your child to see what is happening. Even if no bullying is occurring, something else may be going on. Talking to a health care provider or behavioral health care provider may help.

Warning signs of bullying behavior

It can be hard to know if your child bullies other kids. Your child may not open up to you about how he or she treats others when adults aren’t around. If you think your child may be bullying other kids, there are some warning signs to watch for. Your child may be bullying others if he or she:

Gets into fights (physical or verbal)

Hangs out with others who bully

Has unexplained money, electronics, or other items

Gets into trouble at school

Is obsessed with popularity

Shows aggression toward others

Some bullies may act differently at home than with their friends. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your kids about treating others with respect. If you notice any of the warning signs listed here, talk to your child and help him or her accept responsibility. Even if no bullying is occurring, something else may be going on. Talking to a health care provider or behavioral health care provider may help.

How you can help

As a parent, you play a key role in stopping and preventing bullying. Your child may not know what to do and will look to you for help. With your support, your child can learn to stand up for himself or herself. Here’s how.

Talk with your child. Keeping an open dialogue with your child is the first step. Talk with your child every day after school to find out how his or her day went. If you sense something is wrong, ask if anything bad happened and let your child know he or she can talk to you about anything. If you think your child is being bullied, teach him or her safe ways to address it. This can include telling the other child “no,” walking away from the situation, or finding a teacher or trusted adult. If you think your child is the one doing the bullying, make sure he or she knows that bullying is wrong. It may help for him or her to write an apology. This can help bullies see their actions and how they affect others. If the bullying continues, it may help for your child to speak with a behavioral health professional.

Work with the school. If bullying is happening on school grounds, talk to your child’s teacher about the situation. Let school staff know about the bullying. They can help to create a safer classroom for all students if they know what is happening. If you know other parents, talk to them as well to create a network to keep kids safe.

Create safe communities. Protecting children is everyone’s job. There are other people in your community who can help. After-school programs, community centers, and religious groups can work together to educate kids about bullying. Some children may feel more comfortable talking to a coach or religious figure, so let them know about your child’s concerns.

If you have questions about bullying, AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia can help. Call our Member Services department at 1-800-408-7511 to learn more ways to help your child and stop bullying.

Sources: StopBullying.gov, GirlsHealth.gov, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

All images are used under license for illustrative purposes only. Any individual depicted is a model.

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