NEA Parents' Resources

Recognizing the First Signs of Bullying

A lot can happen in three months.

Over summer break students can grow, move away or find new friend groups. And by the time the school year begins, the environment students were previously accustomed to may now be completely foreign.

Whether your child is starting at a new school or seeing old faces again after months apart, there’s a chance social interactions may be difficult.

Bullying occurs once every seven minutes, and in schools across America, one in three students report being bullied weekly. Bullying can be physical, verbal or social, and as a result, there may not always be visible signs.

As your child starts a new academic year, pay close attention to signs that may indicate they are being bullied:

  • Torn clothes or bruises. This sign is one of the most prominent when it comes to identifying if your child is being bullied. Look for stretched shirts or holes before putting clothes into the wash. Also, around the time your child takes a bath or gets into pajamas, discreetly look for bruises.
  • Loss of books, toys, school supplies, clothing, lunches, valuables or money. Losing things is part of life, and students in particular can misplace items as they shuffle back and forth to school. Pay close attention, however, to lost belongings like the ones mentioned above. Your child may also be afraid to talk about other students stealing things from them because they fear how you may respond or do not want you to get involved with the school. Just be mindful when asking about lost items, and do not be too quick to overreact.
  • Changes in eating habits. When it comes to snacks and dinner time, be attentive of your child’s refusal to eat or overeating. Your child may say they lost their appetite, which could be a result of the stress of bullying has affecting their stomach. They also can be extra hungry because they may have skipped eating lunch at school.
  • Self-esteem decreases or mood fluctuation. Similar to the changes that can arise around eating, be conscious of your child’s mood. Notice if your child randomly breaks out in tears or anger; if they seem to fluctuate from happy to sad without reason; if they become withdrawn; if they become aggressive and unreasonable; or if they blame themselves for problems or not feeling “good enough.”
  • Declining grades or loss of interest in schoolwork. Every student can have bad days and do poorly on assignments or tests. However, if it becomes a trend, it is important to be proactive about it and have a conversation with your child. Additionally, if your child’s educators have not yet done so, schedule a conference and see if they have an explanation for the grade decrease.
  • A change in friends. Take note of how your child is talking about their friends. Are they inviting friends over as much or asking about having sleepovers? If friends suddenly seem to disappear, ask where they are and how they are doing. If your child is reluctant to respond, take note. If you are worried, be casual and calm, and try reaching out to the parents of your child’s friends.

Create a Support System at Home

The most important takeaway is to create a caring and supportive home. Make sure you are instilling good values when you are with your child and ensure they understand that they are in a safe space. Communicate with your child so they understand you are their greatest resource.

For more tips, including on how to handle conversations about bullying and future steps, check out one of our other articles on bullying prevention.

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