Signs to watch for if you think your child may be being bullied

You may be unsure if your child is involved in a bullying incident. He or she could be acting as a bully, being bullied or upset because they have seen others behaving badly. If you suspect that your child is involved in bullying then looks out for these signs:

1. Bruises

2. Broken or missing possessions

3. Becoming withdrawn – not talking, or spending more time alone

4. Changes in eating habits

5. Changes in behaviour – becoming aggressive at home

6. Sleeping badly

7. Complaining of headaches or stomach aches

8. Wetting the bed

9. Worrying about going to school

10. Suddenly doing less well at school

Helping your child if he/she is bullied:

1. Listen: Give your child your full attention and consider talking in a quiet space. Ask your child simple questions, then listen to the answers. Try saying things like, ‘So what happened next?’ and ‘What did you do then?’

2. Stay calm: This is a chance to show your child how to solve problems. If you feel angry or anxious, wait until you feel calm before you discuss the situation with your child or with others.

3. Summarize the problem: You could say something like, ‘So you were sitting on your own eating your lunch. Then Sam came up and took your lunch box and threw it across the playground’.

4. Let your child know it’s normal to feel upset: Help your child to understand that her feelings are normal. For example, ‘No wonder you’re feeling so sad about this’.

5. Make sure your child knows it’s not his fault: For example, ‘It didn’t happen because you wear glasses. Your friend might have been upset about something happening at home. But that’s no excuse for it.’

If your child is the bully:

Provide meaningful consequences

Punishments for bullying behavior can be effective, but they should be meaningful and limited in scope. If, for example, you find out that your teenager is engaging in cyberbullying, her actions should be met with an immediate loss of Internet or phone privileges. In the case of particularly severe offences, revoke the privileges for the foreseeable future, and seek the help of a therapist. But for less acute forms of bullying, the child should be able to earn her privileges back over the course of a few days.

Make it right

Once your child has regained her privileges and is calm, explain that she made a mistake that needs to be fixed. Your child might choose to apologize—in person, in a letter, via text message, and so on—but repairs can take many different forms. You can encourage your child to bake cookies for the whole class, for example, or to play a game with a peer whom she had previously been excluded.

Monitor the situation

If another parent approaches you about your child’s bullying, notify teachers right away so they can be on the lookout for problematic behavior. Follow up with teachers on a regular basis and give plenty of labelled praise when your child is being a good friend.

Seek help

If you are continually working on building friendship skills with your child and the bullying does not stop, seek help. Your child might need a therapist’s help to work through underlying issues.

Stay connected

In some ways, the most important action you can take is to build an open channel of communication with your child about his day-to-day life that will put you in a better position to recognize signs of bullying and trouble.