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How To Identify If Your Child Is Being Bullied—Or Is The Bully

As parents, one of the hardest things we may deal with is one of children being bullied. It's become something of an epidemic, and is particularly prevalent in junior high and high school. The rise of social media use among tweens and teens has only contributed to the growing problem. It can make parents feel totally powerless and also fear for our child's safety and well-being. There may also come a time when, as a parent, you have to face the possibility that your own child is a bully. That can also be incredibly difficult in so many ways. But as common as it bullying is now, some parents may not know how to spot the warning signs - both of your child being a victim of bullying, and of your child being a bully.

Signs My Child Is Being Bullied

If you've noticed sudden and unexplained changes in your child's behavior, emotional state, habits, or appearance, those can be signs that your child is being bullied. Warning signs can include not wanting to go to sick, or going as far as faking illness or injury to get out of going to school. Kids who are bullied may exhibit self-destructive behaviors like running away from home, self-harm, or talking about suicide.

Changes in their eating habits (either skipping meals or binge eating) may also be signs that your child is being bullied. Loss of friends or wanting to avoid friends and social situations, difficulty sleeping, unexplained injuries, loss of personal items like books or jewelry, and declining grades could also point to a bullying problem.

Loving mother consoling or trying make peace with insulted upset stubborn kid daughter avoiding talk, sad sulky resentful girl pouting ignoring caring mom embracing showing support to offended child
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Signs My Child Is Bullying Others

No parent wants to face that their child may be a bully, but it's important to recognize the signs. Frequent disciplinary actions at school (like trips to the principal's office or detention), getting into verbal or physical fights on a regular basis, being in possession of things that don't belong to them, and being unusually concerned with or competitive about their reputation or popularity could be signs that your child is a bully.

Bullies also tend to exhibit certain personality traits, such as an unwillingness to take responsibility for their actions, blaming others when things don't go their way, and aggression.

Upset child standing away from group sitting on a bench
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Why Don't Kids Ask For Help?

A 2012 report found that kids ask for help in less than 40% of cases of bullying. There are lots of reasons a child may not seek help from a trusted adult if they're being bullied. They may fear retaliation or being ostracized at school. They may be embarrassed that they're being bullied, and perceive themselves as weak.

In many cases, children feel helpless, and believe that dealing with it on their own will give them back some of their control. It could also be that the child already feels so isolated and alone that they think no one will care or want to help them.

Front view of school friends bullying a sad girl in hallway of elementary school
Credit: iStock

How To Know When To Step In?

If you've recognized some of the signs of a child being bullied in your own child, you may be conflicted about how to proceed. First of foremost, it's so important to communicate with your child, and get an account of what's been happening at school. Talk to them about the ways they're being bullied, and ask them what you can do to be helpful. Don't put any of the responsibility on your child - remember, they're the victim. Refrain from trying to retaliate against the bully or their family, that will likely only make the situation worse or escalate to a point beyond your control. Talk to your child about how to react and respond to different scenarios in which they're typically being bullied; bullies typically try to get a reaction out of their victims, so coaching your child to respond coolly and calmly may dissuade the bully from bothering with them.

Finally, notify the school immediately and inform them about what's been going on. They have a responsibility to deal with the matter swiftly, and can often provide additional support for your child during the school day. A trusted teacher or guidance counselor is also someone else your child can rely on for support at school.

READ NEXT: School Bullying Increases Chances Of Mental Health Issues Later Life

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