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Family Fundamentals: It may be hard to tell if child is being bullied (April 2012)

April 19, 2012

How can you tell if your child is being bullied at school?

It’s not easy. Much of what’s written on school bullying is clear on that point: Parents are often the last to know.

Experts say bullying can start early, occurring even in preschool. It tends to increase through the elementary school years, peaking in middle school, then waning during high school.

Some of the signs you can watch out for that might indicate your child is being bullied include:

  • Suddenly doesn’t want to go to school or loses interest in after-school activities.
  • Grades begin to drop.
  • Seems isolated or begins acting withdrawn or nervous.
  • Returns from school with clothes torn or books and other items damaged.
  • Has unexplained bumps, bruises or other marks.
  • Has increased complaints of headaches or stomachaches, or has trouble sleeping.
  • Threatens to hurt self or others.
  • Begins bullying other children.

Bullying isn’t always physical. Psychological or emotional bullying often involves teasing, name-calling, intimidation, and isolating or shunning a child from others. Cyberbullying involves spreading hurtful messages on social network sites or through email, instant messaging or through other electronic means.

If you suspect your child is being bullied, it’s not easy to know what to do. First, children often don’t admit to being bullied, even when asked. They may feel embarrassed or simply want to avoid a conversation about something so painful. Or they might believe no one can do anything about it anyway.

But there are things parents can do to help. First, take any complaint of bullying seriously. Don’t downplay it, and don’t blame your child for being victimized. Don’t advise your child to strike back. That’s a common mistake parents make, but such aggression can quickly escalate. You don’t know what the other child may be capable of.

On the other hand, advising your child to “just tell them to stop” isn’t helpful, either. Bullies don’t just fade away.

Instead, teach your child to be assertive and stand up for him or herself -- but just once. Sometimes displaying self-confidence is enough. But often, bullies might become more aggressive, feeding on the response.

Help your child find ways to avoid the bully whenever possible. It’s not an ideal solution, but avoiding the bully can help children avoid bullying, at least in the short-term.

Make sure your child knows it’s OK to ask for help. The bullying should be reported to teachers, a guidance counselor or another responsible adult.

Also, encourage friendships and the social skills needed to maintain them. Bullies often target children who are isolated. And, find ways to help your child develop self-confidence, and practice how to show it in conversation and body language.

More resources are available through the Cooperative Extension System at — search for “bullying.”

Family Fundamentals is a monthly column on family issues. It is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Family Fundamentals, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1044, or

Dear Subscriber: This column was reviewed by Kara Newby, family life program coordinator for Ohio State University Extension in Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology.

Martha Filipic
Kara Newby