Is my child being bullied? Recognising the signs

A recent survey by charity BeatBullying shows that children starting secondary school are the most concerned about being bullied. The research showed that 56% of primary children feared they might be bullied for being too clever, or not clever enough, and 48% feared that they would be bullied for not being good at activities like sports or not having the latest phones or games.

As parents it is our responsibility to make every effort to spot the signs if our child is being bullied so that we can help them in every way that we can. This includes reaching out to the school for help. No child can deal with bullying on their own, nor should they have to.

Many parents think ‘that won’t happen to my child’, but it is entirely possible. Unlike in the past when children came home with the occasional tell-tale signs in the form of torn or dirty uniforms or even bruises, the signs of bullying today are typically more ‘hidden’ as according to the recent NSPCC survey, one in five children is bullied online. Today’s victims of social media bullying are more difficult to identify as curfews and locked front doors fail to protect them.

Looking out for the signs

Though there is no single way to find out if your child is being bullied, there are behavioural changes that you can look out for that may help identify the signs.

  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Pretending to be ill when getting ready for school
  • Complaining of headaches, stomach aches and other ailments
  • Refusing to eat breakfast on school days
  • Acting aggressively and wanting to be left alone
  • Experiencing difficulty sleeping
  • Suffering an unexplained drop in grades
  • Becoming upset after going online or receiving a text
  • Not wanting to take part in after school activities
  • Refusing to talk about their day at school

It could be a combination of these things that may raise a red flag but if you have a cause for concern the best way forward would be to try talking to your child. It is however, important to lead the conversation with open-ended questions about how their day was, to encourage them to open up and share how they feel. In other words, get them to do most of the talking. So, questions about school, classes, teachers and school mates will give them the opportunity to express themselves.

Here are some tips when thinking about your questions:

  • Ask questions that will make them open up and tell you if something is wrong – like “how was school today?”
  • Be calm and supportive and reiterate that it is your role as a parent to protect them
  • Explain to them that you are proud of them and nothing will change that
  • Allow them to choose how they wish to be helped – otherwise they might be afraid that intervention will only make it worse
  • They may want to tackle the issue themselves, so mention websites or if the school uses systems like Text Someone, suggest visiting the school website for information

Technologies such as Text Someone are used in schools throughout the UK to encourage young people to report incidents of bullying via text message as it was designed to help those who are not comfortable reporting incidences by phone or face-to-face. Local authority Leicester City Council also uses the technology in schools in their area.

Every child is affected in a different way and it might take more than one conversation to get them to open up. But it is important to continue this dialogue with them because even if they are not a victim of bullying today, it will be reassuring for them to know that they can come to you if they were ever threatened.

Children need to know they have a reliable and easy way they can reach out for help. Commenting on recent high profile cases, NSPCC’s safer technology expert, Claire Lilley, said “It’s unbearable to think any young person should feel there is no other option but to end their life because of bullying on social networking sites.”

By Stephen Clarke, Managing Director of Contact Group,
developer of the Text Someone anti-bullying software

Text Someone is a bullying reporting system that Contact Group
developed to encourage young people to report incidents
of bullying or any anti-social behaviour directly
to schools and is currently being used across the UK

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