Back to School: Know the warning signs of bullying

For many children, the start of a new school year can be stressful, especially if they’ve been victims of bullying in the past. Mayo Clinic Children’s Center psychologist Dr. Bridget Biggs says parents and caregivers should know the warning signs. “If your child is reluctant to go to school, stressed after spending time online or avoids social situations, he or she may be being bullied.”

What is bullying?

Dr.Biggs defines bullying as “any form of aggression that is repeated.” This can be physical, verbal, social (excluding victims from activities, starting rumors about them) and increasingly electronic. It can happen not just at school, but anywhere a group of children congregate, whether on the playground, in school or on social media.

Bullying differs from fighting or teasing because there is a power differential between the bully and the victim. The bully has power over the other child and tries to control them using fear over and over again.

Additional warning signs your child is being bullied:

From www.stopbullying.gov

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide

Dr. Biggs points out that consequences of bullying can be serious. She says victims are at increased risk of depressionanxietysleep problemsself-harm, poor grades and in rare cases, suicide. She encourages parents and caregivers to directly ask their child if they have thought about self-harm. If a child knows that their parent or caregiver is open to discussing feelings about self-harm it can be a relief to the child and can open up lines of communication.

Dr. Biggs shares these tips for parents and caregivers on how to help children who are victims of bullying:

  • Talk it out – Ask your child about concerns.
  • Learn – Get information from your child about what’s happening.
  • Take notes – Record details of bullying events.
  • Discuss and practice how to respond – Walk away. Get help from trusted adult or peer.
  • Talk about technology – Before cyberbullying occurs set some ground rules including letting your child knows their electronic privileges will not be removed if they share that they have been cyberbullied.
  • Build self-esteem – Encourage your child to get involved in positive activities.
  • Team up – Reach out to teachers.

Watch: Dr. Bridget Biggs discusses warning signs of bullying.

Next week we will discuss cyberbulling, how to recognize it, react to it and prevent it.

As a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, Tucson Medical Center works directly with Mayo Clinic, the nation’s No.1 hospital according to U.S. News & World Report. Our doctors get access to Mayo Clinic knowledge and resources, and you get the best care, close to home.

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