An anti-bullying sign hangs on a wall in a school in this file image.

How to tell if your child is being bullied at school and how to help

Bullying takes many forms, here’s how you can help your child if you suspect they could be a victim.


An anti-bullying sign hangs on a wall in a school in this file image.

Back to school time can be an exciting and exhilarating experience but for some children it is a time tainted with secret dread because of the threat of bullying.

Bullying takes many forms but the ultimate results are destructive whether the abuse is physical or emotional.

It can be difficult for parents to detect that their child is being bullied, especially since the child may be deeply embarrassed about what they have been experiencing and might seek to conceal this from parents.

Some of these signs of bullying could be down to other problems but each warrants further investigation on the part.

Signs your child could be a victim of bullying

Unexplained cuts, bruises and scrapes.
Children do get their fair share of cuts and bruises and scratches but parents should quiz their kids on their injuries and be wary of evasive or obviously made up answers.

Unexplained loss of possessions
Bullies will often take things from other children by force or coerce them into giving them money or other possessions, make sure you keep a close eye on your child’s toys and gadgets.

Doesn’t want to go to school
This is a pretty clear sign that something is wrong at school, though it could be down to any number of things but needs to be explored with your child.

Afraid to be left alone: wants you there at dismissal, suddenly clingy
Emotional neediness in children is an obvious symptom of emotional need. Try to avoid interrogating a child just for being clingy but keep an eye out for changes in behaviour.

Changes in behaviour, remarks of loneliness
As your child grows up their personality will evolve but sharp changes in demeanor or behaviour can be warning signs. Isolation or loneliness are common feelings for people suffering from peer abuse.

Physical complaints; headaches, stomachaches etc
The stress of being subjected to bullying can manifest in physical complaints, children will also fake headaches or stomach aches to get out of a class and away from a bully or to get sent home.

Difficulty sleeping, nightmares, cries self to sleep, bed wetting
Problems around sleeping are typical indicators of an emotionally distressed child.

Change in eating habits
Decreases or increases in appetite are common in people put under emotional stress.

Begins bullying siblings or younger kids.
The bullied will often become bullies themselves, taking their frustration and emotional distress out on anyone weaker or more vulnerable than themselves. This cycle can create a toxic environment in schools where bullying goes unchecked or becomes normalized behavior.

Waits to get home to use the bathroom.
School bathrooms are often the scene of bullying, as supervising adults seldom enter without reason and a child waiting to get home to use the bathroom can be a warning sign.

Suddenly has fewer friends
Bullied children will often withdraw from their friend group, especially if their bully is in their circle of friends.

Sudden and significant drop in school performance
Most parents would notice this and it goes without saying that plummeting academic displays are an indication that something is wrong, it may not be down to bullying but it is something that should get your attention.

Blames self for problems; feels “not good enough”
Children learn self hate from others and if they suddenly become morbid it warrants investigation.

Talks about feeling helpless or about suicide; runs away
*The mere mention of suicide should trigger an emotional response from a loving parent and further investigation. Most children who commit suicide, do so because they are being bullied or abused.

What to do if your child is being bullied

Avoid making assumptions and jumping into immediate action. Parents may experience the instinct to protect their children by sacking Carthage and sowing salt into the soil.

Avoid arranging a meeting with the bully or their parents. These meetings are awkward and do little to resolve the issue.

Teach your child how to deal with bullying in an appropriate way. Preparing children for a mean and harsh world is unfortunately something you will have to do. We don’t recommend combat training your child, though martial arts are an enjoyable past-time and can do wonders for self-esteem, problem solving with compassion will help your child cope with the emotional distress.

Offer your child emotional reinforcement and make sure you convey how much you love them and they mean to you to buffer them against the harsh reality of the world around them.

If the bullying is particularly severe and/or targeted even if it isn’t physical it should be brought to the attention of the school. Legal options are also available for children subjected to cyberbullying or physical violence.

The bullying your child describes may sound very mild to you but don’t underestimate the effect of a constant barrage of taunts, however unimaginative they may be on a child and don’t try to minimize the experience as this may double back on your child who will then feel even worse about having told you.

Try to ensure that you child has a trusted teacher or another adult that they can talk to or consult during the school day and try to keep in touch with that person.

*If your child communicates suicidal thoughts or ideas, it is essential to get your child evaluated by licensed mental health practitioner immediately.