Warning signs of bullying: how to tell if your child is being bullied

The MIND 24-7 Team | February 9, 2024

Bullying is a serious issue that can harm a child’s mental health. As a parent, it’s important to recognize the warning signs of bullying and take steps to address it. In this blog, we’ll explore the signs of bullying, talk about why some children may not ask for help, discuss the impact of bullying on mental health, and share how to support your child.

What are the warning signs of bullying?

  1. Mood changes: If a child becomes sad, depressed, frustrated, or agitated without a specific cause, it could be bullying. Mood changes caused by bullying can last for a while and might be the most noticeable after school. 
  2. Frequent injuries: Unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches could be signs of physical bullying.  
  3. Lots of visits to the school nurse: Complaints of headaches or stomach aches can be caused by the stress of bullying, or they may be a coping strategy to avoid bullies. 
  4. Lower grades: A noticeable drop in grades always raises concerns, and it’s important to check if bullying is to blame. 
  5. Won’t talk about school: While it’s normal for kids to want to switch gears after school, stronger than normal resistance to talking about school might be a sign of a problem.  
  6. Changes in appetite: Emotional distress from bullying may make your kid want to eat more or less. If a child isn’t eating lunch, it could also be because a bully is stealing food or lunch money. 
  7. Losing things: If a normally responsible child starts losing things or bringing home damaged belongings, bullying could be the reason. 
  8. Being aggressive: A child who is bullied may start bullying other kids as a way to cope. 
  9. Changes in screen time: Sudden changes in computer use, like avoiding or obsessing over it, might be a sign of cyberbullying. 
  10. Changes in socialization: While friendships change, especially during the teen years, significant avoiding of friends, family, and social situations might be a sign of bullying. 

Why do many kids not ask for help with bullying?

There are many reasons why kids might not ask for help with bullying. Here are some of the most common reasons: 

  • They fear retaliation: This is a big one. Kids often worry that telling someone, especially an adult, will make things worse. This fear is especially strong if the bully is popular or has a reputation for being aggressive. 
  • They feel embarrassed: Bullying often makes kids feel worthless or like they deserve what’s happening to them. They might be embarrassed to admit they’re being bullied, especially if the bullying involves things they’re already sensitive about, like their appearance or family background. 
  • They feel hopeless: Bullying can make kids feel like they have no control over the situation and that nothing will ever change. They may not believe adults can or will help, or they may even blame themselves. 
  • They struggle to communicate: Younger children or kids with communication difficulties might struggle to tell someone what’s happening to them or find the words to describe the bullying. 

Can bullying affect a child’s mental health?

Bullying can have major and long-lasting impacts on a child’s mental health. Children who are bullied may worry constantly, feel sad, and have low self-esteem. Bullying can lead to anxiety, stress, difficulty sleeping, and a lot of physical health problems. As they grow into adults, children who were bullied may struggle with substance abuse, have a hard time making and keeping healthy relationships, and struggle with self-harm and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. 

It is important to note that these are just some of the potential effects, and the severity of the impact will vary depending on each child, the type and length of bullying, and the support the child gets. 

What actionable steps can you take as a parent?

If you are concerned that a child is being bullied, it is important to take action. Here are some resources that can help: 

MIND 24-7: MIND 24-7 offers walk-in treatment for mental and behavioral health concerns, including bullying. We are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, including holidays, and we can help anyone who walks in needing mental health care. All adults and youth are welcome—regardless of their ability to pay. We accept private insurance, Medicare, and AHCCCS, and will never turn someone away. If you or a loved one needs mental health care visit one of our convenient locations in the Phoenix area or text/call 1-844-MIND247.