Skip to main content

How to identify bullying

Written By: Anna Sand, LCSW | Updated: October 3, 2019

Anna Sand, a licensed clinical social worker with UT Physicians Multispecialty – Sienna, answers common questions related to identifying bullying behavior and what to do about it.

What is bullying?

Bullying is repeated, unwanted, and aggressive behavior toward peers who are perceived as younger, smaller, or less powerful. Bullying can be verbal, social, or physical. Verbal bullying is saying or writing harmful things in the form of teasing, taunting, or threats. Social bullying involves damaging someone’s reputation or relationships through rumors, exclusion, or embarrassment. Physical bullying consists of injuring a person’s body or property. Children can be bullied before or after school, during school activities, or on the way to and from school. Bullying can also occur day or night through electronic means including social media, instant messaging, and texting; this is known as cyberbullying.

How do I recognize the signs of bullying?

Victims of bullying can present physical injuries and symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, changes in appetite or sleep, anxiety, irritability, withdrawal, decreased self-esteem, loss of interest in people and activities that were once enjoyed, and increased rates of school absence. Cyberbullying victims may have noticeable changes in device use. They may have strong emotional responses or avoid discussions about what they are doing on their device. They may also hide their device when others are near, shut down social media accounts, or start new accounts.

What if my child is the person bullying others?

A parent can change a child’s behavior by talking to them and helping them understand what bullying is and why it is problematic. A parent can be a central, positive role model to assist the child in learning constructive ways to handle anger, conflict resolution, and treating others with respect. Increased supervision is necessary, and assisting a child to enhance or develop personal interests can be a vital way to learn socially acceptable and useful life skills. It is important to set firm and consistent limits on your child’s behavior including explaining the good and bad outcomes of their actions, helping them solve problems, providing structure, and taking away privileges for negative behavior.

How do I help my child who is bullied?

If there has been a change in your child’s mood or behavior, explore what may be happening. Listen to your child, support them, and be willing to take action to make sure the bullying doesn’t continue. Help your child learn how to respond by talking out ways to handle the situation if it happens again. Encourage your child to stay calm, walk away, reply with assertive communications (e.g., saying, “No!” “Please don’t talk to me like that,” “I don’t like what you are doing,” “Why would you say that?”), understand when to not respond to or cut off electronic communication with the bully, and show any harmful electronic communication to a parent or other trusted adults at school. Help your child understand when and who to ask for help. Encourage your child to make friends with other children through supervised group activities. Support activities that your child has an interest in to build self-esteem and healthy social skills. Write down and report all bullying to your child’s school. By understanding when and where the bullying happens, you and your child can be better prepared if it happens again. If you feel that the situation is too difficult to handle on your own, ask for help from your trusted support system – a teacher, counselor, pediatrician, or other professional.

How can I prevent bullying from happening?

Even if you don’t think your child is being bullied, is a bully, or a witness of bullying, you can help your child by keeping lines of communication open. Check in with your child often, listen to them, and understand their concerns. Ask about school, the bus, lunchtime, recess, and their peers. Talk to your child about what bullying is and that bullying is unacceptable. Discuss ways your child can stand up to bullying safely, and urge your child to help others they may observe being bullied. Supervise their online time, and monitor what sites they are visiting. Require your child to friend you on social media sites and share passwords with you. Model how to treat others with kindness and respect. Encourage your child to do what they love through hobbies, activities, and interests, as this can help boost their confidence, make friends, and protect them from bullying behavior. Talk through difficult experiences with your child so they know you can be trusted to help and provide loving support.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.