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Bullying and Your Child: What to Watch For

While bullying isn’t new, recent national attention is bringing the issue out into the open—shedding light on the scope of the problem and the harm it causes. 

Stopbullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defines bullying as “unwanted aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” 

There are several types of bullying, including verbal, physical and emotional. In addition, cyberbullying has become more common due to increased use of social media.  

Children may hide the fact they’re being bullied because they are embarrassed or fear the consequences of speaking up. That’s why it’s important for parents and adults who work closely with young people to know the signs of bullying, which may include:  

  • Reluctance to go to school or engage in activities. Pay particular attention if this is new, and if there is no apparent cause. Children who are bullied may fake illness or provide other excuses to stay home from school.     
  • Unexplained physical injuries. When asked about bruising or other injuries, bullied children may try to brush off the injuries as nothing, or have trouble explaining how the injuries occurred.     
  • Lost or vandalized belongings. Bullying may involve taking or destroying a child’s belongings. Lunch money that disappears or skipped lunches may be other signs a child is being taken advantage of by a bully.
  • Loss of self-esteem; anxiety or depression. While a variety of conditions may cause these symptoms, bullying should be considered if a child suddenly exhibits these signs.  

In nearly all cases, bullying won’t stop unless the child confides in a trusted adult (parent, teacher, school counselor, healthcare provider, etc.) who is able to intervene. Parents can help by keeping the lines of communication open and frequently asking how their child is doing and inquiring about school and friends. 

When a child knows parents are interested and willing to listen, he or she is more likely to speak up if there’s a problem. Parents can also seek guidance from primary care providers who can direct them to appropriate resources. 

Bryan Leber, MD, specializes in pediatrics. He is a guest columnist located at Riley Physicians Pediatrics - Methodist Medical Plaza South and can be reached by calling the office at 317.865.6600.

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