It’s common for kids to engage in playful teasing with friends or siblings. When both kids are having fun, it’s usually harmless. But, according to KidsHealth.org, when teasing becomes hurtful or mean, is ongoing, or gets physical, it has crossed the line into bullying.
“A lot of bullies have experienced bullying before in the past,” says Abigail Schlesinger, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatry specialist at UPMC. So, certainly feeling like you’re being coerced, being hurt by someone…these can cause lifetime traumas. I think many people who describe interactions on the playground, being upset by people, may not have sort of gone to the full impact of bullying and won’t be traumatized for a lifetime by it.”
Bullying can mean kids at school are being unkind to a child or making fun in a way that is hurtful. It can include ongoing taunting on social media. Sometimes the problem escalates to physical violence. Each case of bullying is different, and the signs aren’t always clear.
“The first thing we want to do is talk to our kids about what’s happening, and make sure they understand what bullying is,” says Dr. Schlesinger. “From a young age, we should be talking to our kids about how they feel and how other people around them feel.”
Unless your child has visible bruises or injuries or tells you about it, you may not be aware of the bullying. If your child is experiencing any of the following, they may be signs of bullying:
- Trouble eating or sleeping
- Being afraid or not wanting to go to school
- Lack of interest in activities they enjoy
- Anxiety, depression, or moodiness
- Struggling in classes or with schoolwork
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Effects of School Bullying
According to StopBullying.gov, the effects of school bullying can follow children into adulthood. Possible effects include:
- Emotional or mental health issues, such as clinical depression and anxiety
- Changes in hobbies or enjoyment of certain activities
- Physical health complaints
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Decrease in academic performance, including lower GPA, test scores, and school attendance
Most kids who are bullied do not experience suicidal thoughts. But children who commit suicide often were bullied at school. The risk of suicide increases for certain groups, such as LGBTQ+ youth.
The children who bully others at school can exhibit harmful tendencies, such as:
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Violence and criminal activity
- Decrease in academic performance
- Abuse of family members, partners, or children as an adult
Preventing School Bullying
You may not be able to prevent school bullying altogether, but you can prepare your child for bullies and help ensure they do not become one.
Talk to Your Child About What Bullying Is and How to Identify It
StopBullying.gov provides resources for talking to your kids about bullying. Start by watching videos or talking about examples of bullying so that they know what to look for.
Encourage kids to tell a trusted adult if they see someone being bullied or if they experience school bullying themselves. It may also help to give your child tips for standing up to a bully, like using humor or walking away.
“If someone’s hurt your child, I think you should get involved,” says Dr. Schlesinger. “That’s not fighting your child’s battles. That’s helping to determine what needs to happen, asking the school, ‘What do you think I need to do?’ … I don’t dissuade parents from communicating with the school. That’s a great place to learn more about your kid. I don’t think that you should go and argue for the kid. I think we need to teach our kids to stand up for themselves, but getting adults involved is a way to sometimes sort of get through it and figure out what’s the best next action.”
Most importantly, strive to maintain open communication with your child. Ask about their school day, friends, and feelings.
“I do think being open with your kid, talking about emotions,” says Dr. Schlesinger. “A lot of people struggle with talking about emotions.”
Talk to Your Child About What to Do if They Witness Bullying
Bystanders who take action when they see bullying can make a big difference. If your child sees someone being bullied, encourage them to:
- Speak to an adult — let them know that it’s not tattling to help someone who’s being hurt
- Ask a bullying victim to play, or start a conversation with them to redirect attention away from the bully
- Walk next to a victim of bullying, as many bullies avoid situations with more than one person
Stay Involved in Your Child’s Life
Being present and modeling respect and kindnessvcan help your child avoid being bullied and prevent them from becoming a bully. Get to know your child’s bus driver, teachers, and school staff. Read newsletters and handouts from the school. Finally, stay in touch with other kids’ parents. All are good ways to gain insight into your child’s activities and any problems they may be facing.
The best way to prevent bullying is to talk with your children often. Let your kids know that it’s wrong to be mean to others. Be an example by showing kindness to others. Ask your child if they’ve ever witnessed bullying and how it made them feel, and reinforce the importance of kindness and inclusion. Providing support and guidance can go a long way to help them navigate their budding social lives and put a stop to bullying.
For more resources on preventing school bullying, contact UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh‘s Community Education Department at 412-692-7105.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.