Bullying isn't just an "American" problem. It's a worldwide phenomenon. Bullying can turn a happy, sociable child into a withdrawn, sullen, depressed one - perhaps even one at risk for violent behavior himself. Reports surfaced after many school violence incidents in the U.S. that bullying of the perpetrators may have played a part in the violence. Some studies suggest that gifted and talented children are even more susceptible to the effects of bullying.
Whatever the circumstances - be it teasing, hostility, or outright violence - bullying must be identified before it can be stopped. Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine whether your child is being bullied:
- Have your child's sleeping habits changed? Being subjected to bullying behavior, no matter what form it takes, is an incredibly stressful experience. When a child's sleep patterns change dramatically - for instance, she starts falling asleep on the couch after school on a regular basis, or he suddenly doesn't want to go to bed at his regular bedtime - it can signal increased stress loads.
- Has your child begun making physical excuses to avoid school, such as tummy aches, headaches, etc.? One of two factors may be at work here. A child may be manufacturing symptoms to avoid a bully. Or, equally likely, the child's stressful experiences with a bully are actually causing some physical symptoms. Much has been written about adults' increased susceptibility to illness when under extreme stress; the same is true of children, and perhaps to an even greater degree.
- Did your child's travel patterns at school abruptly change? When you dropped him off in the morning, he used to walk straight in the front door, head held high. Now, he slinks off to a side door in the middle of a large group of other children. This can be a sign that he's trying to avoid a bully who may be lurking for him at the front. To catch this type of signal, you need to be observant, and also to enlist the aid of your child's teachers.
- Did your child suddenly begun stammering or stuttering? Extreme stress can impact a child's speech in ways that are not completely understood. If your child begins stammering or stuttering, seemingly overnight, it could be the result of bully-induced stress.
- Is your child having nightmares? A sudden uptick in nightmares can be a result of increased stress during the day. The subconscious mind deals with the frightening events by manufacturing other frightening incidents in dreams, perhaps in order to allow the child to confront the "monster" and triumph. It doesn't always work that way, of course, and it can seem to a child as if he just can't escape the bully even in the safety of his dreams.
- Has your child's schoolwork begun suffering? If your formerly A student begins bringing home Cs and Ds, something has taken her attention from her schoolwork. That "something" could be a bully. One slip in a troublesome class probably isn't sufficient to conclude that bullying is to blame. However, if the report card reflects a downward trend across the board, it could be cause for concern.
- Does your child have unexplained bruises or cuts on his body? Marks of violence are the most serious and significant sign of bullying. If bullying behavior has escalated to outright attacks, the police must be brought into the situation. A failure to take this sign seriously can have very negative consequences down the road.
These questions are designed to help give the concerned parent an overall picture of potential changes in a child's stress levels. Affirmative answers don't necessarily indicate a bully is definitely the culprit, but it does indicate that further inquiry is needed. Many resources have been published to help parents and teachers contend with and solve the bullying problem. Some links are provided on this page to help get your efforts off to a productive start.