I saw the signs

Download a printable copy of this article (PDF 285KB)

I Saw the SignsHindsight is a truly wonderful thing. With the benefit of hindsight, we are often able to clearly see root causes of bullying problems, points of failure, opportunities missed and sometimes avenues of blame. While hindsight does not enable us to respond to moments that have already passed, we can use this hindsight to inform how we might respond in the future.

It is a cruel irony for parents and carers that often leaves us lamenting via statements like “If only we’d known earlier.” And it would certainly make life much easier if our children would let us know that bullying has reared its ugly head, but they often don’t let us know. Chief among the reasons for this is includes embarrassment, fear of backlash and the unpredictability of our own reactions as parents and carers.

All of this increases the degree of difficulty for parents and carers who just want to know what is going on. Being certain seems sometimes completely unattainable to the point that even getting a hint that something isn’t quite right in our children’s worlds appears a challenge. We give ourselves the best possible chance to intervene early when we are able to identify the signs that bullying has become a problem.

“A simple act of paying attention can take you a long long way.”
– Keanu Reeves

Here are five possible indicators that bullying may be causing a problem:

  • Sleep issues. Is your child struggling to get to sleep at night, struggling to get up in the morning or experiencing disrupted sleep patterns? If so, it could be a sign that anxiety levels have increased due to bullying concerns.
  • Absent friends. Have close friends disappeared from social interactions, from online conversations or from reports about their day? Bullying is not always done by a long-term nemesis. There is the possibility that changes in the social circle may be indicators of bullying problems emerging and this can happen quite quickly.
  • Sick Days. Trust your parental radar. If that request to stay home sick for a day, or even longer, seems convenient or if there is a pattern emerging (perhaps it’s every Monday, sports day or excursion) then it’s worth noting.
  • Lost and broken ‘stuff’. Are items of clothing, school resources and personal valuables going missing or coming home broken? Regular repetition of these issues can be a sign that bullying is in play.
  • Injuries oddly explained. When we’re distressed, our child’s ability to creatively explain away an uncomfortable truth is compromised. If it seems odd that the school didn’t contact you to explain a black eye that was apparently acquired in PE class via a stray softball, it might be worth checking the validity of that report.

Equally, the signs that your child has been engaging in bullying behaviour can be just as challenging to spot. They are not limited to, but can certainly include:

  • Increased aggression. If your child becomes suddenly argumentative towards you or explodes in anger when things don’t go their way, there is an increased chance that this behaviour is also being deployed in other contexts.
  • Increased referrals. Put simply, are you getting more calls from the school than usual that your child is getting into trouble?
  • “It’s not my fault.” Has explaining away, blaming others and excuse making when challenged about behaviour become commonplace?
  • Getting into scraps. Staying aware of any reported, rumoured, confessed or even bragged about fights and physical altercations can be useful evidence that something more influential is going on.
  • Competitive focus. Bullying is about power and this connects in some way to an inflated need to be the best, to win and to dominate others. If you notice your child displaying reduced sportsmanship; to making all circumstances competitive or; to having to “win at all costs” there’s a chance that they’ve become a little too motivated by the need for power over others.

There are very few guarantees in parental life and perhaps fewer when it comes to identifying and responding well to bullying. Within the uncertainty, it is well worth a wise parent or carer giving himself or herself the best chance they possibly can. A meaningful way to do that is to know what to look for and then to keep looking.

Further reading

More articles in the What is Bullying? topic

How do I know if it’s really bullying?

Bullying. The “B word”. It is used so frequently today that it has become a challenge for parents and carers and for schools to identify the circumstances that genuinely constitute bullying and those that are one-off inappropriate behaviour choices. This is not to imply that inappropriate one-off behaviour choices are not serious. They also need to be addressed. It is, however, really important to know the difference between what bullying is and what it is not, so that the appropriate responses and strategies can be used.

Read more