I get this question a lot: how do I know for sure if my son or daughter is being wounded – physically or emotionally – at the hands of their peers? Are there signs I should look for?
The answer is yes. Some indicators are obvious and exactly what you’d expect. Others are subtle…and even surprising. Outlined below is what you should look out for:
- Inexplicable fits of rage – does your child blow up at the smallest provocation?
- Overreactions to everyday frustrations – does your child overreact to things that would not have previously bothered them?
- Moodiness – is your child sad one moment and happy the next?
- Distractedness – is your child distracted or preoccupied?
- Faking illness – does your child make excuses to avoid going to school?
- Impaired immune system or frequent illness – the constant stress and sadness caused by severe bullying can physically weaken your child.
- Extreme makeover attempts – has your child suddenly gone from “preppy” to “gothic” or “punk”?
- Sudden change in weight – has your child started gaining or losing weight at an alarming rate?
- Sadness or depression – is your child sad, lonely or unmotivated?
- Change in grades – have your child’s grades gone down – or way up? (Bullied kids sometimes immerse themselves in academics as an escape.)
- Desperate attempts to win friends – is your child succumbing to peer pressure, and perhaps engaging in questionable or self-destructive behavior?
If you notice at least three of these signs, your child could be experiencing peer abuse at school. Bear in mind, abuse doesn’t have to be overt to hurt. Bullying isn’t just an act of cruelty; it’s also the deliberate omission of kindness. Maybe your child isn’t being made fun of or picked on, but they feel invisible every day. Your child may not get bullied in the traditional sense, but no one goes out of their way to include them in anything either.
If you discover your child is struggling to fit in at school, the first thing you need to do – before addressing school administrators – is to find your child an interim social outlet. This can help them make new friends and will also buy you time to deal with the larger issues. Your main priority should be helping your child find people with whom they can feel a genuine connection. The best sources for this are the park district or public library the nearest town over – far enough away that they don’t feed into your child’s school.
The bottom line is to get your son or daughter a new group of friends in a place where they can develop a social life outside of school. The sooner you do this, the better. The lonelier your child gets, the more danger they are in – and new friends can literally be a lifeline.
For more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.