October is National Bullying Prevention Month, but many young people across the country encounter bullying all year. A study estimated that about 20 percent of students aged 12-18 have experienced bullying, and 70.6 percent report that they’ve witnessed bullying in their schools. It’s a public health crisis, and one that needs to be addressed.
Many children experience bullying without reporting it to an adult, so it’s not always easy to know how to take action on an individual level. Here are a few signs to look for to identify if a child in your life is experiencing bullying:
- Unexplained injuries, or frequent headaches or stomach aches
Physical bullying is just one of many types of bullying, but it’s a serious one. Look out for unexplained injuries or maladies—real or imagined—because they might be a sign that a child is being bullied. A child who is being subject to bullying at school might also choose to fake an illness to avoid his or her bullies, so it’s important to recognize that for the sign that it might be.
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or avoidance of school
While school should be a safe haven for children, that isn’t always the case. According to a 2017 study, 19 percent of students grades 9-12 reported being bullied on school property in the year preceding the survey. When a child is being bullied at school, it can lead to difficulty concentrating on schoolwork, or even a desire to avoid school entirely. Children can’t learn properly in an environment in which they feel unsafe.
- Changes in eating habits
If a child suddenly begins experiencing loss of appetite or starts to skip meals, it can be a sign that something external is wrong. Binge-eating, too, can indicate a problem. Any change in a child’s regular eating habits can potentially be a sign that the child is being bullied, and should be taken seriously.
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
Many children have nightmares on occasion, but nightmares that occur with unusual frequency can indicate that a child is having trouble during their waking hours. This disrupted sleep can add to the stress the child is under, leading to irritability, trouble concentrating at school, and other negative outcomes.
If you notice any of these signs in a child in your life, or other unexplained changes in mood or behavior, they should not be ignored. They could indicate bullying, or another serious issue, such as abuse or trauma, and it’s important to use non-pressuring approaches to find out what’s going on and how you can help.
WATCH: Using MY VOICE to Stand Up to Bullying
Action You Can Take to Combat Bullying
Since kids often do not report bullying they experience, it’s critical that the adults in their lives look out for the signs and encourage them to speak up. Here are a few steps you can take if you suspect a child in your life is involved in bullying:
- Open an honest line of communication.
Make sure the child knows that they can come to you with concerns they have, and that you won’t make light of them or overreact. If they’re willing to open up to you about bullying they’re experiencing, take care to let them know it’s not their fault.
- Try to identify the type of bullying going on.
Different types of bullying may need to be handled in different ways. If a child is experiencing bullying at school, you may need to meet with their teacher or administrators, while bullying at the hands of neighborhood kids might require a parental one-on-one. Meanwhile, cyberbullying is an increasingly common type of bullying as social media use among kids rises, and may require entirely different strategies.
READ: Cyberbullying: Warning Signs and Resources for Prevention
- Ensure the child in your life has a safe place to go outside of school, like a Boys & Girls Club
Boys & Girls Clubs of America partners with WWE in their efforts to prevent bullying through the Be a STAR program, which aims to encourage young people to treat each other with respect through education and grassroots initiatives. At local Clubs across the country, expert staff members take kids through a curriculum designed to foster social and emotional intelligence, and in turn reduce the instances of bullying.
- Make sure to prioritize a child’s physical and emotional safety
In partnership with Planet Fitness, Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Positive Club Climate initiative supports Clubs with tools and resources needed to guide staff and youth in establishing more positive Club environments. Club staff create physically and emotionally safe environments for youth by teaching social-emotional skills, modeling these behaviors, and recognizing youth for demonstrating them. A focus on inclusivity, paired with creating opportunities for positive interactions among peers, will create positive spaces in which bullying is far less likely to happen.
All children deserve to feel safe, whether they’re at home, at school, in their neighborhood, or at their local Club. When you’re equipped to identify signs that a child is being bullied, you’re better able to implement strategies to put a stop to it. This National Bullying Prevention Month, take the time to observe the kids in your life, and let’s do our part to put an end to bullying. You can learn more about bullying, how to identify the signs, and how to prevent it at StopBullying.gov