School Age

Bullying: how to spot the signs

Bullying: how to spot the signs

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What is bullying?

Bullying is when children:

  • tease other children over and over again
  • ignore other children or leave them out of games or activities
  • say mean things or call other children names
  • spread nasty stories about other children
  • hit and push other children
  • take other children's things.

Bullying can happen face to face. It can also happen online - for example, if children send harassing texts or post negative comments about others online. This is cyberbullying.

If friends or peers disagree or even argue, or if someone says something mean once, it can be unpleasant and even nasty. But it isn't bullying. Bullying is mean and hurtful behaviour that happens over and over again.

Children should never be left to sort out bullying on their own. They can be seriously hurt by it. It's important for you to stop bullying quickly, before it damages a child's confidence. Read more about helping preschool children who are being bullied and helping school-age children who are being bullied.

Spotting signs of bullying

Your child might tell you that she's being bullied. For example, she might say that other children are teasing her, making fun of her, putting her down, laughing at her, calling her names, ignoring her or threatening her.

If your child doesn't say anything but you're worried, here are some signs to look out for.

Physical signs
These include:

  • bruises, cuts and scratches
  • torn clothes
  • missing property
  • poor eating or sleeping
  • bedwetting
  • complaints about headaches or tummy aches.

Requests for moneyor other items
The bully might be demanding money or things like lunch box treats from your child.

School or preschool problems
Your child might:

  • not want to go to school
  • stay close to teachers during breaks
  • start sitting alone
  • have difficulty asking or answering questions in class, or have trouble with schoolwork or homework
  • stop taking part in school activities.

Social changes
Your child might avoid social events that he used to enjoy, like parties. Or you might notice that he's:

  • being excluded at lunch and recess
  • losing contact with classmates after school
  • being chosen last for teams and games.

Emotional changes
Your child might seem unusually anxious, nervous, upset, unhappy, down, teary, angry, withdrawn and secretive. These changes might be more obvious at the end of weekends or holidays, when your child has to go back to school.

These signs don't necessarily mean your child is being bullied. They could be signs of other issues, like depression. If you're concerned, speak to your GP or other health professional.

There's no single way to tell if your child is being bullied. The way your child reacts to bullying will depend on how bad the bullying is, as well as your child's personality.

What if your child is the one doing the bullying? It can be hard to understand and accept, but there are things you can do if your child is bullying others.

Worried your child is being bullied: finding out more

It can be hard to know for sure if your child is being bullied. But if your child is being bullied, talking about the bullying is one of the best ways to help and protect her.

To find out more about what's going on, you could try some of these conversation starters for children aged 4-6 years:

  • Who did you play with today? Is there anyone you don't like to play with? Why?
  • What sort of games did you play? Did you enjoy them?
  • Are you looking forward to going to school tomorrow?

Or try these conversation starters for children aged 7-8 years:

  • What did you do at lunchtime today?
  • Is there anyone at school you don't like? Why?
  • Are you looking forward to going to school tomorrow?
When you're talking with your child about school, try to keep the conversation relaxed and friendly, and avoid bombarding your child with questions. Just give your child your full attention, ask him simple questions, and listen to the answers. You could try saying things like, 'So what happened next?' and 'What did you do then?' This approach can help your child open up to you.


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