Tips for School Psychologists: Understanding the Early Warning Signs of Bullying

Bullying causes severe emotional harm, and can destroy a child’s self-esteem and mental health. Whether it is verbal, physical or relational, bullying has equally devastating long-term results. Recent reports confirm that bullying is starting at increasingly younger ages and is more frequent and aggressive than ever before. Every day, 160,000 children skip school because they fear being attacked or intimidated by other students.

Also troubling is the fact that often, children don’t report bullying. Their reasons include embarrassment or fear of retaliation. So it’s important to recognize the early warning signs of bullying to help prevent and effectively respond to it.

Warning Signs

Students who are being bullied may exhibit these warning signs:

  • Have torn, damaged or missing pieces of clothing, books or other belongings.
  • Have unexplained cuts, bruises or scratches.
  • Have few, if any friends with whom they spend time.
  • Seem afraid of coming to school, walking home, riding the bus or taking part in organized activities.
  • Lose interest in or suddenly begin doing poorly in school.
  • Appear sad, moody, teary or depressed.
  • Complain frequently of headaches, stomachaches or other physical problems.
  • Appear anxious or suffer from low self-esteem.
  • Avoid using school bathrooms, which can be hot spots for bullying.

They may even flip their role and become the bully, with smaller or younger children as their victims.

To effectively intervene, it’s also critical to be aware of characteristics of students who bully others. These individuals may:

  • Show a positive attitude toward violence.
  • Have a strong need to dominate and subdue other students and get their own way.
  • Be impulsive, aggressive or easily angered.
  • Lack empathy toward students who are bullied.
  • Be defiant toward adults, including parents and teachers.
  • Be involved in anti-social or rule-breaking activities such as vandalism, delinquency or substance abuse.
  • Have greater physical strength than others in general and the students they bully in particular.

At the core of bullying is a power imbalance. Bullying rarely happens only once and is always intentional and mean spirited. Victims cannot hold their own, so they need therapists and other adults to restore safety, security and normalcy to their lives.

For additional information and resources to assist in your school-based therapy practice, read our related posts or contact the Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services team today. And, have a productive and successful New Year.

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