Warning Signs of Bullying That Every Parent Should Know

Group of boys bullying one boy at school. Read the warning signs of bullying that every parent should know.

For days I suspected signs of bullying.

I heard my son crying in his room again. I opened the door to find him curled up on top of his bed with tears streaming down his face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, kneeling next to him and wrapping my arms around him.

He shook his head against me, refusing to answer.

“Please tell me what happened.” I pleaded softly, rubbing his back.

After a few minutes, he looked up at me with red eyes and told me that every day at school that week a group of boys had been taking his lunch.  That day if it hadn’t been for a teacher walking into the boys’ restroom they would have done something else.

He was afraid to go back to school the next day.


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Warning Signs of Bullying 

Bullying is a pattern of power and control in which one or more people are exposed to behaviors that can include verbal harassment, non-verbal gestures, physical assault, or cyberbullying.

Every parent should know the signs of being bullied because it can be challenging to detect.


5 Types of Bullying

Bullying comes in many different forms. Often a bully will use more than one type to torment their victim. However, there is also some overlap in each type.

#1 Physical Bullying

This happens when the bully physically harms or threatens to harm their victim. This type of bullying is the most common. Bullies usually use their strength and size to intimidate the other person.

Physical Examples 

  • Punch
  • Bite
  • Kick
  • Shove
  • Hit with an object such as a bat

They may also take the child’s lunch money, toys, books or destroy their property. Keep in mind physical bullying is dangerous due to the risk of injury or death. Most of the time, you need to report it to the authorities. Here are laws on bullying in the United States. .

#2 Verbal Bullying

Sometimes physical bullying includes verbal abuse. Or Verbal bullying can sometimes escalate to physical violence.

Verbal Examples

  • Derogatory name-calling
  • Threatening words
  • Insulting language
  • Criticizing
  • Yelling at the victim
  • Cursing or swearing at them

The goal of the bully is to lower the self-esteem of the victim. 

#3 Emotional Bullying

This type usually occurs between friends, romantic relationships, or a group of friends. For example, a boyfriend might withhold love to his girlfriend if she isn’t acting the way he wants her to. 

Emotional Examples 

  • Stating that the victim is weak or worthless
  • Shunning them from social groups and events
  • Isolating them from their other friends
  • Threatening to hurt them physically, verbally, or mentally
  • Making the victim feel guilty for their actions

#4 Cyber Bullying

This is any bullying that happens online means to embarrass, threaten, tease or harass. Here is how each state handles cyberbullying

Examples of Places Where Cyberbullying Occurs

  • Online message board chats
  • Social media pages and comments
  • Messenger
  • Texting

Here is a list of social networks your teen may be hanging out on that is not Facebook.

#5 Social Bullying

This type is the most insidious since it involves the creation of a two-way street. In addition, it consists of the bully using deceit to make themselves appear to be better than their victim.

They may say or do things that make the victim appear to be a loser or an outcast. The bully uses their own self-image as a socially accepted person to defend themselves from being seen as the bully.

This happens in social groups where a group bullies someone into doing things they didn’t want to do, such as drugs, drinking, or stealing. 

Sometimes children are easily pressured into doing these things because they’re younger, shy, or socially inexperienced. 

Social Examples 

  • Being ignored or excluded from social groups, games, and clubs.
  • Using name-calling, taunting, physical aggression, sexual harassment, or other forms of humiliation.
  • Making fun of another person’s appearance or personal characteristics.
  • Making false accusations against the victim for something they did not do.
  • Allowing the victim to become isolated from others.

Warning Signs Your Child is Being Bullied

Many times your child doesn’t tell you everything that goes on in their lives. But, there are bullying signs you can watch out for in your child.

#1 Reluctance or Refusal to Go to School

If your child has always loved school and suddenly starts making excuses not to go, that is a sign that something is wrong. The best thing to do is to ask your child questions. Get to the root of what is wrong.

#2 Regressed Behavior

If your child starts acting younger, especially before or after going to a specific place such as school, this could signify that something is happening to them.

Examples of Regressed Behavior

  • Thumb sucking
  • Potty accidents
  • Bedwetting
  • Frequent tears

#3 Frequent Headaches or Stomach Aches

If your child has frequent stomach aches and headaches, try to figure out what is causing them. For example, if it’s after school or before school:

  • Are they overtired?
  • Is something happening at school? 

#4 Friendship Groups Have Changed

If your child stops hanging out with their friends and instead hangs out with a new crowd, it’s worth investigating.

  • What happened?
  • Who are the new friends?
  • What happened to the old friends?
  • What caused the change?

#5 Having Trouble Sleeping 

If your child suddenly has difficulty sleeping, waking up with nightmares, or having other sleep issues, you might want to find out what may be causing them. Often emotional problems can manifest during times that you should be relaxing.


#6 Having Panic Attacks 

If your child suddenly starts having panic attacks before or after going to a specific place, that could be a warning sign your child is being bullied.

You will want to look into what is happening while your child is there, whether it is school, gymnastics class, or a weekly playdate. 


#7 Withdrawing from Family or Friends

Sometimes, young children will withdraw from their family or friends even though they feel safe. The reason may be because they feel ashamed even though it’s not their fault. 


#8 Evidence of a Physical Altercation

Your child may come home with obvious signs of a physical altercation.

Look out for:

  • Torn or missing clothing
  • Bite marks
  • Bruises
  • Scratches
  • Red marks
  • Unexplainable injuries

Sometimes they may hide these physical signs under long sleeves, turtle necks, or a hat.

Warning Signs Your Teen is Being Bullied

Sometimes you might notice some of the same bullying warning signs in a teen as in a child. Although teenagers are often more emotional and moody due to hormones, they may act out more dramatically.

There may be many warning signs when a teen is being bullied, but it can be difficult to tell the difference between bullying signs and typical teenage moodiness.

And on top of that, they hide it well! Teens tend to feel embarrassed, ashamed and don’t want their parents to do anything. 


#1 Sleeping More Than Usual

Teenagers usually react to stress by sleeping more. So if your teen is suddenly sleeping a lot more than usual, you will want to ask them what’s going on in their lives.


#2 Getting in Trouble at School

Your teenager could exhibit warning signs by getting into trouble at school. This may be getting detention frequently or being blamed for physical or verbal fights.

If you start getting calls to your child’s principal’s office or the school counselor, you should dig deeper into understanding why. Your teen may even accept responsibility for something they didn’t even do because they fear backlash from a bully.


#3 Withdrawn

Sometimes teens withdraw from their friends and family. They stop participating and enjoying activities they once loved. They may already feel socially isolated by the bullying and seclude themselves more.


#4 Spending More Time on Their Electronics

Games, cell phones, and computers are an escape from the world for most people these days. But, if your teenager is spending even more time on their electronic devices, this could be a warning sign.

Or if they get upset every time they get on their computer or phone, you should ask them why.


#5 Substance Abuse

Sometimes teens start using alcohol or drugs because they are being pressured or want to escape their reality. Also, teens self-medicate when they are depressed or anxious. If you suspect substance abuse take them to a professional.


#6 Increasingly Aggressive Towards You or Siblings

A teenager who is bullied sometimes becomes aggressive towards you or their siblings. When this happens, you need to put a stop to it immediately. However, you will also need to find the root cause to truly end it. 

#7 Depression and Suicidal Thoughts

When your teenager abruptly starts displaying low self esteem, self destructive behaviors, or giving away prized personal possessions, take notice.

They may say things such as: 

  • The whole world is against them
  • They hate life or people
  • No one cares
  • That they would be better off dead

Don’t make the mistake of brushing this off; any talk of not wanting to live or being better off dead needs to be taken seriously. 


#8 Sudden Drop in Grades

If your teen usually gets good grades then is suddenly failing, you should look into that. When a child is bullied, it’s hard to focus in class because they don’t want to be there. 


#9 Stop Participating in School Activities

If your teenager always participates in school activities and now doesn’t want to anymore, consider that they may have a good reason. If they are a frequent target of bullying behavior at these activities, they won’t want to go due to fear or embarrassment.

Why Do Bullies Target Certain Children? 

Even though these things can make a child a frequent target, this in no way implies that it’s their fault.

It’s never the victim’s fault.

This is also not a definitive list. Understand that this is just a list of possibilities. And, there are always exceptions.

Some Exceptions

  • Type of school
  • What’s considered normal in that culture or community
  • How the school administration and community deals with bullying issues


– Teacher’s Pet

Often a teacher’s pet is a target, mainly because the child is good at something. Usually, they are smart kids who want to get good grades, so they seek the teacher’s attention and succeed.

 The other kids feel like they are being treated better than them and start trying to put the child in their place.


– Creative Type Children

Sometimes creative children like to dress differently, act a little differently, and stand out. Unfortunately, in schools without anti-bullying training, that child may end up being made fun of due to their clothing or actions that aren’t the norm in that community.

This type of shaming happens to try to force the child to act like everyone else.


– Introverted Children Or Have a Hard Time Making Friends

Some children don’t want to be in groups. They prefer to sit alone and are happy that way. 

However, this can make the child a target because they may come off as snobby or “better” than everyone else.

A child may have a hard time making friends and are very awkward socially even though they don’t want to be.


– Anxious Children

Some children get super-nervous around anyone that talks to them. They are anxious, sad, or have other conditions that make them stand out in a way that other kids find odd. So bullies pick on the anxious child to get a reaction out of them.


– Submissive Children

Some children are naturally more submissive than others and don’t naturally try to defend themselves. They may be smaller than other kids and scared. They may cry or make a scene that excites the bully, which causes him to bully them even more.


– Children Who Are Different 

Any difference from normative standards will make a child a target. It can be bright red hair, lots of freckles, clothes, or something else that makes the child stand out as different. Unfortunately, this can be a whistle call to the bullies to attack.


 – The Bully Feels Threatened 

Sometimes the bully feels threatened by their victim. For example, the bully might be a leader in the school and gets all the other kids to attack that child. It often happens within sports teams, academic teams, and any competitive group.


 – Children Who Have an Illness or Disability

Sadly, children who are sick or disabled are often bullied. The torment can be horrible in these cases because often, these children cannot defend themselves on their own.


 – Different Religion 

Children who have religions that cause them to stand out as different from the norm are often targeted.

The religion may dictate

  • How they dress
  • How they wear their hair
  • What holidays they celebrate
  • Whether they wear makeup

 Religions that are frequently targeted

  • Jewish
  • Muslim
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Pentecostals
  • Polygamists


– Children in a Minority Race

Sometimes a child’s race stands out as different in the community. This can cause the child to be bullied in multiple different ways.


How Can We Change This? 

 Children need teaching that it’s okay to be different. They need to understand that it is wrong to pick on people because of their differences or their annoying personalities. It’s never okay to pick on anyone for any reason whatsoever.

What is Your Experience With a Bully? 

The bottom line is that bullying can happen for many reasons, and it’s essential to be aware of the warning signs. If you suspect your child could be a victim of this cruel behavior, take steps to protect them as soon as possible.

First, talk with them about what they are experiencing. Then, whatever course of action seems best for both you and your child, don’t give up until you know your child is safe and enjoying a normal childhood.

What is your experience with a bully? Let us know in the comments below.



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Group of boys bullying one boy at school. Read the warning signs of bullying that every parent should know.
Bullying is an issue that affects many children, both at school and in the community. Learn how to identify the warning signs of bullying that indicate that your child is being bullied.

Picture of Shannah Holt

Shannah Holt


  1. My daughter started middle school and some boys are already picking on her because she’s so short. I try so hard to teach her to stand up for herself. I’m hoping it doesn’t turn into full on bullying. Kids are so brutal! I wonder so much about the bullies too and their home life or trauma. Clearly something happened to them. It’s so sad!

  2. I personally do not have experience with bullying but being a mom and working with young children, it’s our work to support children and help them stand for themselves. This is so informative.

  3. Bullying is such a horrible thing that kids can hide well, thank you for sharing these warning signs. Hopefully one day our society will change.

  4. I just had to reach out to my son’s teachers this week. I noticed he has not been himself since starting middle school. One evening when he was especially grouchy I asked him if something was bothering him. After a bit of hesitance he told me a kid had been picking on him. The school is currently working with us to break this cycle.

  5. It was a bit heartbreaking to read this but also necessary to understand the many ways and reasons that a child may be being bullied and what to look for. I truly hurt for any child going through this.

  6. I love how detailed you are in this post for parents. Bullying and the thought of my child being bullied makes my stomach turn. I make sure to teach my children to also not be a bully or laugh with bullies when they are hurting their peers.

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