How to Detect and Deal with Bullying

Bullying is a form of psychological, physical, or verbal abuse among peers. But how can we detect and deal with bullying? Keep reading.
How to Detect and Deal with Bullying
María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Bullying is a form of psychological, physical, or verbal abuse among peers. This intentional abuse by peers causes a drastic change in the behavior of the victim, who feels ashamed of this exposure. But how can we detect and deal with bullying?

Experts point to bullying as a difficult situation for students to go through, as it consists of an imbalance of power or strength. Children subjected to this constant bullying live in terror, panic about going to school, and even suffer depression and experience suicidal tendencies.

Parents and teachers are usually the last to know what happens in the classroom because shame and fear of possible reprisals often paralyze students, who choose to keep the situation a secret and suffer in silence.

How to detect bullying

Both members of the educational community and parents have an obligation to act in cases of bullying in the classroom. The prevention and eradication of school bullying entail a commitment to creating a safe environment where children can progress socially and academically.

It’s essential to educate our children from an early age in the values of respect, friendship, non-aggression, and trust. This way, they’ll always be able to address issues and express their feelings, doubts, and fears. Therefore, it will be easier to act and detect warning signs.

A teenage firl that's isolated from her peers at lunch time.
Isolation is one of the first symptoms of bullying.

Signs and behaviors of school bullying

  • The child doesn’t want to go to school and misses classes even though they never avoided going to school before.
  • They seek to be accompanied when they enter school and when they come out.
  • Their school performance gradually begins to drop.
  • They’re capable of feigning illness or discomfort to avoid going to school.
  • At home, they hide the problem and avoid talking about school.
  • Changes in mood and behavior are perceived.
  • The child shows anger or rage.
  • They appear more childish and immature.
  • They suffer nightmares and changes in their sleep, loss of appetite, enuresis, vomiting, etc.
  • The child presents a state of anxiety and nervousness that may trigger panic attacks.
  • They spend more time at home than before and they no longer go out to play with their friends.
  • They seek younger peers, as they feel safe with them.
  • The child shows signs of physical aggression (bumps, bruises, or scratches). When asked what happened, they become defensive and nervous, respond in an unnatural manner, and lie. They may claim that they suffer from frequent falls or accidents.
  • They suffer from somatic pain, such as headaches, stomach aches, etc.
  • They’re overcome by sadness, crying, and irritability.

5 tips to deal with bullying

  1. Watch your child’s attitude for signs of abuse. Remember that children aren’t always likely to tell you that they’re suffering. If you discover that your child’s being bullied, have open conversations where you can find out what’s happening at school so that you can take appropriate action to rectify the situation. Let your child know that you’re willing to help.

    niño-enseñando-sus-manos
    Not responding to bullying with violence is best.

  2. Teach your child how to deal with bullying situations. If taking action at an administrative level isn’t possible, a good option is to teach your child techniques for dealing with bullying without exposing them to physical abuse. It’s important that your child learns to ignore the bully or create strategies to handle the situation. Help your child identify teachers and friends who can help before or during bullying.
  3. Don’t respond to bullying with violence. As the popular saying goes, “two wrongs don’t make a right,” so it’s critical to act calmly in the face of bullying. While it may be difficult to act with temperance in the face of bullying against your child, you should avoid showing anger or crying. In addition, you can make the bully reflect by suggesting that the best thing to do is to stay away from the victim to avoid future problems.
  4. Report the bullying to the school. If possible, certify the complaint in a letter with a copy to the School Superintendent, in case your initial inquiry hasn’t provided a satisfactory response to the problem.
  5. Offer the child the assistance of a counselor or psychologist. Ideally, the child should receive therapeutic help, not because they have a psychological disorder, but precisely to prevent them from developing one in the future as a consequence of this stressful situation in which they feel imprisoned.

Ten ways to deal with bullying and put a stop to it

Unicef suggests ten areas of action for teachers and students in order to end violence in schools:

1. Advocate for a holistic approach involving students, school staff, parents, and the community

Talk to the actors involved in the educational process, principals, teachers, students, parents, community leaders, etc. All should be aware of the different ways in which violence occurs in order to move forward with a joint action plan.

2. Get students involved in violence prevention

Students should receive information and training in human rights, devise rules, and establish responsibilities that contribute to school coexistence.

3. Use constructive discipline techniques and methods

Design rules that are “positive, instructive, and brief”. Apply educational and non-punitive disciplinary measures, and motivate positive behaviors, recognizing, praising, and congratulating good deeds.

4. Be an active and effective factor in ending bullying

Define bullying and its various manifestations with the participation of teachers, students, and all school staff. Assign sanctions according to severity, counsel bullies, help victims, and avoid the spiral of silence around violence.

5. Encourage students’ resilience and help them face life’s challenges in a constructive way

Create a peace education and guidance program in the school that, in general, seeks to prevent any violent act or word, no matter how insignificant it may be.

6. Be a positive role model by speaking out against sexual and gender-based violence.

Be aware of gender bias and ensure that treatment and relationships don’t discriminate or establish inequality between different genders. Avoid sexual violence at all costs and educate children regarding forms of gender-based violence.

7. Promote school safety mechanisms

Formulate and implement measures that prevent abuse of power and find viable mechanisms for reporting violence.

8. Provide safe and welcoming spaces for students

Clearly determine which places are safe and which are dangerous in the school. Based on this mapping, work on the construction of a safe where every space is safe.

9. Acquire violence prevention and conflict resolution skills and pass them on to students

To deal with bullying it’s important to receive information and training around conflict resolution through nonviolence, human rights, and peace education.

10. Recognize violence and discrimination against students with disabilities and those from indigenous, minority, and other marginalized communities.

Emphasize that we’re all different and, therefore, unique, and that diversity, respect, and non-discrimination are the way to guarantee peace.

School bullying is a tragedy that, in order to be detected and treated, needs the active participation of all the agents involved in the educational process, and neither silence nor shirking responsibilities will make it go away.

If there are children in the school with a disability, who show a sexual preference different from the mainstream, or who come from an ethnic group or minority, pay attention, accompany them, and actively promote education in human rights and diversity.

Preventing bullying

To deal with bullying and percent it, the key is teaching our children the values of respect and equality, encouraging communication, and generating a climate of trust in the family and at school, as well as getting to know their friends and their environment.

We can stop bullying by sharing the value of empathy and teaching our children to set limits. Explain to them what bullying is and warn them that confronting the bully is pointless and may even make things worse.

Advise them to be accompanied at all times and, perhaps most importantly, not to remain silent at the slightest hint of violence.

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The contents of You Are Mom is for educational and informational purposes only. At no time do they replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. If in doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.