5 Questions to Ask to Find Out if Your Child is Being Bullied

8/18/22

The signs of bullying can be subtle in the beginning but the impacts at any point in time can be profound.

Perhaps you've noticed your bright, chipper child has become sullen and quiet, distracted, bored, or disrespectful. Maybe their sleep patterns are disrupted or they're having nightmares. Or they've developed symptoms of anxiety before interactions with certain people or before going to certain places. They seem to be missing belongings, or their stuff is damaged for no reason they've offered. They have bruises they can’t or don’t want to explain and suddenly have countless reasons why they can’t go to school tomorrow.

As a parent, you can tell something is going on and want to help your struggling student, but you're unsure how to approach it. Kids, especially teenagers and pre-teens, can already be tough nuts to crack in the conversation department.

But here's the facts: 20% of kids between the ages of 12 and 18 say they've experienced bullying.

Without diving in deeper, you may mistake a child's sudden behavior changes—including poor academic performance—for "normal kid stuff" when really, they are victims of bullying.

Types of bullying

Unfortunately, bullying has evolved over time and takes on many forms.

While physical bullying—“beating someone up,” hitting, punching— certainly still exists, being harassed at school can take on verbal (name calling, teasing, threats) or emotional (manipulation, social exclusion) forms as well.

Students can also be subjected to bullying through sexual abuse, racism, cyberbullying (hate messages, threats, impersonation, and any other abuse delivered via the internet or social media), or hazing (purposefully targeting someone who’s recently joined a group, such as a new classmate or sports team member, or those new to high school).

The first and most important step is encouraging your child to open up in a safe space about what they are experiencing. Here are five questions to ask your child if you think they're being bullied that can help them feel more comfortable starting a dialogue:

Question 1: What’s your high and low for today? (a.k.a The Rose and Thorn Game)

You may be familiar with this question as the Rose and Thorn Game, where The Rose (the high) is a success—a good grade earned, a funny or proud moment, or anything positive that stands out as the best thing to happen today.

The Thorn (the low) is then something that confused, challenged, saddened, or frustrated you for the day. It’s simply meant to initiate a conversation about what your child enjoyed at school and what they didn’t. They may see this as an opportunity to share about a bullying encounter.

If your child is not always naturally forthcoming in conversation, be sure to share first to show them you’re engaged and present in the moment with them.

For example: “My low was that the traffic on the way to work made me late, and my high is that I have some time to sit down and catch up with you before it’s time to start dinner.”

Question 2: How do you like your class? Do you like your classmates?

Bullying can happen around every corner in school, including the hallways. In fact, stairwells are where 43.4% of students say they experience bullying. But it isn't always easy to discern where and when the bullying occurs without trying for details.

Ask about each class in the day, maybe even saying, "Walk me through your day. Which route do you take to get from Class A to Class B?" or "Do you have familiar students in each class?" This can help you gauge whether it's the people in certain classes, the journey between classes, or something else.

You could instead ask what their favorite and least favorite subjects are so far—bullying may be staining their impression of a certain class or subject. Keep the conversation flowing as much as possible. It isn't intended to be a one-time exercise. What your child says today may very well build on what they said yesterday.

Question 3: A coworker knows a family that might be moving to the area, and they have a student in your grade. Do you think they’d like it at your school?

This may not entirely represent a truthful scenario, but if you want to identify bullying, this question may encourage your child to give an honest review of their school environment in order to protect another student from encountering it.

If several of their classmates are relentless bullies or if they’re miserable daily, your child probably isn’t going to recommend their school to a new student. Depending on their answer, you can ask for more information.

Question 4: I saw an article today about kids being mean on Instagram and Snapchat. What’s that all about? Have you ever experienced it?

In the teenage world, trends and slang are outdated as quickly as they rise to popularity. The term cyberbullying is actually already a decade old, if not more, and for young people, it can sound ironically reminiscent of the MySpace and AOL chatroom days.

If you ask your teen about cyberbullying, they may scoff and roll their eyes at your outdated lingo—yes, even if you’ve only just learned the word in your bullying research!

“Bullying” itself may even be a word that triggers a sarcastic or defensive response from your child. Depending on your relationship, you can make the conversation as cheeky or dry as you’d like by instead asking about kids that are being mean, jerks, losers—or whatever terms are acceptable in your household.

Question 5: Would you switch schools next year if you could?

When you ask this question, be sure you take non-verbals into account as well. See if you can pull more than a yes or no if that is all they are offering in response.

Is your child desperate for an out from their current situation at school? If they love their classes and teachers, and have a solid social life, they’re going to vehemently reject the idea of transplanting and starting anew. But maybe, if your family moves often or the circumstances are new, your child will need time to think about it a bit.

If a student dreads walking through the halls every day, but they haven't yet told you, this may be the question that provides them with a perceived opportunity for changing their circumstances. A student who loves where they are will absolutely not want to leave and will likely easily share the reasons why. If the idea elicits silence, it may be that they are thinking about it, recognizing that you are willing to talk about such a change. Don't be afraid to allow them the time and space to think about it by offering to pick the conversation up later—perhaps over ice cream or during an evening walk.

How learning from home can help

If you’ve determined bullying is happening at your child’s school, the next step is figuring out how to address it.

You may want to march up to the school and demand action from administration and the perpetrator’s parents—and maybe you did, but still, no improvement has been made. Maybe your child was subject to something deeply traumatic and they want to drastically change their learning environment so they feel safe.

A virtual learning environment can help with bullying prevention. Students learn from the safety of their own home, or wherever they feel most secure, with an asynchronous format to allow for flexibility. Our secure, private social network and monitored Friday hangouts help ensure student connections are safe.

Want to learn more? Check out our parent resources for more information on how we together can support your child’s academic progress and goals for the future as well as their overall happiness.