5 Tips for Recognizing Bullying Behavior and Avoiding Childhood Trauma


Even the mention of bullying can be a trigger for many. The physical and probably most importantly, the psychological impacts of bullying can shape the course of a child’s life. And, the very real truth is, bullying doesn’t always end in childhood. It’s vital for parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, and adults to understand and recognize bullying behavior, in both face-to-face and online environments, in order to help children navigate the situations during which they may encounter these behaviors.

Bullying is any type of repeated, unwanted aggressive behavior creating a power imbalance. It can happen at any age or stage of life, but it is particularly prominent in the lives of children. According to the CDC, 20 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 18 say they have experienced bullying.

Recognizing Bullying Behavior

Bullying behaviors often present in three ways: Physical, verbal, and relational.

  • Physical can include pushing, punching, hitting, or even unwanted sexual advances.
  • Verbal includes name-calling and/or threats to the mental or physical safety of others.
  • Relational includes spreading rumors or intentionally excluding people from conversations or activities.

Bullying in a virtual environment, often through social media or text messaging, is known as cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is especially difficult in that it occurs inside a realm that children, and even many adults, tend to see as having different rules than those that happen face-to-face. Cyberbullies often take advantage of the 24/7 nature of the online environment, leaving victims feeling like they have no time or place where they can be free of it. In addition, cyberbullies often feel they have free rein to say what they want, without a filter or with little to no regard for consequences.

Bullies can operate as individuals or groups.

In general, a bully likes to control or feel superior to others through their actions, they struggle with empathy, choose their timing to exclude adults, and do not accept responsibility or understanding of consequences. They usually see weaker kids as vulnerable to their techniques. This doesn’t mean each bully fits all of these tendencies. The bully and their strategy can be as varied as their reasoning and tendencies. Bullying can also be very open in nature or sneaky.

Watching for Changes in Your Child.

Some children are very open and willing to communicate with adults if they’re the target of bullying. Other children may instead retreat into seclusion over embarrassment or fear. This is especially true for children who are shy or introverted, to begin with. Take a moment to assess the following:

  • Have you noticed your child no longer looks forward to specific activities?
  • Does your child complain of headaches or stomach aches before attending these activities?
  • Has your child expressed an increase of fear or worries about specific places or situations?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it’s important to dig deeper. First, though, let your child know you are present and listening. Reach out to their teacher(s), volunteers, or other adults who are in the environment where your child seems leery. Have they noticed what you are noticing? Have they observed any bullying behaviors that involve your child? It is important to truly listen to what is being said and communicated by all involved in order to best help your child. If your child reveals there is bullying occurring, it’s important to help them feel safe and affirm that you are going to help them through the situation. This is an opportunity to develop strategies with your child that they can continue to use as they grow and mature.

Addressing Bullying and Changing the Narrative

Talk through different ways they can respond to a bully.

This can include calmly but clearly telling the bully to stop or simply walking away from and avoiding the bully then finding a responsible adult to report the situation. As you talk with your child, they may describe specific scenarios that are already occurring. Ask for details of the interactions – where it happened, who was present, what was said – so you can understand the situation and offer guidance. This type of role-playing gives children an opportunity to practice their responses in a safe way and under your direction.

Remind them adults do care!

Hopefully, they already see you as a safe person to confide in their bullying concerns. It can also include adults at school or at activities who they trust to help them. Sometimes the battles with a bully may seem too overwhelming for a child or young adult still trying to figure out their coping skills and what’s appropriate in a situation. They should always feel comfortable approaching a trusted adult for their help in the situation.

One resource is StopBullying.gov. It includes information on recognizing behaviors associated with bullying as well as recommendations for coping strategies. Your family health care provider also has resources and recommendations, including opportunities for counseling and further talking through mental health challenges at different developmental stages.

As an online K–12 provider with more than 30 years of experience, we recognize the value and importance of a virtual education option for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is the environment itself. If you're looking for an opportunity for your child beyond the brick-and-mortar options, register for one of our virtual open house events.