Warning signs of Bullying

There are a range of telltale signs, or symptoms, which indicate that bullying behaviour might be taking place, from the perspective of both victim and perpetrator.

It is important to note, however, that some of these warning signs may be caused by other problems and any sudden, unexplained changes in a child’s behaviour is an important sign of distress and should be checked out.

Also, many bullied children do not show signs of being bullied and may be deliberately hiding the fact from parents, teachers and others for different reasons. Parents who communicate constantly with their children about their experience at school are more likely to notice any subtle changes in attitude or mood.

The warning signs in both cases can generally be classified according to:

  • The Bullied: Physical Signs / Emotional/Psychological Signs / School-related Signs
  • The Bully: Physical Signs / Emotional/Psychological Signs / School-related Signs 


The Bullied: Physical Signs

  • Unexplained injuries such as bruises, cuts, scratches, sprains or torn clothing;
  • Unexplained loss or damage to personal belongings or money;
  • Hunger/thirst due to loss of lunch money;
  • Pattern of frequent minor illnesses, headaches, stomach aches;
  • Not eating or being obsessive about appearance;
  • Obsession about cleanliness;
  • Speech impediments such as stuttering or stammering;
  • Asking for extra money or stealing money, sweets, food (to pay off a bully);
  • Regressive behaviour such as bedwetting;
  • Artwork expressing inner turmoil.

The Bullied: Emotional/Psychological Signs

  • Avoiding friends and/or other children;
  • Uncharacteristic outbursts of anger or bullying of siblings;
  • Becoming “clingy” and seeking attention;
  • Reluctance or refusal to discuss the problem and lying to parents;
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns (unable to sleep, nightmares, lack or appetite or throwing up);
  • Marked changes in attitude, dress or habits;
  • Becoming withdrawn or moody;
  • Dropping usual hobbies or interests;
  • Loss of confidence, self-esteem & excessive sensitivity to criticism;
  • Excessive tearfulness or crying to sleep;
  • Wanting to be alone;
  • Implied or overt threats of suicide.

The Bullied: School-related Signs

  • Unwillingness or refusal to go to school or avoiding particular days or lessons;
  • Coming home from school in a bad mood and refusing to say why;
  • Feeling relieved at the end of the school week and during school holidays;
  • Fear of walking to or from school and crying before/after school;
  • Requesting drives to school or supervision from parents;
  • Changing the route to school and avoiding regular times of travelling to and from school;
  • Staying extra close to teachers;
  • Lingering behind in school after classes are over;
  • Punctuality problems;
  • Deterioration in schoolwork, loss of concentration and enthusiasm and interest in school;
  • Visiting the school nurse more often complaining of illness and wanting parents to come to collect them;
  • Reduced number of friends visiting, phoning, and fewer invitations to social events;
  • Being excluded from groups or a reluctance to participate in previously enjoyed social activities;
  • Not being chosen for sports teams;
  • An uneasiness about joining children in less supervised surroundings;
  • Complaining of illness before school events;
  • Out-of-character comments about students or teachers and behaviour in class;
  • Abusive phone calls.


The Bully: Physical Signs

  • Showing aggressiveness towards other children, parents and teachers;
  • Evidence that they have been involved in a fight or picking on weaker students;
  • Displaying deliberately robust behaviour such as extremely hard tackling in sports, tripping people or causing injuries;
  • Being involved in vandalism, anti-social behaviour or being in trouble with the police;
  • Belonging to an aggressive gang and spending little time at home;
  • Having money or possessions they can’t account for.

The Bully: Emotional/Psychological Signs

  • Short temper and violent outbursts;
  • Over-reacting to criticism and a tendency to believe others are hostile towards them;
  • Enjoying the suffering of others and needing to dominate;
  • Disrespectful attitude towards others including the elderly;
  • Unwilling to share or include others;
  • Cruelty to animals;
  • Lack of genuine friendships or having ones based on fear

The Bully: School-related Signs

  • Engaged in disruptive behaviour at school;
  • Being put on detention or suspended for fighting;
  • Complaints or changes in attitude from teachers and other parents;
  • Requests from other pupils to be moved away from a child in class.

Read about the Effects of Bullying.