boy bully

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For any parent, that first day of sending your child off to school can be positively nerve-wracking. Will my child make friends? Will he do OK in school? What will he do without me all day? And most kids do adapt to school well — falling into a normal and healthy school routine mere weeks after starting school for the first time. But for some, school can turn into a frightening place.

Years ago, it was thought that teasing was just a natural part of growing up. But over the past few decades, we have realized that teasing can have lasting effects, and if teasing turns into full-on bullying, the effects can be much worse. So how do you know if your child has become a victim of bullying? Here are some signs to look out for:

1. Is your child suddenly coming home from school very hungry? Often, bullies will take a child’s lunch or his lunch money. Is he missing items, such as school supplies or clothing, with no explanation? Sometimes bullies will take these items as a means of intimidation.

2. Is your child afraid to ride on the school bus? The bus to and from school can be a bullying hot spot since no teachers are present and the bus driver is preoccupied with (we hope) driving.

3. Is your child running to the bathroom right when he gets home? The bathroom can also be a prime bullying spot (since there’s only one way in and one way out and it’s hidden from teachers), so much so that a child who’s being bullied might avoid going to the bathroom during the school day altogether.

4. Is your child suddenly withdrawn, unexplainably moody or upset, or anxious? Does he seem clingy at the beginning of the day or say he doesn’t want to go to school a lot? Is he suddenly having trouble sleeping? All of these, as well any marked changes in your child’s personality, can be a sign that something is up.

It’s important to note that kids don’t always feel comfortable going to their parents with concerns about what’s been happening at school, and it’s hard for parents of bullying victims to know that something is even going on. That’s why it’s critical to get into the habit of talking to your child about their day and communicating with them about their daily life on a regular basis. This way, if something does come up, you’re more likely to notice a difference in what they say, or how they say it. Oftentimes a child will tell you more with their body language than with their words.

It’s also important to note that a child can experience the effects of bullying without being physically bullied. Kids (girls especially) can be ruthless to each other — excluding each other and making other kids feel left out and alone. An excellent book to learn more about dealing with this topic is "Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls" by Rachel Simmons.

If you do suspect a problem, speak up, either directly with your child’s teacher or an administrator. Often the school doesn’t even know what’s going on, and it’s good to enlist everyone’s help early, since bullying can turn severe quickly. Luckily, in many schools today, bullying seems to be a buzzword and one that teachers are often trained in workshops to identify and deal with. Find out if your school has an active anti-bullying program in place and if not, work to get one in order. Our kids will have enough reality to deal with later on in life — it’s important that we help to make their schools as fun, safe and warm an environment as possible.

Related bullying stories on MNN:

How to tell if your child is being bullied
Since kids don't always feel comfortable talking to their parents about tough times at school, here are signs to watch for.