Posted by Barbara F. Meltz


How do you know when someone is bullying you? Is it possible that you may be perceiving their actions wrong? Is it bullying or just rude behavior? How can you tell if the person claiming to of been bullied is just insecure or an overly sensitive type?

I have been wondering about this for my own children and at a loss for words.

Bergette, Bellingham, MA

Hi Bergette,

You raise a good question, of course: if a child is overly sensitive, how can we be sure his description of what’s happening is accurate?

The answer is, it doesn’t matter. It’s the child’s perception that counts.

If a child insists there’s a monster under the bed, do you tell him there’s no such thing as a monster and leave him screaming and terrified in his room? Or do you check for the monster in all the places he thinks it may be hiding until he’s satisfied that it’s safe to sleep?

It’s true that he may be blowing something out of proportion; kids often do that, anyway, because they are, well, kids; they lack experience, maturity and a sense of context. It’s also true that some kids will do anything for attention from their parents, including saying things that aren’t true.

Here’s the bottom line: It’s our job as parents to keep our children safe.

If your child is frightened of another child, he’s frightened of that child. Period. Doesn’t matter if the child is teasing or actually mean, or if the behavior was accidental or intentional.

You can help some children by giving them rules or guidelines: If the person is smiling, he’s probably joking. If he’s angry looking, he’s probably mad. But kids who have trouble reading social cues (and a child doesn’t need to be on the Autistic Spectrum to have trouble with this; many kids do) often need professional guidance around this. Ask your guidance department for some suggestions.

Meanwhile, Have you noticed changes in your child’s behavior? In sleep or eating patterns, in moods, or ability to concentrate on homework? Has he lost interest in something he typically likes? Is he withdrawn instead of outgoing at home? Any of these, but especially a combination of them, can be a tip-off that something is upsetting.

And don’t discount this: If he’s complained about a bully and you question his credibility, your skepticism alone can be upsetting: “Not even mom believes me.”

Talk to the teachers and to the principal for thoughts and suggestions; with the new state law, teachers and faculty are receiving training and getting better at being able to recognize bullying, and know what to do about it. Talk more to your child. Just don’t ignore it. Even if what he describes as bullying only turns out to be teasing, you will have a basis for helping him in the future.