What can possibly be more stressful than learning that your child is being bullied at school? Your natural protective instincts kick in. You want the bully (or bullies) dealt with, now. You’re focused on making it stop before the situation gets any worse. But, what’s the best way to go forward? As a bully prevention speaker, I’ve presented to over 200 schools and more than 200,000 audience members. I was a teacher for more than 20 years. I’m also a parent. I understand both the parents and the school’s point of view. Talking to the school calls for a clear head and a calm tone. Here are a few helpful steps in the process:
Talking to the School About Bullying
1. Understand what bullying is and what it isn’t.
A key first step is understanding what constitutes bullying. Often one or more elements are missing in a situation which some people label as “bullying.” It’s an important exercise to discuss whether the behavior is repeated, meant to do harm, and exists within a power imbalance. Preparing yourself and your child with the knowledge to be able to diagnose whether or not they are truly experiencing bullying is a crucial skill.
2. Give your child support, input, and hope.
If your child has been the target of bullying behavior, they are undoubtedly stressed and anxious. Often, they are frightened about what will come next. It may have taken every ounce of courage for them just to talk with an adult. What is immediately important is to assure them there isn’t something wrong with them and that you will be there to help them through the process. Listen to them, ask them how they would like to proceed and give them reassurance.
3. Breathe deep and count to 10.
Serving the role of Mama or Papa Bear is natural. You’d love nothing more than to let out a ferocious growl in hopes of protecting or getting immediate results on behalf of your son or daughter. But is that growl going to result in your being viewed as irrational? It certainly works counter to our nature, but the best way to be taken seriously by others is to do our best to be calm and have a discussion with those involved.
4. Make a list of dates and incidents.
Simple pieces of information gathered in an organized way can be a huge help when you talk to the school. That being said, you don’t have to create a certified document signed by a notary public. Simply write down dates, places, and behaviors. This will give you factual information for reference and allow you to remain relatively calm, particularly when you’re in Mama or Papa Bear mode. Additionally, establishing a record of repetitive acts is important for the discussion of bullying behaviors.
5. Ask for a meeting.
All schools appreciate when you follow the chain of command. If the behavior typically occurs in a specific teacher’s class, begin by requesting a meeting with that teacher. Note the specifics of the meeting including steps going forward. Within the meeting, establish a follow-up and if you don’t see results, go further up that chain of command. Finally, understand that schools often can’t legally share everything with you, but don’t be shy about being a respectfully persistent advocate for your child.
6. Request separate meetings.
Tensions are high. Anxiety fills the room. Whether it’s students, parents, or a combination of both, nearly everyone sees the behaviors leading to this moment in a different light. Now is not the time for raised voices, labels, and accusations. Additionally, one of the three elements of bullying is a power imbalance. With all in the same room, the intimidated child will go silent, and a child who has bullied may feel even more empowered. Insist on separate meetings.
Responding as a Concerned Parent
Understand that a school’s response to bullying might not take the form or timeline you envision. Schools must examine the situation from multiple perspectives. Still, your response to the situation must be calm and measured throughout the process. By taking the time to get and keep your composure, you will be a more effective advocate for your child.
Ultimately, you certainly would like to see the bullying behavior stopped and hope the school will do everything in its power to address the issue. I can tell you that overwhelmingly schools have this concern for all parties involved. As stressful as it is, a situation has presented itself which may help everyone become more aware and supportive. In fact, handled properly, working with students, adults, and schools through a bullying incident can be an empowering exercise.