Last week, I discussed five bullying scenarios and five possible responses your child can take. Each one of those responses included the child “reporting” the incident to both parents and school staff. Let’s discuss some steps for the parents to take once a bullying incident takes place.
First and most importantly, long before your child needs to come and talk with you about a potentially “touchy,” serious or embarrassing situation, be sure you have developed an atmosphere where your child feels safe and comfortable when coming to talk with you about such things. This is even more important as they get into their teen years. If you mess up on this point, you’ll end up with a teen that won’t come to talk with you about things like drugs, sex and moral issues. They’ll turn to their friends, who don’t have any more experience in these matters than they do.
How do you create this safe and comfortable environment? Simple. 1) Make time for your child when they need you, not just when it’s convenient for you. 2) Always speak respectfully with you child, don’t yell, scream or talk down to them. 3) Never “blow up” at your child or speak to them from a place of anger.
If you’re the type of parent who yells and screams, gets inappropriately angry and punishes heavily, then why on Earth would your child ever bring an issue to discuss with you in the first place? This step is more important that anything else in this article, because without this, your child will never come talk with you.
At first mention that your child has been bullied by someone at school, sit down and have a discussion with them. Ask leading questions designed to help your child completely and accurately explain the situation. Have your child explain it several times to be sure your child is clear about the events and that the story makes sense. Yes, children do lie about such things. Either for attention, to divert blame from themselves for something or to get someone else in trouble – watch out for this. Other questions you could ask are, “Is this the first time this person has bullied you?” “What is the name of the bully?” “Have you seen this person bully others?” “How old is the bully?”
Once you have a good grasp of the details, ask your child if they have done anything to instigate this problem. Name calling, pushing, hiding belongings, spreading rumors, etc. It is important to understand if your child has any culpability in the situation before going on to the next step. If they have been engaging in any of these activities, counsel them to stop immediately. Let them know it’ll be much more difficult to resolve the issue if they keep ‘adding fuel to the fire’ so to speak. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that they are not.
Write the details in a letter to be presented to the Principal and mail (not email) a copy to the Superintendent of schools and get “return receipt confirmation.” This means someone actually has to sign for it when it gets delivered. Your goal is to document the situation in case you need to go beyond the school system to resolve the issue.
If this is one of the first incidents of bullying with your child, a phone call to the Principal to discuss the situation is probably a sufficient first step. However, if this has been going on for a while and you are just finding out about it, I would recommend you get an appointment with the Principal and your child’s teacher for a face-to-face meeting. You have to get the point across that you are taking this matter very seriously and that you expect them to do the same.
Explain the situation to them and ask what specific steps they will take to insure a healthy learning environment for your child. Let’s be clear, the administration already knows who the bullies are in their school, and this is probably not the first incident involving this bully. Require a written confirmation of your discussion, along with written confirmation of what they plan to do to rectify the situation.
If the administration is on the ball, this is the only step you’ll need to take. If not, and the situation does not get resolved immediately (i.e. the following week) your next step is a face-to-face meeting with both the Superintendent and Principal. Be sure to mention that this is the second meeting you’re having and that you don’t expect to need to have a third. Require another letter, this time from the Superintendent. If the situation continues, then it’s time to retain a lawyer and contact the media. Don’t be shy about making a “big deal” out of the situation. It is a big deal and your child is worth it. The time between your first request for a meeting with the Principal and getting a lawyer should be weeks, not months. After all, how long should it take to get a child to stop bullying other children?
One final note – if your child is being physically bullied and the first go around with the school doesn’t resolve the situation, then I would also make a call to the local police. No one has a right to touch your child, let alone assault them.