If your child is being bullied by someone at school, you are understandably concerned. When you learn of this situation, there are two initial steps to take. The first is to remain calm. I realize that this may be easier said than done, but doing so will help your child trust you, as well as feel more comfortable coming to you in the future. The second step is to devise a plan to talk to the school about it.
It’s important to note that not all bullying requires reporting to your child’s school. You’ll need to use discretion and consider your child’s wants and needs. Because you want your child to continue to talk to you about these issues as they arise, you will want to weigh any request for discretion. Consider if the bullying is a short term problem or a problem that is ongoing or has the potential to escalate. Certainly if your child is receiving threats or is in danger, it is necessary to talk to the school.
If you do decide that you should contact the school, you should have one goal in mind: stopping the bullying behavior. When your child is the target of bullying, you will likely be mad and want to focus on who is right and who is wrong or to want to say that someone is the bad guy. In this respect, you might find yourself seeking punishment for the bully. However, punishment will not necessarily stop the bullying behaviors.
6 Tips For Talking to Schools About Bullying
1. Regardless of where it happened, talk to the school about it if the bullying was perpetrated by a classmate
If the bullying happened outside of school, such as online or off campus, parents often wonder if they should still talk to the school about it. The answer is yes! If you know that the bullying is happening outside of school, it is likely happening during school as well.
2. Make an appointment
It’s best to call ahead versus showing up without an appointment. When you call, be up front about the purpose of the meeting. Some schools have a plan in place to handle these types of situations and may have a person that specifically addresses such issues. If they don’t have a specific person identified, one idea is to schedule an appointment with someone at the school that your child trusts. It could be a teacher or guidance counselor.
3. Before the meeting
You’ll want to write down the details of the bullying and gather any evidence. This could include text messages, letters, online comments or pictures. It is also helpful to review the school’s student handbook to familiarize yourself with their policies about bullying, harassment and intimidation. Once you’ve done that, write a list of goals for the conversation, such as how you’d like to work with the school and what you expect from them.
4. During the meeting
Staying calm is important here. You will accomplish more and the school will be more likely to listen if you are not upset, angry or judgmental. Also, before the meeting begins, request that they keep the conversation and names as private as possible. Keep the discussion as factual as possible:
- Explain what happened, when, where and who was involved.
- Describe how this is impacting your child at home.
- Clarify what your goals are: stopping the bullying. Sometimes schools can get focused on who started the issue and punishment. This might not help with actually stopping the bullying. Help them to focus on the goal of making a plan to stop the bullying first and then deal with any other issues such as punishment.
- Inquire about your child’s behavior at school, such as grades, skipping class, not attending lunch. This will help you understand how the bullying is affecting your child.
- Create next steps and a timeline with the school. They may need 3-5 days to do their own investigation and work through problems. Write everything down during the meeting and have everyone sign it or get verbal agreements from those with action steps.
- Ask for a contact person so that you can be aware of the progress. Get his or her email or phone number and only use it if the school is not keeping you up-to-date or if the bullying happens again.
- Request for a teacher or counselor to keep an eye out for your child to give a place of refuge if it happens again.
5. After the meeting
If your child did not attend the meeting with you, explain what happened. Write down who was in attendance, what happened during the meeting and next steps.
6. If it continues
If the bullying does not stop after working through the agreed plan or the agreed plan is not executed, schedule a meeting with the principal. Explain what was discussed at the meeting(s) and the objectives. Ask what else can be done. If you are still receiving little to no help, don’t hesitate to contact the compliance officer, superintendent, board of education members, or the school district. Further, familiarize yourself with state and federal laws on bullying, harassment and intimidation here.
Our team at Cincinnati Children’s has created the Girls Guide to End Bullying, a program to help children, teens, parents and teachers learn about and stop bullying. The tips and strategies discussed above are available to you in our parent manual, where they are discussed in greater detail and include accompanying materials.