Your child has opened up to you that he is being bullied at school. Now what? If you feel less-than prepared to handle this situation, you’re not alone. Although most schools are becoming responsive to bullying behavior (and are likely required to by state law) some are still not doing enough to promote open communication between parents, teachers, students and administrators.
With your child’s trust in hand, schedule an appointment with your child’s teacher. It’s best to do this shortly after your first inclination that something is wrong. Explain the situation to them and don’t be surprised if they have no idea that the situation is happening. Often, bullies don’t act up in front of adults, and some of them are very good at keeping their bullying a secret.
Explain clearly the information as you understand it (it may help to document what your child has shared with you). Ask what the teacher (or other school personnel) has witnessed on playgrounds or in other classes. Listen closely to the teacher’s reply. It is important to discern their impression of the situation.
At this step, some parents learn that what’s going on isn’t bullying at all, but conflict between their child and another student. Conflicts between peers are frequent and require different resolution steps than bullying. If your conversation with the teacher confirms that bullying could be happening, make sure the two of you plan steps to ensure the bullying will stop. Document what the teacher is sharing with you and schedule a time in the near future to meet again and follow-up to make sure the situation has gotten better.
You may also want to speak with your child’s guidance counselor. Ask them if they’ve noticed a difference in your child, if they’ve witnessed or heard about any bullying directed towards them. Again, don’t be surprised if they haven’t noticed. Take time to find out from the counselor what bullying prevention programs are in place, and note any policy or procedural steps you can review with your child (as in who takes reports of bullying at school and how they can make those reports without fear of retaliation).
If these preliminary steps do not help, continue to document the experiences of your child. Make another appointment with the school administrator, show them your documentation and tell them about your previous talks with teachers or counselors. Ask them what they plan to do to keep your child safe. If the school hasn’t been trained in bullying prevention, they may suggest getting your child and the bully into the same room to “talk it out.” Don’t let this happen.
Again, bullying is not conflict. Instead, suggest that administration speaks directly with the student(s) who are doing the bullying and with their parents, letting them know that bullying behavior isn’t accepted in the school and why this behavior is considered bullying.
Have you spoken to your child’s school about bullying? What programs do they have in place? Or are they avoiding the situation?