Bullying is a pandemic in our many schools across the globe. Knowing this, we must do all that we can to help our children deal with the pressures that these harmful behaviors poses on their lives. Parents, we have a huge responsibility, but are we doing all that we can to intervene?
A few important questions
As a parent, are you aware of the anti-bullying laws and policies in place at your child's school? If so, how is it being enforced? If not, have you voiced your concerns and/or asked to work closely with school officials in hope to create anti-bullying procedures at your child's school? Do you know if school officials at your child's school are clear about what actually constitutes bullying behaviors?
In some cases, there are concerns about what constitutes bullying behaviors versus normal play, or friendly horsing around. I know that you have these concerns too, so I'll define what bullying is and what it looks like.
Bullying can take many forms. Here are the four ways bullying manifest itself:
Verbal: name calling, teasing, insulting, or threatening;
Physical: hitting, kicking, scratching, pushing, stealing, hiding/destroying someone else's property;
Social: refusing to talk to or play with someone, purposefully excluding someone;
Cyber: using electronics such as computer to write mean, demeaning messages about someone.
Signs of bullying to watch out for
Poor eating habits or asking to eat as soon as they get home because bully might have taken their lunch or lunch money
Torn clothes or mysterious bruises/scratches
Isolating self from others, looking lonely
A change in grades and poor grades
A sudden dislike for school
Exhibiting unfounded anxiety
Complaint of sick feelings - stomach aches, headaches
Asking not to go to school
Signs of threats or suicide
What to do if you believe your child is being bullied
Stop, Look & Listen NOW
Talk to your child. Ask him/her about their school day. Ask if there is anything that you should know. Your child must trust that you will drop whatever you are doing to see him/her through this crisis. Your child needs to know that you are listening to them; you hear their frustration and the pain that they are experiencing.
You may want to repeat what you heard them say to you, thereby acknowledging that you are really listening. Let your child know that you will be there for them "at all costs."
Get the story as clearly as possible from your child and document everything from your child's version of the bullying incidents to every conversation you have with school officials. Be sure to write things down as soon as an occurrence arises or a conversation happens. This way, incidents are still fresh in your child's mind.
You may want to keep documentation separated by tabs in a tablet or a notebook to maintain a distinct record of each person's story. It will be important to keep your child's version separate from a school official's so that messages don't end up overlapping, getting accidentally mixed-up or combined.
Have other students been affected by the bully or bullies who are attacking your child? If so, what are their names? Were there any witnesses to the incidents? If so, what are their names? Does your child remember which class the other students are enrolled in? Can your child point them out? Encourage school officials to interview other children who may have been bullied.
Use dates, times and settings in your documentation. Did the incident happen in the cafeteria, classroom, or playground? Detailed documentation will not only help school officials target bullying incidents, but it will also give school officials an indication of how best to resolve issues as they examine antecedents (causes/variables that may have prompted the bully to react inappropriately), so that changes and individually tailored support plans can be implemented.
Approach school staff immediately
Bullying will not stop on its own. Don't be afraid to approach school administrators.
You might find that some school officials and administrators may be territorial and believe that they are the educational experts, and you are "just a parent." Since you are your child's greatest advocate, here are a few ideas about how to approach the issue of your child being bullied while working collaboratively with school officials:
Do your research: you can assist school leaders with ideas of how to bully shield and bully proof the school that your child attends.
Approach the school leaders as if you are on their side: do what you can to avoid creating an adversarial relationship between you and the people who have the power to help stop what is happening
Let the school leaders know that you are not only concerned about your child, but all children enrolled at the school. This will soften your approach thereby giving you greater lead-in for support and next steps.
Begin speaking to the school counselor before working your way up the organizational chart.
When my own child was bullied at school, I spoke to the school principal directly. Due to budget cuts, this particular school had no assigned counselor. I approached the situation as a concern for the other child as well as my very own child. I said, "Perhaps this young girl is having personal problems in her home- something that is making her feel angry." Other times I would say, "Sounds like this child wants to take charge and is a bit bossy. Perhaps she can be shown how to use her leadership skills in a more positive and productive manner." By using this approach with the school principal, I believe that I softened the conversation, thereby gaining the principal's attention. It appeared that she was more willing to hear me. But, there are times when the school will not help.
What can you do then
Before I address this problem, I want to urge parents to always gather as much information about the school the first week or two of the new school year. This is the time when the climate is still warm and friendly, and stress levels aren't heightened due to the pressures of trying to keep up with everyday school life.
Know the district level office organizational chart and levels of administration assigned to your child's campus. Attempt to retrieve their contact information such as names, email addresses, voice mail, and telephone numbers, and perhaps location of their office - this is last resort and never show-up without an appointment.
When your child's school will not listen to you or help you through a bullying crisis, and you know that you have done your part, you have spoken to the classroom teacher, school counselor, assistant principal and principal if circumstances have taken you this far, you should contact central office staff and speak to your child's school assigned area superintendent.
Share your concerns and let this individual know that you have tried to work collaboratively with school officials. Trust me, now that bullying has gained national attention, there is no way that person won't listen to you.
In the USA, there are approximately 48 states that have laws mandating anti-bullying programs and services in schools, but some schools have been slow in implementing the programs. Be sure that you know the anti-bullying laws of your state (Bully Police, USA has a state by state listing of anti-bullying legislation).
When to call a lawyer
If you have gone through all the recommended steps above, more than likely you will not have to call a lawyer; however there may be times when your story will land on "deaf ears." If no one will listen to you, or if everyone has listened to you and they have chosen not to intervene, there is no more time to waste. You will want to get legal advice immediately.
Focus on your child
Remember, there are effective steps that you can take as your child's anti-bullying advocate. Consider the fact that bullying related suicides are real.
Stop whatever you're doing and act quickly on your child's behalf. Our children count on us to help them during crisis. This is not the time to put anything else before your child. Show your child that they can trust and count on you.
Find out more about Dr. Vasquez on her website www.cherryevasquez.tateauthor.com.
She is a public school administrator and an adjunct professor. She is a Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum & Instruction; a Master of Education in Special Education; and a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Pathology/Audiology. . Vasquez specializes in Multi-cultural education and holds certifications in Early Childhood Handicapped, Mid-Management and Educational Diagnostician.