REALITY CHECK: A meta-analysis of over 600 studies on bullying found that a key to reducing peer cruelty is parent education.
I’ve worked in bullying prevention with hundreds of schools around the world as well as on 18 US Army bases and I find the same thing no matter where I am: parent education must be a component in effective bullying prevention. In fact, the sooner we engage and educate parents about the dynamics of bullying and the most effective strategies to reduce it, the better we can help all our children-bullies, targets and bystanders.
Working as a home-school team to reduce aggressive behaviors and increase compassion, respect and tolerance always maximizes results.
I’ve included 17 ways I’ve seen schools and communities involve parents in bullying prevention. I’ve learned that there is no right way to strengthen the home-school connection about bullying prevention. Home-grown and organic strategies are always better, and when students are involved it strengthens your efforts even more.
One of the most unique ideas for parent engagement was in the Northern Lights School Division in Alberta. The middle school staff “bonded” with the local Denny’s restaurant because the principal knew that was the place her parents were most likely to take their kids out to dinner. The staff had students design “placemats” (out of white construction paper with colored marking pens) that included the signs and definition of bullying. Denny’s managers then served their customers meals on those placemats and the whole community learned about bullying. Brilliant!
The best approach is to use multi-methods of parent engagement and assess which are most effective at your particular site. Here are a few of the most promising strategies I’ve seen with schools around the globe and the best part is none of them cost a dime!
1. Set Early Parent-Teacher Conferences
Set convenient times, break down “fear factor,” star on positive goals: “How can we help?” “Anything I should know?” Identify vulnerable kids, and give parents specific solutions. Utilize those conferences (and all conferences) as the opportunity to educate parents about bullying. Target one issue (such as signs of bullying or how to report bullying) so that all staff distribute the same form and discuss the same bullying issue to keep the community on the same page. Then ask your local newspaper to print it as well.
2. Post Signs of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying Everywhere!
Beware that most parents (and teachers) misinterpret the signs of bullying and cyber-bullying. Post signs in classrooms, office, email blasts, on walls, in newsletters. Early and correct identification is key. And students can be responsible for making those posters! But don’t stop with your school. Make extra copies to give to pediatricians, youth ministers, coaches, scout masters, Boys and Girls Clubs. Flood your walls in your community!
3. Use Student Venues
Have a session addressing both kids and parents at the same time so everyone “hears” the same message. Session topics might include: how to stand up to peer pressure, say “No” to a bully, learn conflict resolution, etc. Use the joint venue to share student bullying survey results, school bullying prevention rules, district procedures for students or parents to report bullying incidents or announce to all in attendance your new anti-bullying policy. Have parents and kids sign the bullying pledge together at the venue. Consider inviting the media to record the event.
Involve your students! Empower them to stop bullying. Athletes, cheerleaders, student council, band, club members, theatre, robotics teams, debate…expand your bullying prevention teams to include students who represent every clique and niche. Involve them, you’ll involve their parents!
4. Hold an After School Bullying Workshop or Event
Schedule a student performance to be followed by a speaker for parents on bullying. Parents are more likely to stay because their kids are involved in the performance. Use your students in your events. Make sure all students have a chance to be involved. Utilize their talents such as in plays, art, theatre, sports, essay contests all around the theme of bullying. (Consider having the local newspaper publish the best student essays about bullying. Those always generate community interest and buy-in for bullying prevention).
5. Offer Kid Incentives to Get Parents to Attend Your Bullying Education Event
Find creative ways to get kids to get parents to attend:
Give a “no homework pass” for the weekend or one night if the parent attends; offer a free entry to a school dance or a movie during school if the parent attends; provide free pizza to the class who has the largest number of attendees. Raymond Cree Middle School did this in Palm Springs. The school had a packed auditorium!
6. Survey Parent Concerns and Weave Them Into the Session
Make sure your content is relevant to your parents concerns and depict their interests (based on survey results). Then weave bullying education into any session based on your parents’ requests. (Cyberbullying is always a hot topic as well as learning the signs of bullying. Teach what parents want!) I learned this in Florida. The schools were so concerned that parents weren’t showing up to their events, and then they surveyed the parents! Most could NOT come to those evening events so they switched the times to morning coffees, lunch, after school. Parents came in mass number!
- Find the time your parents can come.
- Use parent-led phone trees or email exchanges. Stockton Unified administrators found that most parents could not attend sessions due to no transportation, and so school buses were provided.
- Accommodate language needs. The Stockton Unified session also had 9 different translators to accommodate the parents’ language needs. Meet your parents’ needs!
- Survey your parents to find out what topics they want to hear!
7. Have “Students Educate Parents” About Bullying
Kids can teach parents the bully-prevention strategies learned at school, and then post at home as reminder.
Video the students and send it home on flash-drives. Parents will watch their children! (I saw this in Colombia and it was powerful!)
8. Do Make and Take Sessions That Involve Parents AND Students
Invite parents to work with their kids to make bully proofing tips, bulletin boards depicting bullying themes, or anti-bullying posters. Your students will educate your parents!
One of the most successful events I’ve ever done was a cross-country tour of Canada. I stopped to speak in each main city about bullying. Parents and their children showed up. I had pre-trained Boys and Girls Club Directors and teachers about bullying-prevention strategies. They worked with the children in a room next door while I addressed the parents about the same strategies. Then the students and parents joined together and all were now on the same page. Brilliant idea, Canada!
9. Send Home Refrigerator Reminders
Create mini posters, magnets or 8 1/2 x 11” worksheets that reinforce the bully prevention skill taught at school. Send the tips/magnets home for parent to post as reminders to reinforce at home. A school district in Ottawa tried this approach: every refrigerator in that community had the definition of bullying and where to report it on a magnet.
10. Try Webinars or Video Presentations
Survey parent top concerns such as anger management, Internet safety, how to spot a bully, bullying signs, bully-proofing strategies, depression signs. Offer shorter 10-minute videotaped modules with simple strategies and one-page tip sheets. Post them on school websites. Have kids create you-tube tapes about bullying education. Help parents learn new behavior strategies in a format that they will use and in a time frame that is convenient.
11. Hold Family-Teacher Movie Nights
Rent one movie about bullying (“Rats and Bullies,” “Bully,” “Bullied to Silence,” etc). and then ask the local theatre if you can show the movie one night as a community event.
Discuss the movie as a community and what you can do to help students. Many principals have told me this is a key community event. Often the local theatre donates their venue and the turnout is huge…parents, students, educators and the community watching and talking together!
12. Hold a Student-run Bullying Assembly and Video for Absentee Parents
Show the video clips on local TV stations, on school halls using an LCD projector, posted on your school website for parents to experience the event. (Do invite parents to the school assembly as well for those who can come).
Again, send a DVD or flash-drive of the bullying assembly home with your students. Assign it as homework: require parents and child to view the assembly together accompanied by a one-sheet of pre-set questions designed by the teacher for the parent to discuss with kids.
13. Display Bully-Proofing Education at a Variety of Venues
Use the “advertising” model: flood your walls, halls, marques, flagpoles, websites, etc., with bullying information that is ideally made by your students. Provide display tables or shelves of games, DVDs and books for parents on bullying resources to check out. Give the local librarian a list of children/parenting books about bullying to display. Post your definition on your school screen savers as well!
14. Send Student-Created Newsletters or Posters About Bullying to Parents
Assign students the task of researching the signs of bullying and its impact. Have students create your newsletters, press releases, website or email blasts. Not only will parents be more likely to read the notices (“I made it, MOM!”) but it may also help boost their understanding about bullying dynamics. Think of a science fair – but instead of the posters being about science, have the students study the effects of bullying on their emotional and physical well-being. Then post those everywhere!
15. Do Weekend Bullying Prevention Events With Parents and Students
Hold fundraisers for more bullying prevention resources such as car washes, luncheons, pancake breakfasts. Get parents and students involved together creating signs and banners to stop bullying. In fact, involve your students in educating the community about bullying. Don’t stop with parents! Consider: youth coaches, scouting leaders, police, youth ministers, youth leaders, restaurant owners, businesses, etc. Get everyone on the same page!
16. Partner with Local Media
Find ways to mobilize your local press and media to support your bully-proofing efforts so parents can read about the events in the local paper or view on your television. Ask the local newspaper to print your anti-bullying policies in the newspaper and cover any school events related to bullying prevention on the TV or radio. Give newspaper reporters tips on bully proofing, signs of bullying, etc. to post in their paper. Ask reporters to interview students. Ask local radio or television stations to broadcast bullying events or consider partnering with students (who can become reporters about bullying prevention progress). The best ideas I’ve seen here are when students write the articles. Parents will read them!
17. Initiate Parent Monthly Book Clubs
Lead or initiated by school counselors or psychologist or suggested by teachers where parents read in clubs (or solo) about bullying prevention topics. I just visited a school district in Milwaukee where the entire community (business, school, parents, coaches) were reading Mindset by Carol Dweck. Imagine if an entire community would read and discuss one book about bullying together! Get educated! Talk!
- Mother-Daughter Book Clubs. Moms and their daughters read and discuss relevant titles together such as Queen Bees and Wannabes or Girl Wars. Helpful resources to get started a Mother-Daughter Book Club started include: Book by Book: Mother-Daughter Book Clubs, The Mother Daughter Book Club, The Mother-Daughter Project. Suggest books that hold kids’ (YA) interests: I Am Number Four, Stargirl, Trapped, Speak, Don’t Know, Hate List
- Parent Book Clubs. Suggest interested parents join together monthly, quarterly or yearly to read and discuss a book about bullying relevant to the ages of the children such as Bullied by Carrie Goldman, The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander by Barbara Coloroso or Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons.
- Parent-Child Reading Program. Stock your school library with relevant children’s literature selections about bully prevention (such as Bullies Are A Pain in the Brain or Confessions of a Former Bully). Create discussion questions (taped into the book or sent home on an accompanying sheet) regarding each literature selection that a parent can use as discuss catalysts with kids about bullying.
There are dozens of ways to involve parents in bullying prevention. The bottom line is that parents must be educated in bullying behaviors, signs and prevention strategies. The most effective bullying prevention programs I’ve ever seen always involve parents. There is no “right or wrong” approach — the key is to find what will work for the school and the community. Please pass on your best ideas! Together we can make a difference!
This handout is designed to provide educators with ways to engage parents in bullying prevention. The module is part of 6Rs of Effective Bullying Prevention-a complete staff training by Dr. Borba. For more information please see http://www.micheleborba.com.
Follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba