How to work with the school to create a safety plan for your child when bullying continues and previous efforts fail
You know your child is being bullied.
You talked to your child or even with the teacher, tried strategies, but bullying continues.
You’re fully aware that your child is suffering.
You recognize the serious emotional consequences repeated bullying could have on your child’s mental health.
You realize that if bullying intensifies your child’s physical or mental safety may be in jeopardy.
So what do you do?
Your ideal goal is to work with the school as allies to reduce bullying and create a safety plan for your child. But if those attempts have failed here are the steps a parent can do to if previous efforts fail and bullying intensifies. These steps will not be easy, but are crucial. You may not win a popularity contest, but so be it! This is your child you’re talking about! Your child’s emotional and physical safety are always your top priority.
Step 1. Gather Data and Advocate
If your child has complained of bullying and the behavior continues, it’s time to step in.
You know this is not a “phase” that will go away by itself.Make sure you are using the correct definition of bullying: bullying is generally a repeated behavior of intentional cruelty n which the victim (or targeted) child is on “unequal footing” or cannot hold his or her own due to status, size, physical ability, cognitive ability, etc. Only in this time this is your child. At this point your child needs help and cannot handle the situation. alone.
Start gathering evidence about the bullying. Details are crucial. Check the school or district website for the policy on anti-bullying. Is there a form for parents to complete? Forty-nine states (at this writing) have signed anti-bullying policies. If your child’s school has not signed a policy, your state may have requirements.
If there’s ever the possibility your child could be injured step in. ASAP. Here are things to do:
Call for an appointment with the school staff. If you’ve met with the teacher previously and the situation is continuing, then it is to take things up a notch. Ask to meet with the teacher and the psychologist or meet the teacher and the site administrator. Try again! Jot down notes-specific things you want to discuss in that meeting. Stick to facts. Don’t assume the teacher or school administrator is aware of the situation. Eighty-five percent of the time bullying happens it is when adults are not present. If you’re too emotional or feel you can’t discuss this with the teacher or administrator, bring a caring, competent adult with you who can be your voice (or ears). Stay cool!
Call the Law If Needed
If bullying involves criminal behavior such as assault and battery, extortion or your child’s physical safety is at stake, meet the administration immediately. Law enforcement should be notified. Also contact the School Resource Officer (SRO) if campus security is in place. You may need to remove your child from the classroom or school to ensure safety.
Notify Authorities and Gather Support
Tell all of those directly responsible for your child (his teacher, coach, pediatrician, day-care worker) that you are concerned about your child’s well being. A multidisciplinary approach in which all adults in your child’s life are involved to find a solution is best. Be sure to talk to the school nurse: victims often go to the nurse’s office complaining of physical complains as an escape.
Gather Information and Identify “Hot Times” and “Hot Spots”
Bullying peaks at certain times and places during the day. Those factors will differ per child. Your child can give you this information but adult and child witnesses may also be needed. They can confirm when, where and with whom your child is more likely to be bullied. If you can identify the specific situations where your child is most likely to be bullied – on or off campus – you’ll be able to develop a better safety plan at the school meeting. (Hint: Some schools have video cameras set up in certain hot spot areas. That film can be reviewed). You may need to find witnesses to the events.
Keep Records of Bullying Incidents
Save evidence any such as torn clothing, photos, threatening emails, witnesses’ names, phone numbers and details. Keep comprehensive written records of each bullying incidents and who was involved, the time and place. You may need to enlist other peers or adults as witnesses.
Remember, most bullying happens when adults are not present and bullies usually deny their cruelty. Teachers may not be aware of the bullying so provide evidence or records if you can.
Bring those records to any school meetings. They will be handy in creating a safety plan for your child. You will also need that data if you need to take legal action, though hopefully things will not go to that level.
You don’t want retaliation. So limit number of others you tell about the experience wherever possible. Tell only those on a “need to know” basis. Preserve your child’s dignity.
Do your own research about school bullying so you sound not only knowledgeable, but also confident in those meetings. Check out: The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander, by Barbara Coloroso; Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do, by Dan Olweus, or Bullying Prevention and Intervention: Realistic Strategies for Schools, by Susan M. Swearer, Dorothy L. Espelege and Scott A. Napolitano.
Step 2: Aim for a Proactive Meeting with the School
You now go to the arranged meeting at the school. The goal is to develop a specific safety plan to meet your child’s needs with those staff directly responsible for your child’s education or care. Bring you notes and evidence with you.
Decide if your child should attend to help describe the incident. (Do ask the administrator as well). Simply ask your child if he feels comfortable attending, and then weigh his security level for your decision.
Leave Baggage Outside the Door
You want to work with the school so go to the meeting with a “What can we do to work together to help my child” type attitude. Remain calm, respectful, but be organized.
Advocate as a Team
If you do not feel comfortable speaking up, then seek the support of an adult who knows your child, understands the situation, and is willing to help you advocate for your child. Ideally the other parent should attend. It also helps to have “another set of ears” so you can listen, take notes, and then reflect on what you heard.
Aim for a Safety Plan
By the end of the conference meeting you should aim to have answers to these questions:
Safety plan specifics: “What will you do to ensure my child’s safety?” Action will depend upon the individual school policy, any established educational or legal guidelines as well as the severity, intensity and frequency of the bullying.
Success measure: Once the plan is formulated, ask: “How will we know things are improving?”
Staff support: “How will all teachers who see my child be made aware of the plan?” Refer to your child’s school schedule to ensure that each educator who meets with your child is aware of the plan and your child’s duress.
Follow up date: “When should be meet again?”
Contact information: “How should I contact you if incidents continue?”
Don’t Allow Face-to-face Contact
If your child is under severe emotional distress or safety is in jeopardy, ask that your child be distanced from the bully: in class, at lunch, on the bus, team. Ideally the bully should not come within a certain number of feet of your child. Use this contingency only if needed. If not supervised well, it can increase victimization
Be Leery of Peer Mediation
Do not allow your child to be put in a “conflict resolution” or “peer mediation” situation to “air out differences” with a bully unless your child agrees. This is not the bullied child’s problem nor is it a “conflict.” This is cold-blooded, one-way intentional cruelty on the part of the bully. New research also finds that peer mediation between a bully and bullied child can increase victimization if not guided with the proper expertise. [See: “The Effectiveness of School-Based Anti-Bullying Programs” Ferguson, Miguel, Kilburn, Sanchez, Criminal Justice Review, Vol. 32, No. 4, 2007]
Step 3: If Bullying Continues, Take Matters To the Next Level
The bullying continues, the plan was not enforced or is ineffective. While you want to work with the school, if your child is not getting the support despite your calm, organized, respectful endeavors and the bullying continues, it’s time to take matters up to the next level.
Go Up Chain of Command
Call the district office administrators. Work your way up the chain of command in your community. Refer to “The Bully Action Guide: How to Help Your Child and Get Your School to Listen,” by Ed Dugan if you are not getting the support your child needs.
Get other parents on board with you. If your child’s school is not taking this seriously, go to the superintendent and to the board of education. Don’t stop. Keep going up the ladder. Get the local media involved if you think it could be helpful. (Just know at this point you will not win a popularity contest and could jeopardize your relationship with the school).
Find Objective Outsider If Necessary
You may need to get an objective outsider like a principal or day care supervisor to mediate. A diplomatic: “I’m concerned about the relationship between our kids” may be your best opener.
Decide To Confront Bully’s Parents
If you decide to confront the bully’s parents you may be in for a rough ride. In a national PTA survey found only one fourth of parents support contacting other parents to deal with bullying. A bully’s parent usually denies their kid is guilty and may blame your child as well and feel you are criticizing her parenting. Don’t be surprised if you are told to “toughen your kid up” or be shocked if the bully’s parent is a bully herself. On the other hand, I’ve had several parents admit that a planned civil meeting with parents of the bully and other concerned individuals proved very helpful. Weigh things carefully.
You may need to change your child’s classes, team, or in some cases even schools to protect your kid. At this point you may also need to hire a child advocate or attorney. Do whatever you must, but advocate for your child’s safety. Do not let anyone tell you that bullying can’t be reduced. Check out Dan Olweus’ research in Norway. Over 650 schools were able to reduce bullying by over 50 percent in three years, which is significant.
Seek Professional Help
Bullying is known to cause severe emotional harm. Repeat trauma may erode your child’s fragile self-esteem and cause high levels of emotional distress and loneliness as well as anxiety and depression. If you see these changes happening in your child, then do not wait. Seek help of a trained mental health provider.
Do it now! Please!
© 2013 Dr. Michele Borba
I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books including Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing or The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. For more about me refer to my website and daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check and follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba.