Ending your kid's bullying at school: Eight strategies to use when meeting with school staff.
The first time my kid experienced bullying at school, I was angry and frustrated, but optimistic. As difficult as the situation was, I believed that once the principal heard our story, he would recognize how unjust and unacceptable things were and would move mountains to make sure my kid was safe and the situation would be dealt with, straight away.
I was shocked to learn how ill-equipped and unwilling he was to deal with the situation and so I withdrew both of my kids from school and began homeschooling.
About three years later, I put my kids back in a different school and unfortunately we were faced with a second round of bullying. Fortunately, I was far more prepared to handle the situation the second time around. There are eight strategies that I used in my meeting with the vice principal of the second school that were pivotal in putting an end to the bullying that day. No second meeting was necessary—the situation was dealt with in one fell swoop.
Bullying is a prevalent problem in schools and it doesn't seem to be getting better. But bullying doesn't have to continue—it can and must be stopped. I decided to share my strategies in case other parents might find them helpful.
First things first
One of the first things you might be faced with addressing is resistance from your kid—he/she might not want you getting involved for fear of things getting worse. Unfortunately, that is a seriously legitimate concern and all the more reason why this situation has to be approached in the most effective way possible.
When the bullying first started, my daughter didn't want me involved—she wanted to handle the situation on her own. Admirable as that might seem, I believe it's unreasonable to think a child can shut down a bullying situation without adult intervention. As someone who helps married couples resolve conflicts that they previously have not been able to resolve on their own, it's simply unrealistic to think a child is equipped to deal with a situation as serious and stressful as bullying.
The buzz phrase floating around schools these days is "building resiliency in children" which is fantastic—who couldn't stand to be a bit more resilient, right? Right. Except when it comes to bullying. In reality, this approach is an irresponsible copout that allows schools to avoid responsibility (I’ll explain why that’s true later on).
In my opinion, the only thing kids should be concerned about is doing their best academically and having some innocent fun, along the way. They shouldn't be worried about choosing the right hallway to walk down in order to avoid being thrown into the lockers or making sure they eat their lunch the right way so it doesn't get thrown into the garbage can. And they certainly shouldn't be fretting over which strategy to use on someone who is being abusive—it is the responsibility of an adult to intervene, role model those strategies and deal with the issue. That responsibility should not be placed on a kid.
When we place that kind of responsibility on a kid it's unfair, it's unreasonable and it places a significant amount of stress on them that can cause issues with anxiety for years to come. More common than not, it sets them up for the type of failure that can have devastating emotional and/or physical implications.
As great as my kid is, she wasn't equipped with the life experience or skills needed to put a stop to the bullying. Did she learn some skills and build some resiliency while trying to deal with the issues on her own? Certainly, and those skills are still with her today but when things didn't get better I said, "Enough is enough" and I made a promise that I knew I had to keep—I promised her the bullying would end, and I meant it.
Strategy #1: Confidence What I'm talking about here is your confidence, not necessarily your kid's confidence. Without this first strategy, I wholeheartedly believe none of the following strategies will be effective so it will be important to address your level of confidence before your first (or next) meeting with the school staff.
Emotional confidence sets a strong, assertive and solid foundation that evokes respect and makes it so your words, desires and needs are taken seriously by the school staff. If you're wishy-washy, passive or open to letting the school staff shirk their responsibility, unfortunately, that's what's going to happen.
As much as they genuinely want their schools to be a safe place for your child, my experience is that school staff really don't know how to accomplish that. So, as strange as this sounds—because you likely expect the school to be equipped to handle this situation—it will be up to you to take the lead and show them what needs to be done in order to put an end to your child's bullying at school.
Going into my meeting with the vice principal at my daughter's school, I knew it would be up to me to show her what would need to be done in order for the bullying to stop. Luckily, the knowledge I gained from my failed experience with the first school and all of my experience as a Life Skills Coach gave me the confidence I needed to be taken seriously.
The kind of confidence that I projected going into the meeting was rooted in the following expectation:
My expectation was that the bullying MUST end and that it was the vice principal's job to ensure that was going to happen. I knew that I wasn't going to accept excuses or any 'plan' that allowed her to shirk her responsibility. It was going to be a cold day in hell before I would accept one more day of my kid getting bullied at school. Period. End of story.
Having said that, however, I need to explain that my approach was calm and assertive, not aggressive or harsh. True confidence is about inner strength and assertiveness, not anger and aggression. You won't make headway or be taken seriously if you go into the meeting, guns-a-blazing, swearing or wailing like a banshee. Be strong. Be calm. Be respectful. Be confident.
But, regardless of how assertive, respectful and confident you are, you may be faced with dealing with a school administrator who is passive and simply doesn't have the skills needed to deal with the situation (as was the case in my first experience). Or, you may be faced with a school administrator who will feel threatened by your confidence and assertiveness and may become aggressive and dismiss you and your needs.
If you're faced with an administrator who refuses to help you, go above their head. Do not stop until you find someone who will help you. Your kid needs you to intervene and put an end to this problem because the chances of them doing it on their own are slim and no one else will do it for them. It's up to you. Strategy #2: Record the Conversation When my daughter and I entered the room with the vice principal, I was carrying a pad of paper and a pen that I used to record her key statements throughout our entire meeting. There's something magical that happens when you record a person's statements—it motivates them to choose their words carefully because they realize the conversation might find its way into the hands of the people who write their paycheque.
Asking strategic and pointed questions and documenting her answers demonstrated that the meeting was official, that she was going to be held accountable for the things she said, and that I expected to be taking seriously.
Typically, most schools make noble declarations about children being safe while in their care but when it comes to bullying, rarely are those statements backed up or supported by actions. By recording their words, it holds them accountable for their statements and by default, commits them to taking action.
Strategy #3: Get them to Acknowledge the Problem In order to get the vice principal to acknowledge that there was a problem, I first described a specific bullying incident and then I asked her if she thought that was acceptable behaviour. When she said "no", I jotted down her answer. She sat up in her chair—I had her attention.
I then asked her if she would be comfortable if a student in her school continued to behave in those ways. Again, her response was "no" and again I recorded her answer.
In effect, I had gotten her on record acknowledging that the behaviour was unacceptable, that it was something that should not continue and therefore was something she could not ignore, moving forward. Strategy #4: Get them to Acknowledge Responsibility
The next thing I needed was for her to take responsibility for resolving the situation so I asked her if she agreed that my daughter’s safety was her responsibility while in her care at school. When she said "yes", I jotted down her answer.
This is where it might be helpful to arm yourself with the school's mission statement. Chances are it states that the school will provide an environment where your child is safe and will be encouraged to succeed, flourish and thrive. After reading the mission statement, I suggest you ask them if they agree with the statement and the idea that it’s their responsibility to keep your child safe while in their care. Also, ask them whether or not they believe a child dealing with the stress of being bullied is as likely to succeed and thrive as one who isn't being bullied. Record their answers.
It's pretty hard for them to shirk their responsibility when they've acknowledged your child is being harmed while on their watch and that it's their job to make sure that doesn't happen.
Strategy #5: Make a Plan of Action Once they’ve recognized there is a problem and acknowledged that it is their responsibility to make sure the problem stops, the next step is to devise a plan of action.
At this point it will be necessary to describe, specifically, the details of the bullying as to when and where the bullying takes place and the nature of the bullying.
It's important that you ask the staff member to describe, exactly, what they will do to address each and every situation. For example, if your child is harassed on the way to the bus, ask her what specifically, she plans on doing to address that situation.
Do the same thing for each scenario until you understand, exactly what is going to be done to ensure your child will be protected.
I recommend not rushing through this step—make sure there is a plan in place for each scenario, that you know exactly what the plan will be, that you are comfortable that the plan seems feasible and make sure you record the details. Strategy #6: Measure Success This strategy involv