Let me ask these 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 verses 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.
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)
There are signs of bullying that you can watch for
Poor eating habits or asking to eat as soon as he/she gets home - bully takes lunch or lunch money
Torn clothes or mysterious bruises/scratches
Isolating self from others - appearing lonely
A change in grades - 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
If you have reason to believe that 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. Whatever you are doing or plan to do, stop! 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 just 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 - Test the water, first.
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- life that's 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, so now what can you do?
Before I address this problem, I want to urge parents to always gather as much information about your 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 at the campus level of your child's school. Trust me - Now that bullying has gained national attention, there is no doubt that this person will be all ears.
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). Be ready and able to recite the Senate Bill and House Bill laws associated with the bully's offense. For example, if you live in Texas and your child is experiencing sexual harassment issues at school, and no one will address the issue, share your knowledge of SB 471 and HB 194. If you do this, everyone will know that you mean business!
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. Time is of the essence and the safety of your child is paramount!
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.
About the author
Author Cherrye Vasquez has a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction; a Ms.Ed in Special Education; and a BA in Speech Pathology/Audiology. She specializes in Multi-cultural education and holds certifications in Early Childhood Handicapped, Mid-Management and Educational Diagnostician.
Cherrye is passionate about empowering children, so her platform centers on diversity and bullying issues. She feels strongly that if children are empowered and armed with the tools needed for a deep love of self and self-identity, they will be able to withstand life's challenges, including bullies.
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Summer 2013 - Please look for Cherrye’s new release – Clique, Clique, Stop
Summer 2014 – Cherrye’s Bully book will be released