Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My Child is being Bullied: Now What?

Bullying is a pandemic in our nation's schools. Realizing this, we must do all that we can to help our children deal with the pressures that these annoying behaviors poses on their lives. Parents, we have a huge responsibility, but are we doing all that we can to intervene?
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.
Bullying Defined
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
Low self-esteem
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


  1. If your child is being bullied and is losing his appetite and desire to learn and you fear his life may be at stake, your moral obligation as a parent is to pull him out of the school and put him in a religious school. And never, NEVER let a minor have a Facebook page. That is really asking for trouble. Lawyering up and mouthing off about federal laws will only demoralize the child more and depress him. The way to "empower" your child is to give him a choice: government school or private school. That's real power!

  2. Thank you very much for your personal views on this very important topic, Sophie.

    As a parent, I'll have to disagree with you to a point, but your idea would be my last resort.

    I personally do not believe that running away from a serious issue such as this one is the total answer. I feel that this is putting a Band-Aid on the bigger issue - bullying that will not go away.

    Taking your child out of public school and enrolling them into a private school is a matter of parental personal preference. It has nothing to do with moral obligation. Yes, we are obligated to ensure that our children feel safe and secure, and of course, if parents choose to use your suggestion after all else fails, then that is their choice, but who is to say that bullying can't happen in a private, religious school? Worse things have happened in some of these schools. Just listen to the news. I realize that in some private schools there are rules about discipline, but there is always a first time.

    If you'll notice, I stated the following:

    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."

    Too, I did not recommend doing this right away. In fact, I would be against such a move in the beginning.

    I believe that we should teach our children how to problem solve because WE will not always be with them, and we will not always be able to remove them from uncomfortable circumstances/situations. This is what I'd call TRUE empowerment.

    I've also blogged about how to give children the tools needed to instill deep-seeded positive esteem and love for self. When we arm our children with such attributes they may be able to withstand the bully. At least this is my hope as a mother and educator.

    Yes, we must intervene without a doubt if things get out of hand, and we must know when to do so.

    You should know, Sophie, that blogging and giving ones ideas to others is about research, experiences and perspectives all coupled together. When I blog, it is my hope that someone can gain knowledge and/or information that they can use. If not, they are not obligated to use it. This is also the attitude that I take with me whenever I read blogs of others. If I can add my take on the subject in an effective and professional dialogue, I do so. If not, I read what other bloggers have to say (evidently it was worth their time to post), and then I move on.

    Again, thank you very much for your take on this highly turbulent and disturbing issue. Perhaps there will be some who will agree with you.

    Take Care - Cherrye S. Vasquez

  3. Glad we got this good discussion going! My children were bullied for being German -in Ireland, called "Nazis, Hitler etc." I was devastated about 4 years later that my son turned into a bully ...Any more thoughts anybody?

  4. Sometimes children say mean things to my daughter because she is biracial.

    I talk to her often about kindness and tell her that she is bigger than petty comments. She feels really good about herself.

    I made sure to instill high self-esteem within her. She looks at others who dare to treat others mean due to difference with a feeling of sorrow for them.

    I'd like to learn how other parents handle things like this too, Siggy.

    Take Care -