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10 Ways to Talk to the School if Your Child is Being Bullied

If you think your child is being bullied, contact the school to see what can and will be done to help.
If you think your child is being bullied, contact the school to see what can and will be done to help.
Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Today's bullying goes far beyond pulling pigtails. There are more bullies, and because they tend to take things too far, bullying inflicts more emotional and physical damage. There are more victims as well, with 15 to 20 percent of kindergarten through 12th-grade students expected to become bully bait at some point [source: U.S. Department of Education].

Even with the passage of anti-bullying laws, bullying is out of control, sometimes even with fatal results. How should you talk to the school if your child is a target?

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Here are 10 approaches to start and finish the conversations that will help ensure your desired outcome: a safe and happy child at school.

The first thing to do is a bit of reconnaissance. Learn from your child the who, what, where, when, how and even why about the bullying. Keep a notebook of all the facts, and if the bullying involves cyberspace, print all the documents, including e-mails, texts, images and forum posts.

Then, go undercover. Study a copy of the school's printed anti-bullying policies. If there aren't any, try calling the school anonymously and asking them what the bullying policies are. This way, you will know what level of response to expect from your first meeting to your last.

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Take visible, tangible action the moment your child starts mentioning he is being teased, especially if he mentions it repeatedly. Get out the notebook and start your record-keeping. Any delay in intervention gives the appearance of dismissing the child's valid fear of danger, and delays allow the bullying to go on longer -- seemingly with permission. Immediate action also allows schools to intervene quickly.

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Identify the best contact at the school. Sometimes your ideal ally is your child's primary teacher, and sometimes it's the guidance counselor. In other cases, your child's favorite instructor, such as art, music or physical education teacher, may be the perfect person to approach. Ask about the social atmosphere at the school, how your child fits in with peers and how receptive the child's teacher will be to your distress.

Some contacts may be more unconventional, such as the bus driver or cafeteria worker, but their positions allow them to view situations most other teachers or administrators miss.

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As tempting as it may be, don't barge into the school and demand justice. Teachers and administrators will react to your behavior, not your message. Instead, call to arrange a formal meeting. Participants will view you with respect and be more receptive to your concerns, and they will understand that you are very serious about the matter.

Staying calm rather than blowing a gasket is also better for your child. When you overreact to your child's problems, he may start to feel responsible for your discomfort and assume the caretaker role, putting aside his worries to ease yours.

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Some parents are angry that bullying has gone so far without a teacher's intervention. Most bullies are subversive, however, and torture their victims out of view of authorities. This is especially true of cyberbullying. As you enter the meeting, assume the bullying will be as surprising to the teacher as it was to you.

Also, don't assume the teacher knows how to work with parents on an emotional level. Except for grade discussions, teachers are rarely trained on teacher-caregiver relations, and inexperienced teachers might be nervous. It's best to walk into the meeting with no assumptions.

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During the meeting, test the teacher's knowledge by asking:

  • What are the school's anti-bullying policies?
  • How are they enforced?
  • What are examples of recent actions taken to stop bullying?

If a teacher isn't schooled in bullying, you may be able to trust the teacher to gain the knowledge necessary in order to assist you. But if you have no faith in the person sitting across from you, move to another chair: Call the principal or another administrator for a meeting. This is about your child, so don't worry about hurting the teacher's feelings by going over his or her head.

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Assuming you trust your child's teacher, bring her into your story. Tell her what is happening as you might tell a friend: "Joey has come home several times now and told me that Andy is following him the whole way home and calling him names." Then explain the impact: "This is causing Joey to come home very upset. He is depressed and is reluctant to go to school each morning." This way, you're soliciting the teacher's empathies and, most importantly, asking for his or her ideas in identifying a solution.

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You probably have ideas as to how the bullying can be stopped. Ask, though; don't tell. Demands like "Kick this student out of the school!" put teachers on the defensive. You are also insisting that they take actions beyond their pay grades. Don't waste your time, or their time, forcing them to explain why certain steps can't be taken. Instead, present your problem, and then ask them to help come up with solutions. As you gain allies, you can ask them to keep an eye out for your child, too.

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Be sure to follow up with your child's teacher to see if anti-bullying polices are being enforced.
Be sure to follow up with your child's teacher to see if anti-bullying polices are being enforced.
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Agree on a date and time that you and the teacher will meet again so that the teacher can report to you what actions are being taken and what tangible progress is achieved.

A follow-up plan also allows you to provide evidence to your child that you're taking action now, and that you have concrete plans to tackle the bullying problem until it's resolved. With this assurance, your child can gain confidence that there are plans in place, and this gives the child hope that there will be an eventual relief from their misery.

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Until you're satisfied something is being done, and done to your satisfaction, don't stop. If the teacher doesn't mitigate your child's fears and the events causing them, call the counselor. If the counselor doesn't help, call the principal. If the principal's a bust, call the district. And if the actions are criminal, it's your right and duty to phone the police.

These days, one in five children falls prey to peers behaving badly. Parents must be vigilant, well-informed and prepared to take effective steps to return a healthy, happy educational environment to their children.

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Sources

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  • BullyPolice.org. "Anti Bullying Law Passage Calendar." 2010. (Nov. 14, 2010). http://www.bullypolice.org/
  • Children's Trust Fund of Massachusetts. "My Child Is Getting Bullied -- What Should I Do?" One Tough Job campaign. 2007. (Nov. 14, 2010) http://www.education.com/reference/article/my-child-being-bullied/
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