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What Parents Should Know About Bullying

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Promoting Healthy Relationships
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Working With the School

Meeting with School Staff

School staff spend a lot of time with their students and are often in a position to see how they interact with peers, notice patterns in behavior, and recognize classroom dynamics. Establishing a collaborative relationship with the staff at your child’s school is an important step in advocating for your child. It’s important to connect with those who have contact with your child at the start of the year so that you are comfortable communicating information and any concerns. Be sure to check in with them often, this can even be done through email. By establishing this relationship, and building a partnership, you will be able to share not only your educational questions, but also talk through any concerns about social interaction that might involve bullying.

In the situations in which you need to report the bullying, you may need to meet with various school members. This could include the principal, vice principal, school counselor, social workers, school police officers, and teachers. The best way for you to be an advocate for your child is to be well prepared for these meetings.

When meeting with school staff, try to:

  • Be ready to state a problem clearly.
  • Have ideas for a solution.
  • Find and bring specific data to support your position.
  • Try to listen to the ideas and solutions of others first.
  • Make a list of your priorities and concerns before a meeting.
  • Make a written list of questions you may have.
  • Know who will be at a meeting and what their roles will be.
  • Make sure you know the purpose(s) of the meeting.

Beginning a Meeting

  • Arrive early enough to sit where you will feel most comfortable and effective.
  • Establish rapport: Tell a short, interesting story about your child. Handshakes, “small talk,” and smiles can open a meeting on a positive note.
  • Seek common ground—start with things that team members agree on.
  • Make sure there is an agenda and that it includes your items.
  • Find out how much time has been scheduled for this meeting. Is it enough?

During a Meeting

  • Identify and focus on your goal—hold yourself accountable.
  • Show respect and expect it from others.
  • Manage your emotions. Cool heads and warm hearts make the best decisions.
  • Be specific and clear.
  • Acknowledge that you understand that teachers have multiple and complex roles.
  • Use praise and say thanks whenever possible.
  • Rephrase what you hear to ensure you understood correctly.
  • End a meeting by summarizing the outcomes of the meeting to make sure you understood correctly, and it is clear who will do what by when.
  • End a meeting on a positive note whenever possible. Even if you’ve disagreed, you may be able to say, “I think we understand each other’s perspectives more clearly now.”

Listen More Than You Speak

Communication is a two-way process that involves listening as well as speaking. Other people may have valuable information and insights that you need to hear. You may never hear that information or those insights if you don’t listen.

  • Listening gives you information or data to use. Your own thoughts and opinions are not enough.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Listen to see if the speaker is expressing an opinion or if data is being presented.
  • Whether you agree or not, try to understand clearly what others are saying. You may want to repeat what you’ve heard to make sure you understood it correctly.
  • Let your body show you are listening—make eye contact and lean forward.
  • Take notes on what you hear or invite a friend to do this for you.
  • Don’t interrupt. Allow the speaker to finish; don’t assume you know what the speaker will say.
  • Don’t “argue mentally.” You may miss some data or the real message while thinking of what you will say next.

Ask Questions

  • Ask what, who, when, where, and how questions.
  • Be careful of “why” questions:
    • Asking why to understand someone’s reasoning can be helpful. Example, “Why hasn’t my son been separated from the student bullying him?
    • Asking why to find someone’s motivation is not. Example: “Why haven’t you separated my son and the student bullying him?
    • Questioning motives usually leads to defensiveness, not problem solving.
  • Phrases that may help:
    • “Tell me more about…”
    • “Please explain …”
    • “Would you please rephrase that so I can understand?”
    • “How will I know this plan is working?”
    • “What will the school propose to do about…?”
    • “What do you suggest we do about…?”
    • “I think I heard you say...Is that correct?”
    • “That is interesting. Tell me more so I’m sure I understand your view.”

When You Are the Speaker

Be as clear as possible so that others will understand what you have to say. These are some important communication tips for you to consider.

  • Be honest about what you know and what you don’t know.
  • Don’t blame. Focus on solutions instead.
  • Limit criticism. With each criticism, defensiveness increases and listening decreases.
  • Give positive feedback and praise as often as possible.
  • If you are interrupted, you may want to say in a polite manner, “Excuse me, I am not finished.”
  • Use “You could…” rather than “You should…”
  • Consider using humor, although it’s not for everyone or for all situations.
    • Humor can help build rapport and break down barriers.
    • It can reduce stress and conflict.
    • When using humor, make it brief, spontaneous, and relevant.
  • If you have a hard time saying what you mean, write your thoughts and ideas down and then read or pass them out at the meeting.
  • Keep the emphasis on the child. Focus on what the child needs not on what you may want.
  • Realize that being heard is not necessarily the same as getting what you want.
  • Paraphrase (restate what you think you heard someone else say) to make sure you understood clearly.

Written Communication

There are times when the most effective form of communication is in written form. Written communication methods can include:

  • Phone log—in addition to the date and name of person you talked with, write down a summary of the conversation
  •  Meeting follow-up notes and thank you letters
  • Formal letters:
    • Should be sent to the person who has the authority to make a difference
    • Be brief, business-like, and respectful
    • Focus on one or two issues
    • Set a deadline for reply
    • Keep a copy for yourself

Make a Plan

Here is an outline of a possible plan for working with your child’s school to address bullying:

  • Describe the problem clearly.
  • Encourage input from all members of the team.
  • Brainstorm (without evaluating the ideas).
  • Choose a solution by consensus (all agree).
  • Develop a plan. Define who is responsible for an action and when will it be done.
  • Put that plan in writing.
  • Create a timeline and criteria to evaluate success.
  • Follow up.

Adapted from: “Working Together: A Parent’s Guide to Parent and Professional Partnership and Communication Within Special Education” (PACER Center, 2009)

Reporting and Record Keeping

When your child is a target of bullying, it is important to document the events and develop a record, or history, of what is happening to your child. This record is useful when talking with educators, law enforcement personnel, or other individuals who may need to assist you in intervening against bullying. As the most invested parties, you should do your best to keep track of events. In this way, emotions alone do not drive the discussion.

Records can help you keep a concise, accurate timeline of events. You may think you will remember the details, but it is easier to use a written record when trying to recall the specifics of these events later. The record can also help in determining if the bullying behavior has increased or decreased in frequency or duration. The record should be factual and based on actual events. Do not add opinions or emotional statements.

Content should include:

  • Written information about the bullying incidents
  • Date of the event
  • People involved
  • Child’s account of the event

Also include:

  • All communication with professionals (teachers, administrators, physician, etc.)
  • Date of the communication
  • Discussion (summary) of the event
  • Responses of the professional
  • Action taken
  • Reports filed by the school in accordance with the school district policy or state law

You may also include photos taken of your child after a bullying incident to document any physical evidence, health care records that indicate evidence of bullying, a written copy of statements made, printed screenshots of any bullying online, or a tape recording of your child talking about the bullying.

Template Letter to Report Bullying to School

Download a template letter for notifying the school of a bullying incident.

PACER Center has created three letters that parents may use as a guide for writing a letter to their child’s school. These letters contain standard language and “fill in the blank” spaces so the letter can be customized for your child’s situation.

PACER Center’s sample letter(s) can serve two purposes.

  • First, the letter will alert school administration of the bullying and your desire for interventions against the bullying.
  • Second, the letter can serve as your written record when referring to events. The record (letter) should be factual and absent of opinions or emotional statements.

The “Student w/IEP, Notifying School About Bullying” and “Student w/504, Notifying School About Bullying” letters are for parents who have a child with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Section 504. The bullying law of the individual state applies to students with disabilities. When the bullying is based on the child’s disability, federal laws can also apply under Section 504, Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008(ADAAA).

The third letter, “Notifying School About Bullying” is for parents of any child who is being bullied. Individual state laws do apply.

Data is important. Remember, if it is not in writing, it does not exist. Please be sure to keep a copy of the letter(s) for your records. These records can help parents keep a concise, accurate timeline of events.

Developing a Parent Action Plan

For many parents, finding out that their child is being bullied can be a frightening, confusing, experience. You may feel angry, hurt, scared, or guilty. Bullying situations are often highly emotional experiences, and it’s helpful to have a guide to be able to think clearly about what to do. That’s why it can help to create a concrete, written plan for which steps you will take to protect your child. Use this template to determine your plan.

Download the Parent Action Plan


Best Practices

Every school has different policies and procedures for how teachers and other school staff should respond to bullying. The federal website, StopBullying.gov, provides some guidance and best practices for addressing bullying in schools:

When an adult in school witnesses bullying…

  • Intervene immediately. It is ok to get another adult to help.
  • Separate the kids involved.
  • Make sure everyone is safe.
  • Meet any immediate medical or mental health needs.
  • Stay calm. Reassure the kids involved, including bystanders.
  • Model respectful behavior when you intervene.

Don’t:

  • Ignore it. Don’t think kids can work it out without adult help.
  • Immediately try to sort out the facts.
  • Force other kids to say publicly what they saw.
  • Question the children involved in front of other kids.
  • Talk to the kids involved together, only separately.
  • Make the kids involved apologize or patch up relations on the spot.

Support kids who are bullied:

  • Listen and focus on the child.
  • Assure the child that bullying is not their fault. 
  • Know that kids who are bullied may struggle with talking about it.
  • Give advice about what to do.
  • Work together to resolve the situation and protect the bullied child.
  • Be persistent. 

Address bullying behavior:

  • Make sure the child knows what the problem behavior is.
  • Show kids that bullying is taken seriously. 
  • Work with the child to understand some of the reasons he or she bullied. 
  • Use consequences to teach. 
  • Involve the kid who bullied in making amends or repairing the situation. 
  •  Avoid strategies that don’t work or have negative consequences (zero-tolerance policies, conflict resolution, and group treatment).

Source: StopBullying.gov

Parent Involvement

Bullying prevention is a community issue, and everyone plays an important role. As a parent, you can become involved in this issue at the school or on a community level by educating and raising awareness about bullying prevention. Consider holding an event, fundraiser or a Run, Walk, Roll Against Bullying in partnership with the school or in your local community. PACER provides free resources for those looking to hold an event, provide information to schools, or take other steps to get their community involved in bullying prevention.

  • Run, Walk, Roll Against Bullying Toolkit
    Coordinate a Run, Walk, Roll Against Bullying in your community with five easy steps, which includes tips, ideas, and resources such as checklists and sample forms.
  • Unity Day
    Make it ORANGE and make it end! What are your true colors when it comes to bullying? If you care about safe and supportive schools and communities make your color ORANGE on Unity Day.
  • Book Club
    Story telling is a powerful way to share messages, encourage discussion and inspire thoughtful action. Many schools encourage parents to visit the classroom to read books, and this book list provides a list of excellent titles.
  • Event Planning Toolkit
    This five-step guide provides helpful information to create a meaningful event; including how to form your committee, setting the date and location, planning your activities, promoting your event, and holding the event.
  • Community Toolkits
    Free, downloadable toolkits designed for students and community members to hold events, raise awareness and share information about bullying prevention.
  • Starting the Discussion – Elementary School
    A complete classroom tool kit for discussing bullying prevention. Features free downloads of daily activities, games and contests.
  • Starting the Discussion – Middle and High School
    Promote bullying awareness in your classroom by using the activities and resources in this day-by-day toolkit. Whether you have just a few minutes or you can devote 15 to 30 minutes a day to this important issue, you'll find everything you need—links to informative Web sites, downloadable materials, interesting activities, and a powerful video project called "Rewind."

Check Your Knowledge

  1. True or False: It’s important to remain calm and polite while meeting with school staff members.

    Check Answer  

    True. During the meeting with school staff, it’s important to manage emotions. Be clear and specific. End a meeting on a positive note whenever possible. Even if you’ve disagreed, you may be able to say “I think we understand each other’s perspectives more clearly now.”

  2. True or False: Students experiencing bullying should be responsible to stop what is happening to them.

    Check Answer  

    False. It’s important for students experiencing bullying to know that it is not their responsibility to stop the bullying. Let the student know it is not their fault and work together to resolve the situation. Empower the student by involving them in a plan they feel comfortable with.

  3. True or False: An effective way to help prevent bullying in your child’s school is to get the community involved in bullying prevention activities.

    Check Answer  

    True. Bullying prevention is a community issue, and everyone plays a role. As a parent, you can become involved in this issue at the school or on a community level by educating and raising awareness about bullying prevention. When a community is united together against bullying, this can help create a safe and supportive school climate.

  4. True or False: If your child is being bullied online, there is nothing the school can do to help.

    Check Answer  

    False. Although cyberbullying may not happen in school, it can effect a student’s education just as other forms of bullying. Many state laws and policies include cyberbullying, meaning the schools can take action. It’s important to capture evidence of cyberbullying to then share with school officials or law enforcement officials.

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