How to talk to your child’s school so they will actually listen and help

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Short Video Lessons

busWhen it comes to dealing with a bullying situation, know that you aren’t alone. Even if you have tried to get the school to help you in the past and it didn’t work, that doesn’t mean that the school doesn’t care or won’t help you. It is just nearly impossible for them to get bullying to stop once it is established.

The key to being successful is being realistic. Often when parents first report problems they expect the school to magically make the problem disappear. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t just report something and have it stop. It takes time and a concerted effort by not just the school, but also by your child over a period of time to get a bullying situation under control. As frustrated as you may be, taking a realistic and cooperative approach will help you moblize the school on your child’s behalf.

This lesson includes a bullying log, a video, along with detailed information on how to approach the school, who in the school can help and how to get the school to actually help you and your child end bullying.

First, please download and print out a copy of the bullying log

Video Lesson

The Right Approach

Always approach the school pleasantly and optimistically. No school administrator or teacher wants a child to be bullied. They want to help. They just have constraints placed upon them and realistically, there isn’t much they can do to get a bully to stop.  The reason for this is because the central dynamic is between the bully and the victim. In order for bullying to stop, the victim needs to change their response to what the bully is doing.  This is why I teach operant conditioning as a way to get bullying to stop. It empowers the victim to take control of the situation and essentially train the bully to leave them alone.

This doesn’t mean that the school and the administrators don’t have an important role to play. They do. Their job is to support your child and to provide consequences to the bully when the bully breaks the rules. This isn’t something the school can do unless the victim or someone else reports what is happening so that the school can act.

The basic problem

The are several reasons why schools are ineffective at dealing with chronic bullying.

1) Their rules and procedures are designed for single occurrence problems, not chronic ongoing situations.

2) It can take a long time for a report of bullying to make it’s way through the proper channels, during which time the bully becomes more embolden because they have found out they can bully without consequence (as far as they are concerned)

3) Like everyone, they have too much to do and not enough time and resources to do it so there may be a reluctance to prioritize your child’s problem.

4) They may not know the best ways to help your child.

In order to mobilize the school to help your child, you need to be realistic about what the school can legally do, understand that they can help, but you and your child need to take constructive action as well, and finally, you need to be realistic and optimistic.  Realistic about what can be accomplished, the constraints the school is operating under and optimistic that they do in fact what to help and will help when you approach them in the correct way.

Yes, this does mean you need to have your emotions under control. It is very easy to get angry and upset when your child is the victim of bullying. It hits us in the pit of our stomach and most of us aren’t at our rational best when we are stressed out from the emotions that come with trying to help a child who is suffering. In order to get the school to help, you need to be calm and rational. You will get much more help from the school when you approach them this way than if you go in screaming demanding that they take action they aren’t legally allowed to take.

Consider the need to calm your emotions to be effective good practice. It will allow you to model the emotional response that your child needs if they are to get the bullying to stop.

Eliminating bullying takes 3 C’s. Courage, Compassion and Consistency.

Be Prepared

To help the school help you need to provide specific information about what is happening to your child. If all you tell the school is that some child (or a specific child) is bullying your kid, there isn’t going to be much the school can do.  The typical response to this sort of general information is – ok, we will look into it and take appropriate action. Which they do. The bully may even get a detention. This won’t stop the bully from continuing to bully your child of course. In fact, it will probably make it worse as the bully starts to enter an extinction burst.

First: You need to label what is happening to your child correctly. If your child was hit on the playground, you need to report that they were hit on the playground. It is very easy to dismiss bullying, much harder to dismiss an assault taking place on school property.

If your child is suffering from chronic bullying, fill out the bullying log and be specific. What exactly happened, when did it happen, who were the bullies, and who witnessed it. Again, use specific language, my child was hit, threatened, called a bad name, etc. Don’t just say – it was a bullying incident as that isn’t specific enough.

For kids dealing with chronic bullying, they may suffer from 10, 20 or 30 or more incidents every day. It can be shocking to see the extent of what is happening to your child. It is hard to accept and harder to keep a level head. Always remember, your goal is to help your child get the bullying to stop. The reason it is important to be thorough in your documentation is because  it is very hard to ignore the magnitude of what is happening when it is properly documented.  There isn’t a principal or teacher out there who won’t give you their full attention if you bring in a log that includes every single thing that your child experienced during the course of a week. It will hit them in the gut in the same way it hits you and it will bring into focus the problem you are trying to solve.

Make sure that you only provide the school with a copy of your logs. You will need them if legal action against the bullies is required. And this is another reason to use a log, principals are very aware that if someone has documented abuse at the level of detail your log should show, it represents a very real legal threat if the school does not do everything it can to protect your child.

Use the Right Words

It is essential when you talk to the school, you don’t use the word bully to describe what is happening to your child. The reason for this is because “bully” is a word that has so many meanings, it is meaningless.

Instead, be very specific about what exactly happened to your child. Were they teased? Were they threatened with violence. Threats of violence are also known as an assault by the way. Were they hit? Punched, kicked? Physical violence is also considered battery. Where exactly on their body did this physical battery take place?

When did this happen? Who witnessed it? Who were the offenders?

Being specific not only helps you convey the gravity of what you are asking the school to deal with, it also provides the school with actionable information that they can follow up on.

Navigating the System

boybooksOne of the difficulties in working with a school to resolve a bullying problem is that there are different people who have jurisdiction over bullying problems depending on where it occurs.  Knowing who to talk to is key. Be aware that certain situations have overlapping jurisdiction and that can make it more difficult to get someone to take responsibility for keeping your child safe.

For instance, in my county, bus safety issues are handled by the transportation department. However, they can only discipline minor infractions. The principal of the school has to decide on what discipline if any, is required, and if they recommend banning the bully from the bus, this has to be reviewed by the district superintendent. To handle issues of physical violence on a school bus requires the child to report it to the bus driver or driver’s aide, and report it to their parent. The parent needs to follow up with the bus driver, the transportation managers and the school principal to make sure that they are all coordinating their efforts appropriately because while there is an internal mechanism to do that, the communications between the transportation department and the school can take several days because the bus driver has to write up a referral, which is then approved by the regional coordinator who gives permission for the referral to be sent to the principal who then has to decide what action if any to take and communicate back through the system to the buses and eventually the bus driver and the parents of the offending kid.  This can take so long that from first infraction to actual consequence can take several days.

While this is all taking place, the bully will become emboldened because nothing is happening to them despite being reported. Their bullying is likely to worsen. The victim who was brave enough to report them is wondering why they even bothered since nothing is happening to the bully and they basically got away with it.  The documentation, reporting and consequence process can take several days and it isn’t unusual for the child who is bullying to rack up several more infractions and reports before the first consequence is delivered to them. At which point they have done so much harm to others and have racked up sufficient referrals that they are in the process of being banned from the bus without actually having been given an opportunity to correct their behavior for the first infraction!

If you are having trouble finding compassion for the bully who is hurting your child, keep in mind. They are a child, just like yours and if your child was the bully and you didn’t find out about it until they were banned from the bus because of this process, how would you feel?

Your job as the parent is to find a solution that is good for both your child and the bully, which means, pushing these reports through to completion so that any delay is minimized. That is good for your child and for the bully and their parents as well.

In order to do this, you have to make sure you are following and tracking any report you have made to make sure that everyone who is supposed to know about it and take action on it is notified the same day (ideally) as you make the report. This will help ensure that everyone is doing what they are supposed to do and that they are expediting the process. .

The other reason to follow up is so that you can find out what sort of action is being taken against the offender so that you can tell your child and keep them informed. This is essential if your child is going to continue to report problems. They need to KNOW reporting was worth the effort, otherwise they will stop reporting and the bullying will continue. Don’t expect the school or the driver to keep your child informed. It is your job as the parent to keep your child informed.

Who’s Who

Because knowing who to talk to and report things to is so essential, here is a quick list of primary players and what their roles are.

The Teacher – if the bullying is taking place in the classroom or on the playground, the teacher needs to know about it so that they can keep an eye out for it. Don’t assume the teacher isn’t concerned if they appear or seem less concerned about what is happening than you think they should. They have a lot to do and are overworked and quite busy and they can’t possibly see everything that is happening. Treat them like a trusted partner and keep them informed of what is going on. If you plan to talk to others within the school, let the teacher know so that they aren’t blindsided or made to feel like you are going behind their back. Make them an active partner. Don’t blame them for what your child is experiencing.

The Principal – The principal is ultimately responsible for the safety of all the students in the school. If a bullying situation is serious and ongoing, the principal needs to know about it so that they can mobilize the resources of the school to help. Just as with the teacher, principals are also very busy and over worked and they have a lot on their plate. Help them help you and your child by providing them with timely compassionate and consistent information.

The School Counselor – Many schools have a school counselor on staff. Some schools share a counselor between several schools. Regardless, there should be a person who is trained in psychology who is tasked with helping children resolve difficulties they might have. If your child is being bullied, they need help learning how to cope with the emotions and in developing strategies to get the bullying to stop. All psychologists know operant conditioning as well as it is part of their training. If you child is suffering from chronic bullying make sure to reach out to the counselor for help directly. Don’t assume the principal will tell the counselor about what is happening for you. It is your responsibility as the parent. The counselor will be able to provide you with information and resources that can help you and your child cope with the bullying and navigate your way through the school system. They can often act as an advocate for your child as well within the administration of the school. Make contact with the school counselor directly.

Transportation Director – If the bullying is taking place on the bus, you need to make sure the bus driver knows about it and follow up with the regional coordinator. The driver and the coordinator work together to make sure students are safe on the buses.

School or District Safety Officer – Many schools and school districts have a safety officer. Their job is to help train staff on safety concerns and this includes bullying. They have resources available to them that your school may not. If the school is having problems dealing with your bullying situation, it is a good idea to reach out to the school safety officer to get them involved as well. Don’t assume the school has taken this step themselves. If it feels better, ask the principal if they have reached out to the safety officer and if not, let them  know you plan to, so again, they aren’t blindsided.

Local police or sheriff juvenile division – If your child is being hit, harmed, threatened or having thing stolen from them, be aware that these are crimes. Just because they occur on school property doesn’t lessen the fact that they are crimes. If the problem is severe enough, you may want to reach out to the police or sheriff’s office. Before doing so ask the principal if they think it is warranted. There are times they will recommend such action.  Before jumping to this option, keep in mind that the bully is still a child. Legal intervention is usually sought as a last resort and should be done as a way to get kids in crisis the help they need when all other attempts to help them have failed.

Do Your Research

Learn what to do about bullying Before contacting the school it is a good idea to do your research. What are the school policies regarding bad behavior. What are the rules and procedures that the school already has in place to deal with such things?  What are the rules and procedures for the school bus.

Knowing what the rules are and what the school is supposed to do will help you a) have realistic expectations over what can and can’t be done and b) it will help you follow the reporting of problems through the system.

You can most likely find all the student rules and requirements online as well as contact information for all the people you might need to contact to get help with the bullying situation.

What to expect

Bullying takes time to stop. It isn’t something you can report once and be done with. To get bullying to stop takes courage, compassion and consistency. The most important part of this is consistency. It isn’t the specific punishment that a bully receives, it is the fact that the cost of bullying becomes too high to continue and that their victim, your child, is no longer allowing them to get away with it.

To get the bullying to stop, your child must be empowered to report every single incident of bullying without exception. And you need to make sure they keep reporting even when things get tough and they want to give up!

When your child starts reporting bullying consistently, the bully will cycle through what is known as an extinction burst. This means they are going to get more aggressive and creative in trying to reassert control over your child. Your child must continue to report all incidences of bullying anyway and more importantly, let the bully know that they are being reported every single time. The bully needs to learn that your child isn’t afraid of them and isn’t going to let them get away with it.

You need to be following up with the school to make sure that the reports are being attended to. It isn’t unusual for teachers, bus drivers and principals to put pressure on bullied kids to not report. They don’t do this to be mean to to enable the bullying, they are just focused on their own issues and concerns and may not want to deal with the problems all this “reporting” causes. Additionally, they may begin to wonder whether your child is lying to get attention.

Don’t get mad that this occurs. Expect it. It is a normal human response and if you were in their shoes, you’d probably respond the same way. Again, courage, compassion and consistency are key.

Instruct your child to continue to report despite the pressure to stop. Let them know that the ONLY way to get the bullying to stop is to report and keep on reporting until the school takes the appropriate action or the bully gives up. Whichever comes first.

Developing a strategy

It is a good idea for you and your child to have a strategy for how you plan to handle the bullying before you contact the school. Remember, your child must be empowered to confront the bullies by refusing to provide the bully with the response the bully is hoping to get. These strategies include:

  • Something they can say that will let the bully know they were heard, but that your child is not going to comply with the bully
  • Body Language – how your child responds is as important if not more than what they say.
  • An action they can take. This might be reporting, but is sometimes not. For instance, if your child is being prevented from playing in a certain area of the playground, the action may simply be to start playing despite a bullying telling them not to. And yes, this will provoke the bully to escalate, that’s kind of the point.

Bullying is all about power. Bullies bully because it gives them power and control over their victims. The ONLY way to get bullying to stop is to reclaim your power by refusing to allow the bully to control your actions anymore. Bullies will respond to a loss of control with an extinction burst which is an escalation of their behavior to reassert control over their victim. If they fail to reassert control, they will eventually give up and “blow out.”

The school can help this process by providing consequences to the bully thus raising the cost of their bad behavior. When you have a plan as to HOW your child plans to retake control from the bullies, your interaction with the school is easier. Your goal is not to have the school solve all your problems. Your goal is to have the school support your child by taking appropriate action when, not if, your child reports bullying behavior.

What Ideally Should Happen

Getting a bully to stop takes time and a concerted effort by everyone involved. This process may seem like overkill, but if you want to get the bullying to stop your child, you and the school must be 100% consistent in responding to each and every violation.

Here are 5 things that must be done daily in this process.

  1. Your child will report every incidence of bullying to teachers and others at the school in real time.
  2. When your child comes home, you will debrief them and compile that day’s bullying log with them.
  3. You will contact the school immediately to follow up and make sure they have a copy of that day’s log so that they can take appropriate action and follow up on their end.
  4. At the same time, request information on what action if any was taken on previous day’s reports.
  5. Discuss with your child current developments and any changes that are needed to their strategy.

Again, this may seem like a lot, but it is what needs to happen if you are going to get the bully to stop. If you only report weekly or every other day. Or if your child fails to report things that are happening in real time, the bullies will experience what is known as variable reinforcement. The variable nature of the reinforcement will actually strengthen their bullying behavior. This is one of those well known facts in behavioral management. It is fully documented and studied. To avoid variable reinforcement, responses in real time must be consistent. The bully must know they are being reported every time.

To keep the school mobilized and to ensure that consequences aren’t occurring weeks later, you need to follow up. The more quickly a school can deliver a consequence to the bully the better. Remember. You aren’t doing this to punish the bully. You are simply retraining them to behave more pro-socially. This is going to have long term benefits, not just for your child, but for the bully as well and for the society in which we all live. Bullies that are allowed to continue bullying are at much greater risk of having legal problems as adults. It is critical we work together to teach them better ways of behaving.

For further learning

Get a copy of The Bully Vaccine if you don’t already have it, or check out the Bully Vaccine Home Vaccination Toolkit which includes a free copy of the book.

Questions, Comments, Feedback

If you have any questions, comments or feedback, please leave it in the comment section below. I promise I will respond to every question and the Q&A will be helpful to others who are struggling.

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