If you want to know how “hot” of a topic bullying* is these days, just Google the word “Bullying” and click on the news articles for the topic. On any given day, you’ll see dozens of articles discussing bullying around the country. Some of these articles tell the stories of students who suffered from bullying. Others cover the new bullying laws popping up around the country. California law has-for decades- included bullying as a valid reason for suspension from school. While these laws do their part to assist school officials in maintaining safe and respectful schools, one thing is missing that may allow parents and staff to help schools curb bullying: clear guidelines for reporting bullying incidents.
My goal here is to provide you with steps you can take when you think your student has been the target of bullying.
Step 1: Talk with your child.
Parents’ sixth sense usually uncovers that something has happened at school. When they get in the car or when you are eating dinner, you notice that something is amiss. Ask questions like “You seem upset, did something happen at school today?” Do your best to get some kind of information, without being pushy.
You will probably not get a flood of information right away. Keep in mind that many students do not want to appear to be tattlers. If your instincts tell you that something is wrong, do your best to get the whole story. I say “the whole story” because very rarely are incidents between students one-sided. Find out what happened before the incident to get a better idea of what the whole problem may have been. The more you know, the more effective you will be in Step 2….
Step 2: Say something to us.
Too often, I will speak to parents after an incident has occurred and hear the parent say, “This has been going on with Bobby and Suzy for months.” Since the school can only solve the problems of which we are aware, it is important for parents and students to report incidents when they occur. My experience has been that when incidents are reported immediately, the chance of long term bullying is nearly 100% erased. So, the first step is to tell the teacher. This is not tattling or being nit picky. By making the teacher aware, you have cut the chances of continued problems. Depending on the incident, the teacher will either look into the problem, or will ask me to investigate and follow up with students and parents.
On a daily basis, La Mariposa staff members are monitoring these types of issues. Because students are developing the skills to navigate a large group setting like school, we need to observe and support students by being aware of student interactions. By notifying the teacher that an incident has occurred, you are taking the first step in solving the problem.
Step 3: Follow up.
Once you have notified school staff of the problem, you can rest assured that we will take your concern seriously and will do our best to work with the involved students to make sure the mistreatment ends. Sometimes this process takes a long time, as we may be trying to change long-held behaviors in a child. Either way, I recommend that you follow up with your child periodically (“Suzy, how have things been going with Bobby lately?”) You can also check in with the teacher to see if she has noticed any progress toward solving the problem.
Step 4: Make it a learning opportunity.
When students are involved in any type of mistreatment, there is something to learn. Our goal is to teach students how to learn and play with others so that they can be at their best every day. Make every incident a chance to develop a new skill, be it resilience or self-advocacy. One way to help students develop these skills is through questioning:
- “What will you do the next time something like this happens?”
- “Do you know what you will do or say if someone else does this to you?”
- “What adult will you talk to the next time something like this happens?”
Elementary school is full of challenging situations for students. Children often encounter feelings or experiences for the first time in elementary school, and our task is to work together to make sure that students feel safe and equipped to deal with these new challenges.
*PVSD defines bullying as any negative action or behavior that interferes with a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.