A Teacher-Mom's Guide to Dealing with Your Child's Bully

     We live in an age where bullying is a real issue. The news is constantly reporting horrible stories of bad behavior that results in physical or emotional injury to a child....and everywhere,  the hearts of parents break.  WHY?!  Why are kids so horribly mean?! (I'm going to try answer this question in a post to be published in the VERY near future.) In the mean time, here is how to be an advocate for your child without being THAT PARENT.

First, a little clarification is in order.  As a teacher, I hear the word "bullying" used incorrectly as often as I hear the word "ain't" and it gives me chills in the same fashion.
Here is the definition according to violencepreventionworks.com:

"A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself."

So here is what bullying is not.  Bullying is not your child's best friend snubbing them on the playground after an argument. It isn't a random "Your mama's so fat" comment at lunch.  It's not even someone tripping them on the soccer field.  These things are annoying, mean and unacceptable and may even warrant action, but they are not bullying.  

Hear me well.  No one should EVER be ugly to your child.  No one should EVER harm them or make them feel unsafe...EVER.  Your child has the right to go to school and feel safe and you have the right to feel safe sending them.  Period.
  Here is how you can advocate for your child....from the mouth of a teacher and a notorious Mama Bear!

Be a safe harbor for your child

If you want to help your child, you have to be available to them.   Make sure your child knows ahead of time that YOU are on their side.  Talk often about your need for them to be honest with you about their feelings.  Make sure they know that you want to hear about their day...the good,  the bad and the ugly.  Let them know that it's OK for them to ask you about the dirty word they heard at school or the way a certain person made them feel and that you are not going to yell at them or get unreasonably upset.  Also, involve them in the decision making process when appropriate.  If they ask you to let them handle it themselves, allow them to try.  This teaches good conflict resolution.  Be aware, though, of when you need to step in.

Watch for a change in behavior

This can be tricky with moody preteens and teenagers, but keeping a watchful eye out for changes in eating, sleeping and socializing patters can be very telling.  When a child who generally likes school suddenly starts having behavior problems, begins avoiding school,  begins calling home with phantom illnesses or has a sudden drop in grades, he or she may be having difficulty with peers.  Keeps your eyes peeled and encourage open communication. Try to stay calm and approach the conversation in a way that does not compromise your position as their "tell anything" person.  

Follow protocol

  Once you know something's up, it's your job to take action.  This doesn't mean you automatically send  a "nastygram" to your local Board of Education.  It certainly doesn't mean blasting your child's teacher all over Facebook, and it never, NEVER means approaching your child's bully yourself.  You loose all credibility as a parent before your child and before the school when you act like a bully yourself.  Leave the discipline to the school!

Instead, set a good example of how to resolve issues and take these appropriate steps:
1. Ask your child for the details without "leading the witness".  You don't want to put things into their head that aren't really there.
2.  Send a quick and polite email to the teacher telling her about the issue and trusting her to take the right steps.  It never hurts to remember that she may not answer your email until the next day while she sorts through the details from her end.  It is okay for you to ask for a return phone call letting you know how the issue was resolved.  This ensures something will be done quickly.
3.  Document, document, document.  Keep a careful log off all the incidences involving the student or students who seem to have your child in their scope as well as all communication with the teacher or school.  You need to be able to prove that you took the appropriate steps should the need arise.  Communication by email is very important especially in severe bullying situations.  You want to have it in writing that YOU took the proper steps toward resolution.  Schools are required to keep email communication for years. 
4.  Continue to address the teacher politely when new but related (same students, same issue) incidences arise.  "Hey, I just wanted to give you a heads up that  we still had issues with __________ today. Maybe we can think about moving my child's seat somewhere else?"   Also, teachers appreciate parents who understand that no child is perfect.  Be open to the teacher's comments about your own child's behavior.  For example, don't be offended if the teacher tells you that your child should make better choices about with whom they sit at lunch.  Sometime a bullied child will gravitate to the bully in an attempt to make them like them.  Take the suggestion with grace and discuss it with your child if necessary. 
5.  Teach your child to stand up for them self without  resorting to retaliation.

A good rule to follow is:

First, ASK them to stop.  Sometimes that is all it takes. 

 Next, TELL them to stop.  Police say that even in kidnapping scenarios, a firm NO! or STOP! can change a situation dramatically.  This also ensures that your child has made it well known that they are NOT a willing participant in the offending activity.  

Finally, MAKE them stop.  Let me be very, very clear.  I am in no way condoning the use of violence or physical altercation as an acceptable resolution to a problem.  I am saying that it is OK to teach your child to stand up for himself and should the need arise, to defend himself.  Defending is different than retaliation in that it is meant to STOP an assault from happening NOT to get back at someone after the fact.  Once the altercation is over, any violence becomes retaliation and that is VERY hard to justify.

6.  Email the principal/ assistant principal of your child's school and explain that you have taken prior steps A,B and C.  Explain that you are not satisfied with the outcome and that you would like to meet to discuss further action. We live in a time when bullying is such a buzz word that schools are usually very quick to resolve an issue you have emailed about.  However, if you don't get the results you think are appropriate in a reasonable amount of time, you have the right to go on to the next steps.

7.  Be vigilant.  Document everything and don't stop seeking resolution until you are satisfied. If your child continues to be injured or threatened as investigation is happening at the school, things are not happening fast enough.  Don't be afraid to be a "squeaky wheel" until you know your child is safe!

Remember only after you have taken proper steps without resolution, is it proper to email higher positions (superintendent, Board of Education, etc.) 
With every step it is important to remember that your job is not to be the loudest, the meanest or the most demanding parent.  It is simply to protect your child.  Be respectful, be mature and be firm, but never underestimate yourself as your child's number one fan!

When all is said and done, don't forget to be grateful.  Thank the people who listened and who helped you get the job done....then, forget about it.  Talking about the incidents for years only further damages a child's self-esteem.  Move on, work on social skills as necessary and teach your child to be open to making new friends.  Not everyone is a bully!

If this article has been helpful to you in resolving your child's bullying issue at school, please leave a comment below!

Click here to read my LETTER TO A BULLY'S PARENTS.