What to do when the School calls about YOUR Kid and Bullying

Deep Thoughts 2 Comments

I’ve been a school counselor for 9 years. The use of the B word has certainly increased in frequency; maybe your kid has experienced it in some way.

I know my personal experiences with bullying as a kid helped shape me into the adult I am now, and the experiences my students share with me have shaped the counselor I am becoming each day.

When true bullying occurs it can be heartbreaking for those involved, both the bully and the target, and their parents.

I hope what I share with you will help you know what to do for your child or a child you love.

I’ll try to keep it simple by answering the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of the situation.

What:
Bullying.

What bullying is:
Targeted
Repeated
Intentional
Power-related

In a sentence:
The bully intentionally seeks the same target over and over again in order to damage his or her social status and build up the bully’s social power.

Bullying is NOT:
Conflict between friends
A one-time event
Only physical contact

Who:
Students-Kids-Yours
There are 3 roles in a bullying situation. Despite what you think, your child is ABSOLUTELY fulfilling one of these parts.

  1. The Bully
  2. The Target
  3. The Witness(es)

When:
Any time, really.

You were a kid once, right? You knew the moment you could get away with something. You knew to sprint down the hallway as soon as the teachers turned the corner. You knew to pass the note when they turned toward the board.

Kids KNOW when they can get away with stuff.

And as most of you understand, bullying isn’t an obvious physical fight. Sometimes that can be the culmination of unreported bullying, but the straw is piling up on the camel’s back long before that happens.

Kids can be sneaky. Adults can’t be everywhere.

Are there 7 seconds before the teacher makes it into the classroom because he or she is observing the rest of the class as they transition from their restroom break? That’s enough time to call any kid a plethora of names and knock his or her belongings to the ground.

Where:
Unfortunately, what we all already know is that it’s happening at school; on the bus, the playground, in the cafeteria, the hallways, and even the classroom.

Why:
Oh man, if I could find a one-size fits all answer to this problem, then we wouldn’t be hearing this word every day.

Basic behavioral principles tell us if a behavior continues it is being reinforced in some way. Sometimes, even the consequences are reinforcement.

Suspension? You mean I don’t have to come to school? Awesome. I get to sleep in and play games or watch TV while my folks go to work!

If your kid gets suspended for bullying and continues to bully upon returning to school, then fear of educational and adult consequences won’t motivate them to stop; ever.

Oftentimes the social status of the bully increases. Gaining influence, credibility, and access are all powerful motivators. Fear is influential. Laughter is fuel. Social invitations are currency.

How:
How do we make it stop?

This is another million dollar question. These are just my thoughts. They aren’t statistically proven and are relationship-based. Connections are vital to change.

If your child is the target:
I always brace when making this call. It’s never uplifting to tell this to a parent, and usually they get mad at the school in some way. I understand it, but I hate bearing the brunt of it. It’s never pleasant to tell a parent that their child can’t even come to school to learn without being teased or demeaned in some way. If you get this call, we understand your desire for justice, but we simply cannot tell you some details of what happens with the bully. They are literally federal laws protecting all children and how their information is released in schools.

LISTEN TO THEM
If you listen you may be able to discern whether or not it’s truly bullying, misunderstanding, or friendship conflict.

PRACTICE SELF-ADVOCACY
No matter which situation it turns out to be, show them how to stand up for themselves. Show them how to use big strong voices. Have them practice talking through a friendship conflict with you. Have them express their feelings in an “I” statement:

“I felt _(insert emotion here)_ when you _(insert specific words or actions of the other here)_.”

Yes: “I felt hurt when you said I suck at kickball.”

No: “I felt like you were a real jerk when you made fun of me at kickball.”

If these things don’t work,
ENCOURAGE REPORTING
There are adults who can help IF they know what is happening. Yes, you could just call or email on your own, but it’s a critical life skill to teach kids to report what is happening for themselves. Practice this with them, too. You can even write it out with them.

If you want to “help,” (read: manipulate) please consider discretion. Contact the adult at school and explain that you want your child to report on their own. This way, the school official can find a way to allow time for that child to report.

If your child is the bully:
If I call you, please believe i
n NO way am I calling to shame you or your child. I need your help AND I want to help. I’m not calling you to label your kid bad or label you bad. I’m calling so we can work together to change the behavior.
But if I do call you:
LISTEN TO THE DETAILS
Take a deep breath. Try not to react out of anger. No one wants to receive or make this phone call. If I have to call you to break this news, please know I have triple-checked that it truly meets the criterion. Ask to call back or come in to the school if you need time to calm down.

ESTABLISH COLLABORATION
There is a difference between standing by their side and being on their side. They need to know you want to help them through this problem. They need to know you love them. If this conversation is confrontational or punitive, you will not get honest answers. I’m not telling you not to have an at-home consequence. I am a firm believer that conversations between parents and children should not feel like a punishment. They should be desired. Grace and accountability are key.

GET HELP
Sometimes this is as easy as doing the first two items. It might mean getting help from the school staff, like the school counselor. In some cases, the reason your child is bullying may require therapy. Your school counselor can help with all of these things.

This is your kiddo. You love them and want what’s best for them. Guess what, I want what’s best for them, too. That’s literally my job-to advocate for what is best for each student. What your kids needs is to be at school and learning EVERY DAY. I bet we agree on that.

Lastly, there’s a part of the dynamic that isn’t in the equation when it comes to calling parents, because the child  who witnessed the bullying didn’t do anything wrong.

Let me be a bit more clear: It is highly likely that your child observed bullying and did NOTHING.

For me, that is the toughest part of the scenario to comprehend. I mean, I get being afraid, but what I don’t get is the lack of empathy and the lack of understanding of “strength in numbers.”

From a sheer numbers standpoint, most kids fall into the “witness” category. Sure, you may have heard them called “bystanders,” but I dropped that word when I realized how much it was lacking.

Specifically, POWER.

Bystanders are silent and weak.

Witnesses are strong and capable.

You won’t get a phone call if your child is a witness, but I need you to understand that at some point in life they WILL play that role.

It’s not enough to NOT laugh or otherwise encourage the bully. That is inaction.

Let’s empower them to take action. Talk to your child about treating others how they want to be treated. Teach them how to appropriately stand up for someone without bullying the bully.

If your child is a witness (and they probably are):
There are several basic methods they can use to help.

BECOME AN ALLY
This doesn’t mean they have to be best friends. It means they are being friendly for the moment. Sometimes the target won’t leave the area with them. There are other things they can do.

REPORT IT!!!!!!
Seriously, we can’t help if we don’t know it’s going on. They may need to tell more than one adult (recess aide, teacher, counselor). Sometimes the only adult they can tell is you. You can tell us if they can’t.

SPEAK UP
Admittedly, this one incurs the most social risk. Others will see and hear it. It may make your child the target. “Snitch” is another word thrown out by kids too much. They aren’t using it correctly, so you can educate your child if they are fearful of being labeled a snitch. Technically speaking, a “snitch” is someone who commits the same crime but “rats” on their accomplices in exchange for a lighter consequence. If your child is not taking an active part in the bullying, then they aren’t a snitch. If they are, and they tell because they know it’s the right thing to do, that certainly speaks volumes for their developing character.

Ultimately, you have to decide for your family what you value. Establishing your family values is a great topic of conversation for any family with school-aged children.

If you’re reading this and you have questions, send me a message. My passion is doing what’s right for kids no matter the situation. I can help.

 


  1. Nancy Mitchell - March 29, 2017

    Excellent article. Your target audience is parents. But adults bully, too. And in a former marriage I was a victim of deprecation, being made fun of, always being made to appear a fool (when I’d been a much better student than he), belittling, and a couple of times physical violence. Isn’t that bullying? Fortunately, I found a dear man who loves me for me, as I am, and I blossomed!

    • Hi Nancy!
      I agree with you that what you describe is adult bullying, and I’d take it a step further and call it verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. I am sorry those things happened to you. I suffered emotional abuse in my former marriage, as well.
      I am so glad you have found love with a good man. 🙂
      Thanks for reading!
      Lisa

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