Many of us have had the talk with our kids: be aware of bullying, report any incident right away, don’t be a bystander. But are we as prepared to deal with this problem with our own children, and as an extension, their schools, if it happens to our child?
According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the federal agency responsible for funding health research, as many as one in three adolescents in Canada has reported being bullied recently. Bullying is defined as the use of fear and intimidation to gain power and control. Any aggressive behaviour such as name-calling, teasing and spreading rumours, right up to physical violence are forms of bullying. It can lead to anxiety, low-self esteem and depression, which, as we are all aware, can lead to suicide.
One Toronto mother was recently so concerned about the school’s response when her daughter was being bullied that she shadowed her at school to personally protect her. Was this the best approach? According to Michael Reist, probably not.
Michael is a teacher with 30 years of experience in the classroom, a sought-after speaker and author of the recently released What Every Parent Should Know About School. He is a wealth of information on the best way for a parent to deal with their child’s school. Follow his advice for the most effective way to get results:
STEP 1. Work with your child. Throughout the entire process, keep your child involved and try to model calm, problem-solving behaviour.
“One of the reasons children don’t report bullying is they’re afraid they’ll lose control and draw attention to themselves,” says Michael. “The last thing a child wants is to be the drama of the week.”
Michael doesn’t recommend contacting the parents of the bully unless you have a good relationship with them. “Kids who are bullies often have bully parents, and it may only escalate the problem. I recommend the participation of some kind of mediator, which is usually the teacher or the principal.”
STEP 2. Make an appointment to speak with the teacher, in person or over the phone and calmly tell them what is happening. In an ideal world, Michael says, all bullying would end with the teacher’s involvement. “The only guarantee against bullying is the presence of a strong adult, an adult who is willing to take responsibility.”
This is the stage where the teacher should get all the facts. He or she should speak to the bullied child and the bully separately, then decide if it would be okay for all three to sit down together. The teacher’s approach with the bully is simply, ‘This is not going to continue.’ The teacher needs to tell the bully he or she trusts the child to be a part of the solution.
It’s important to have compassion for both children involved. “The bully is a hurting kid. He or she needs help as much as the bullied child,” says Michael.
STEP 3. Involve the principal. Although this is the next rung on the ladder in dealing with the problem, Michael sees it as an unfortunate step. It’s a sign that the parent has lost confidence in the teacher’s ability to deal with the problem, or that the teacher really is unable to deal with the problem. The principal will get the facts from all involved and implement a solution.
STEP 4. Go to the superintendent. This is the supervising officer of the principal and an employee of the school board. If the issue is still not being resolved, the next step is to take the matter to the Trustee. The Trustee is the elected official on the school board. Since the trustee is an elected official, there might be more motivation to resolve the problem.
Michael has important reminders for parents in this situation. “The attitude of the parent is ‘this problem is going to be solved. I’m not going to be silenced.’ ” While it is a highly volatile issue, it’s crucial for parents to have their emotions in check before meeting with school officials. And follow up every step of the way. Agree on timelines with the teacher or other officials when you will be checking in on progress. “The only yardstick is ‘Does my child feel safe?’ Then you’re done,” says Michael.
Hear more bullying tips from Michael Reist at ParentsCanada.com/momsense
November 17 to 23 is Bullying Awareness Week: Help your kids stand up to bullying and effectively deal with the problem by working with your community. To get more information, visit bullyingawarenessweek.org
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November 2013.