The phone rings, you answer it, and on the other end is your child’s school principal. She requests that you come to the school immediately, there’s been an incident involving your son Timmy. He has been bullying a student on the playground. You agree to come right down. You grab your keys and purse and head to the car. As you drive to the school thoughts start swirling, “Did she say Timmy was bullying? No, she must have said he was bullied. My Timmy is a good kid. He wouldn’t bully anyone…would he?” You arrive at the school, a knot in your stomach, unprepared for what is to come. How do you respond to the principal, the victim, his parents, your son?
That is the pivotal question-How do you respond? For most of us instinct kicks in and we want to start the “Not my kid-your kid must have provoked him.” defense. That is definitely not what should happen. Before you enter the school-take some deep breaths and remember that what is important here is helping your child not keeping your mommy reputation intact. Some basic tips on what to do during this meeting are:
- Don’t immediately go on the defensive
- Listen carefully to what is said about the incident by the principal, the victim and your child. Restate what you have heard to make sure you understand the details.
- Calmly discuss the situation with all involved.
- Ask the principal what the school policy requires the punishment/reaction to be (most schools have a zero tolerance bullying policy in place-sometimes even just one incidence of bullying can lead to suspension).
- Assure the principal that you take bullying very seriously and that you will deal with it at home and be in contact with the principal.
As the two of you head to your car, keep breathing deeply. This is when it gets very hard you want to either cry or lash out at your child but this is not the time or place. It is often best to be silent in the car and let the child process what he has just witnessed in the school office. Assuming your child is guilty and has confessed to the bullying there are action steps that need to take place.
- Discuss/explain that bullying is not acceptable behavior.
- There must be an apology and restitution should be made. If something was ripped or broken during the incident it must be replaced-at the child’s expense. Otherwise the child should be required to do something for the victim. You may need to work with the victim’s parents on this one.
- Show respect to the school officials and accept whatever punishment is handed down from the school. One major lesson that bullies need to learn is respect of others and their property. You need to model that behavior by respecting the school and its leaders.
- Specify concrete consequences for bullying. Be firm and consistent in your discipline. Follow through with whatever punishment you hand down.
Now that the immediate response is over, take a break. Let your child go to their room and you do something relaxing so you can both get your perspective back on the big picture. I will not blame all bullying on how a parent does there job as a parent but…if a child bullies-there are some major character flaws that need to be fixed. Our children need to be taught empathy, respect and compassion. We need to model these traits in our daily lives and we need to reward good behavior-especially in areas our child is lacking-but growing in.
We also need to examine the atmosphere in our home. Are negative speech and put-downs allowed? Is there a lot of violence on the television and video games that our children view? Do we value each person in our family or are some seen as “less important” than others? The social atmosphere in our home, school, church and civic groups help to form who our child becomes and how they behave in social situations. As parents, on of our jobs is to train our children so that they know how to behave and react when they are with other people. This training is the parent’s responsibility not the school’s or even the church’s.
- Teach and model acceptable ways to reduce stress, frustration and anger.
- Be involved in your child’s school and other activities.
- Decrease the violence at home
- Teach and model taking responsibility for your actions
- Teach empathy, respect and compassion-teach your child to prefer others over themselves
None of us want our child labeled as a bully. If you see signs that your child has some of the common character/behavior traits of a bully work with your child to make changes so that it never reaches the point where you get that call to the principal’s office.