Reporting bullying: How to do it in a way that minimises the chance of backlash on your child and maximises the chance of action
Know the signs
You know your child the best. You will probably be the first one to notice any changes in your child’s behaviour. As soon as you notice any changes, start keeping a diary.
The changes to look out for:
- Refusal or reluctance to go to school
- Requests for you to drive them instead of catching the bus
- Complaints of stomach aches or headaches (could be a sign of anxiety)
- Sleeping in or wetting the bed
- A fall in the child’s grades or reports from the teacher that you child is withdrawing from some activities.
While these could be an indication of other issues that could be causing the child anxiety, make sure that you explore the issue of bullying with your child.
As a teacher, you might notice that the child starts hanging around the staff room, or the library during break times. You might see signs of distress such as crying, irritability, lethargy, withdrawal from class activities or complaints of headaches in class. You should also take these signs seriously and immediately discuss them with the child’s parents.
Know your rights and responsibilities
There are laws about bullying (see my previous post on the Disability Standards for Education 2005 – part 8). There are anti-discrimination laws and standards for practice in Australia, the US and the UK.
All schools should have a discipline and/or an anti-bullying policy. As a parent, don’t be afraid to ask to see a copy of this. If the school doesn’t have one, ask why.
If you are a teacher, you should study the school policy. You could also ask the principal to speak at a staff meeting about the policy so that all staff are aware of what they can do if they come across a case of bullying.
But the bottom line is … if you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask. Ask nicely (Lol), but be persistent.
Keep written records
Keep a diary of what is going on with your child. If possible, ask them to keep a diary. Having written records will help get action faster, and will also act as proof if the case becomes so serious that it needs to be dealt with by the authorities.
If your child has been physically attacked, take photos and put them in the diary as well.
Any incident needs to be taken seriously and acted on promptly.
Use you written records to regularly and persistently inform the teacher and/or principal about what is happening. For example, with your child’s permission, you might send an email or a letter detailing any incident to the principal on the day it occurs. Follow this up with a phone call.
Alternately, either you as the parent or the teacher can start a “communication book”. This is a book that the child carries between the parent and the teacher. Each time an entry is made and read, both parties must sign and date it. Keep a scanned or photocopied copy just in case your child loses it.
Persistence and tangible evidence usually means that the incidents are taken much more seriously.
Start this process as soon as anything happens. If you can prevent a small thing becoming big it is much better than letting it go because “it wasn’t such a big deal.”
Know what reporting systems are in place at school
Some schools have anonymous ways the child can report bullying. For example, a “Bully Box”. This is usually in a private, safe place. It entails the child writing what happened and who the bully is and placing this in a secure box anonymously.
Other systems encourage the child to report incidents to peers, and the peers report it to higher authority if they cannot resolve the issue themselves. This may be called peer mediation.
Other incidents of bullying need to be reported more openly so protection mechanisms can be put in place for the child. Find out who the child feels safe with at school, and encourage them to report what happened in detail. If they report an incident to you, don’t be tempted to brush it off.
“Sticks and stones can hurt my bones
But words can never harm me.”
“Boys will be boys.”
Maybe. But they need to be told when they have crossed the line.
“Yes, the girls are a bit catty. It’s just a phase they are going through. She should find new friends.”
Maybe. But they need to know when their behaviour is inappropriate and hurtful.
“Don’t be a cry-baby!”
Everyone has different levels of resilience and different tipping points depending on their life experiences and individual characteristics. We need to be tuned in to this, not base our judgements on our own resilience.
Behaviour should be measured by its affect on a child, not by one person’s opinion of what is acceptable and “normal”.
Whilst the bullying is dealt with, create a safe space
Your child might need a place to escape to if they feel threatened, especially during break times. Some suggestions include:
- a quiet, highly supervised area in the library
- supervised activities in the computer room
- the school counsellor’s office
They will need a circle of supporters. This could include:
- a buddy from a higher year (eg a year 6 buddy for a year 2 student)
- a group of supportive, same age peers
- a sibling or other relative at the school
- a teacher, school counsellor (social worker) or other adult mentor at school
- increased parental involvement at school (canteen, reading groups and any other volunteer opportunities)
Some good resources: