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Dear Dr. Cherrye,

Bullying seems to be an immensely growing behavioral issue in our schools today. Some officials believe parents are making too much of this issue. A few refer to bullying as ‘horseplay’ or natural rough playing. Can you give parents tips on what bullying actually is, tell us signs to be aware of, and how much is enough? We need help, please.

~ We need help, please ~

Dear We need help, please,

Bullying is a pandemic in our nation’s schools, and you shouldn’t take it lightly. Realizing this, you must do everything possible helping your children deal with the pressures these annoying behaviors pose on their lives. As a parent and advocate for your child, please consider it your responsibility, to intervene and make others listen to your plea as well as expectation for help.

Let’s take a closer look this problem. Okay?

Let me ask these questions

As a parent, are you aware of the anti-bullying laws and policies in place at your child’s school? If so, how are policies being enforced? If not, have you voiced your concerns and/or asked to work closely with school officials in hope to create anti-bullying procedures at your child’s school? It sounds as if the school officials are not clear about what actually constitutes bullying behaviors, so go ahead and school them.

Now, I agree. In some cases, there are concerns about what constitutes bullying behaviors verses normal play, or friendly horseplay, so I’ll define what bullying is and what it looks like.

Bullying Defined

Verbal (name calling, teasing, insulting, or threatening)

Physical (hitting, kicking, scratching, pushing, stealing, hiding/destroying someone else’s property)

Social (refusing to talk to or play with someone, purposefully excluding someone)

Cyber (using electronics such as computer to write, or forward mean, demeaning messages about someone)

Religious bullying (1. Children who refer to themselves as Christians are bullied by ‘non-believers’ due to their faith in God, or 2. Children who refer to themselves as Christians bully those who they deem as ‘non-believers’).

Signs of bullying

  • ~Poor eating habits or asking to eat as soon as he/she gets home – bully has taken their lunch or lunch money
  • ~Depression
  • ~Torn clothes or mysterious bruises/scratches
  • ~Isolating self from others – appearing lonely
  • ~A change in grades – poor grades
  • ~A sudden dislike for school
  • ~Exhibiting unfounded anxiety
  • ~Sudden low self-esteem
  • ~Complaint of sick feelings – stomach aches, headaches
  • ~Asking not to go to school for no good reason
  • ~Signs of threats or suicide

Horseplay Defined

This is when there is friendly play or fooling around for fun. It may be rough play/fun, but it is not purposeful hurting. There’s usually an understanding of just plain fun, and the friendship continues with genuine understanding.

Now that you know the difference between bullying and horseplay, and you still have reason to believe your child is being bullied:

Stop, Look & Listen NOW!

Talk to your child. Whatever you’re doing or plan to do, stop! Your child must trust you’ll drop whatever you’re doing to see him/her through this crisis. Your child needs to know you’re listening to him/her; you hear their frustration and the pain they’re experiencing.

When discussing issues, you may want to repeat what you’ve heard your child say to you, thereby acknowledging that you’re really listening. Let your child know you’ll be there for them “at all cost.”

  1. Give your child undivided attention
  2. Nod your head (indicates you are listening)
  3. Eye contact – look into their eyes
  4. No distractions (T.V., telephone, computer – these can wait)
  5. Repeat what they’ve said to you – ensure them you’re really listening

Documentation

  • Get the story as clearly as possible from your child and document everything from your child’s version of the bullying incidents to every conversation you’ve had with school officials.
  • Be sure to write things down as soon as an occurrence arises or a conversation happens. This way, incidents are still fresh in your child’s mind. You may want to keep documentation separated by tabs in a tablet or a notebook to maintain a distinct record of each person’s story. It will be important to keep your child’s version separate from a school official’s so that messages don’t end up overlapping, getting accidentally mixed-up or combined.
  • Have other students been affected by the bully or bullies who are attacking your child? If so, what are their names? Were there any witnesses to the incidents? If so, get their names? Does your child remember which class the other students are enrolled in? Can your child point them out? Encourage school officials to interview other children who may have been bullied.
  • Use dates, times and settings in your documentation. Did the incident happen in the cafeteria, classroom, or on the playground? Detailed documentation will not only help school officials target bullying incidents, but it will also give school officials an indication of how best to resolve issues as they examine antecedents (causes/variables that may have prompted the bully to react inappropriately), so that changes and individually tailored support plans can be implemented.

Approach school staff immediately

  • Bullying will not just stop on its own. Don’t be afraid to approach school administrators.
  • You might find that some school officials and administrators may be territorial and believe they’re the educational experts, and you’re “just a parent.” Since you’re your child’s greatest advocate, here are a few ideas of how to approach the issue of your child being bullied while working collaboratively with school officials:

~Do your research. You can assist school leaders with ideas of how to bully-shield and bullyproof the school your child attends.

~Approach school leaders as if you’re on their side. Do what you can to avoid creating an adversarial relationship between you and the people who have the power to help stop what’s happening

~Let school leaders know you’re not only concerned about your child, but all children enrolled at the school. This will soften your approach thereby giving you greater lead-in for support and next steps.

~Begin speaking to the school counselor before working your way up the organizational chart – Test the water, first.

Personal Note: When my own child was bullied at school, I spoke to the school principal directly. Due to budget cuts, this particular school had no assigned counselor. I approached the situation as a concern for the other child as well as my very own child. I said, “Perhaps this young girl is having personal problems in her home life that’s making her feel angry.” Other times I would say, “Sounds like this child wants to take charge and is a bit bossy. Perhaps she can be shown how to use her leadership skills in a more positive and productive manner.” By using this approach with the school principal, I believe I softened the conversation, thereby gaining the principal’s attention. It appeared to me she was more willing to listen.

School officials won’t help – Now what?

Before I address this problem, I want to urge parents to always gather as much information about your school the first week or two of the new school year. This is the time when the climate is still warm and friendly, and stress levels aren’t heightened due to the pressures of trying to keep up with everyday school life.

Know the district level office organizational chart and levels of administration assigned to your child’s campus. Attempt to retrieve their contact information such as names, email addresses, voice mails, and telephone numbers, and perhaps location of their offices – this is last resort and you should never show up without an appointment.

  • When school officials at the campus level of your child’s school will not listen to you or help you through a bullying crisis, and you know you’ve done your part: 1. you have spoken to the classroom teacher, 2. school counselor, 3. assistant principal, and 4. principal if circumstances have taken you this far, you should contact central office staff and speak to your child’s school assigned area superintendent. That’s right – keep moving up the organizational chart. You have that right!
  • Share your concerns and let this individual know you’ve tried to work collaboratively with school officials at the campus level of your child’s school. Trust me – Now that bullying has gained national attention, there’s no doubt this person will be all ears.
  • There are approximately 48 states that have laws mandating anti-bullying programs and services in schools, but some schools have been slow in implementing the programs.
  • Be sure to know the anti-bullying laws of your state (Bully Police, USA) has a state-by-state listing of anti-bullying legislation). Be ready and able to recite the Senate Bill and House Bill laws associated with the bully’s offense. For example, if you live in Texas and your child is experiencing sexual harassment issues at school, and no one will address the issue, share your knowledge of SB 471 and HB 194 (always check for revisions/updates). If you do this, everyone will know that you mean business!

When to call a lawyer

  • If you have gone through all the recommended steps above, more than likely you will not have to call a lawyer; however, there may be times when your story will land on “deaf ears.” If no one will listen to you, or if everyone has listened to you and they’ve chosen not to intervene, there’s no more time to waste. You’ll want to get legal advice immediately! Time is of the essence and the safety of your child is paramount!

Focus on your child

  • Remember, there are effective steps you can take as your child’s anti-bullying advocate. Consider the fact that bullying related suicides (bully-cides) are real. See the three blog posts – I’ve written covering the topic of Suicide.
  • STOP whatever you’re doing and act quickly on your child’s behalf. Our children count on us to help them during crisis. This is not the time to put ANYTHING else before your child. Show your child he/she can trust and count on YOU.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below!

IMPORTANT!

I’ve made it my mission to assist parents in resolving the bullying issues their children are suffering. Offering your feedback and suggestions in the comment section could facilitate meaningful dialog on this critical issue among ourselves and I encourage this. I will respond to each comment in a timely way.  Should you wish to speak privately with me, please email me at CherryeVasquez@gmail.com, and I will reply promptly.

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