One of the most common complaints I hear from parents is about unchecked bullying in their child's school and the frustration that the school "isn't doing enough" to improve negative interactions between kids. Parents feel the weight of their children's pain and like their kids, often feel helpless to do anything about it.
The reality is that bullying is an issue that needs to be taken on by the entire school community. Professor Faye Mishna, Dean of the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto and a leading expert on bullying writes, "[Bullying] can't be left up to the kids or only to the teachers... From the principal through the rest of the school, the school community has to take it really seriously."
What does that mean? It means parents, kids and all those connected with the school need to be united in their efforts to make change. While the school has its clear responsibility to ensure the safety of its students, it needs parents' support to make lasting, effective change to stop bullying.
Professor Mishna indicates the research backs this reality up, stating the most important elements associated with a decrease in bullying were parent training, improved playground supervision and classroom management
So, with the start of a new school year on the horizon, here are some suggestions to become an agent of change in your school community, to empower yourself and to help stop bullying.
1. Make a firm commitment to do what you can to better understand bullying and how to stop it. Even if your child hasn't been bullied, the odds are that somewhere down the road your s/he will. Prevention is the key!
2. Energize your friends to make the same commitment. Remember that bullying is about power imbalance. As parents we want to teach our kids how to use power (including power in numbers) for good, not ill. By banding together with other parents to stop bullying you will be modeling power for good!
3. Get to know kids' parents in your child's class. This way, when/if a problem arises you already have a foundation upon which you can develop problem solving strategies (instead of just getting angry) with the other parents that will help all the kids involved.
4. In September, have a meet and greet or a coffee klatch for the parents of your child's class. Ask the principal for space on school property to hold this meeting. Plan to get together again in December. If you can't meet face to face, make a phone call to other parents and introduce yourself.
5. As a parent body, ask your school principal to provide training for teachers, parents and kids on bullying and how to manage it. Teaching everyone in the school community how to recognize bullying, the different types of bullying and what kids/adults can do to about it is key to stopping bullying. By the way, there are fantastic peer mentoring and restorative justice programs out there for kids.
6. Change your vocabulary to suit your positive attitude. Instead of using the term "bully" or "bullied" make the change to "kids who bully" and "kids who are bullied." We don't like or condone bullying behavior, but we have to remember that kids who bully need support developing social skills and recognizing the impact of their behavior on others.
Now, let's get out there and believe that it's possible to make our schools truly incredible places for learning, friendship and lasting change! I know together we can do it.