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Communicating with Schools

Parents and schools must be a team to instill the principles of SEATBELT (bullying prevention, engagement, leadership, and teaching respect) and ensure that all children’s environments are safe and supportive. It’s important to find out from school staff what their expectations and strategies are for preventing bullying and for creating a safe, caring environment. You should work with your child’s schools early and often. If problems do occur, you need to have strategies for communicating clearly to school staff to help restore or create a safer environment.

 

How can you work with your child’s school to establish SEATBELT principles? +

You can ask your child’s school leaders simple questions about what they are doing to establish a safe environment and to help children become more respectful, responsible, and resilient. These questions can encourage them to think about what they’re doing now and also what they can do differently. The adults in your child’s school might not have answers to these questions right away, but by asking them, you can show them what matters to you. You can also suggest that students and adults together pick a few questions that are most important for your school community and meet on a regular basis to work on them. Keeping the lines of communication open is important. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • How are students taught to cope with frustration, anger and other challenging feelings? Who teaches these skills and what are the strategies they teach?
  • Does the school use a specific program(s) to teach social and emotional skills like conflict resolution, showing understanding and empathy for others, and being aware of emotions? How does the school know whether the program works? Is there any evidence?
  • Are students provided any form of Human Rights Education and encouraged to stand up for others’ human rights?
  • Is someone on the staff responsible for making sure that all students feel safe and are treated kindly and respectfully? Who is that person?
  • Does the school survey students on a regular basis about whether they feel safe, respected and cared about? How can students and parents get access to the results?
  • How can students be involved in making decisions about some of the things that happen in the school, such as school values, behavior consequences, and community events and non-academic programming?
  • How do students know what the expectations are for their behavior toward others, both in and out of classrooms? How do school staff ensure that children understand and fulfill these expectations?
  • How can students tell teachers when they are feeling upset or in need of support without the other students knowing?
  • How do school staff work with students who repeatedly act in aggressive, hurtful or disrespectful ways at recess, lunch, in hallways, or at other times? How do teachers and other staff know what they are supposed to do? How do they stop the behavior, and how do they prevent it from happening?
  • What role does the school expect aides, bus drivers and other support staff to play in ensuring that all students are physically and emotionally safe?
  • How can parents provide feedback to school leaders and staff? Who can they go to when there is a problem?

You can also suggest that your child ask similar questions to school leaders. You may need to guide your child in asking these questions to school leaders in respectful ways.

When and how should you report bullying to schools? +

Sometimes, even with the best prevention efforts, bullying and other hurtful situations still happen. When they do, it’s important to know how to talk with school leaders and staff and how to work together with them to find a successful resolution:

  • Talk to your child about what has happened
    • Ask your child to share the specifics of the situation and how he/she reacted and felt. Remember not to overreact or downplay his/her story.
  • If you and your child agrees that the school needs to be involved, ask your child to write down what happened in his/her own words and in his/her own handwriting
    • This way, no details will be lost, and you and the school staff members can have the same understanding of the situation. Ask your child to include possible solutions to the problem.
  • Review the school’s policy and procedures on bullying, harassment and other negative conduct
    • These may be kept in student handbooks or the school website, and you should be able to get copies from the school office as well. This can help you figure out who to go to. Some schools have a formal reporting system. If your school does not, you should approach the principal. You should also determine if your child’s report matches the policy and, if so, explain this to the principal or person in charge of reporting. If it doesn’t meet the policy but you are concerned, or if your school doesn’t have a policy, still approach the principal and explain your concerns.
  • Send a written letter or email to the principal or other person in charge school requesting a meeting; Include a copy of your child’s report
    • Example Letter:I am writing to request a meeting to discuss my concerns regarding bullying of my child [child’s name]. Please read the attached letter that [child] wrote in his/her own words, I believe this incident qualifies as bullying under the definition described in [student code of conduct]. [Child] is very upset over this interaction and it is affecting his/her ability to complete his/her school work and engage in school. I am requesting your help to help find a solution to ensure the bullying stops and a safe environment is restored for [Child] and other students.

During and after a meeting with the school, remember to:

  • Recognize that there are always two sides to a story
    • We all want to believe our kids, but sometimes their best reports will miss critical details. Listen to the other side, and find a solution that supports and resolves the situation for all involved.
  • Focus on resolving the situation for your child
    • Our tendency is to want to punish the “bad guy,” and often some form of reprimand or discipline is important, but sometimes discipline or punishment is not necessary to resolve a situation and may even make a situation worse. For instance, if the other child is suspended for bullying, he or she may retaliate. Focus on what is going to help change the environment and prevent further bullying from occurring. Sometimes this may mean getting more adult supervision of your child on the school bus, or providing your child sessions with a school counselor.
    • If the other child is disciplined, understand that the school may be limited in what they can share regarding actions taken against another student. Federal law prohibits schools from sharing such information with other parents.
  • Keep a written record of all the actions you and school staff have agreed to
    • If bullying continues or the climate does not improve, follow up with the involved school staff and, if necessary, bring your records to a higher authority, for example at the district level.

How should you respond when your child is accused of bullying? +

One of the hardest things for a parent to hear is that their child is acting hurtfully or disrespectfully, or is bullying other children. The most common reaction for parents is to deny that their child could be the one causing harm to others. But remember, there are many reasons children may bully or act unkindly toward others, including as a way to gain social status. It is important to stay calm if a school informs you that your child has been involved in bullying or acted hurtfully toward another student and do the following:

  • Take it seriously
    • Don’t automatically deny that your child could be involved. Listen to what the school says happened and resist arguing until you talk to your child.
  • Ask your child what happened and ask him/her to write it down in his/her own words; Remember that children who are about to get in trouble will often deny what has happened
  • Compare the two versions of events, talk to your child about why the accounts differ, and work with him/her to see why the behavior might have been deemed bullying
  • Work with the school to find a solution that helps your child learns from his/her behavior
    • Consequences are very important, but detentions, suspensions, or expulsions do little to teach your child. Encourage solutions that help your child build empathy, repair the school environment, and change the behavior.
  • Determine if there are other issues bothering your child
    • Sometimes children bully or engage in hurtful behavior because they are struggling with something socially or emotionally. Seek professional help if needed, either through school counselors or professionals in the community (such as those recommended by your child’s doctor).
  • Follow up with your child and the school to ensure the problem has been resolved
    • If the problem persists, continue to work with the school and your child to resolve the issue. Be sure to also use strategies that teach your child to be kind.