The weeks following Labor Day bring the start of a new school year. For some students, there is a palpable excitement to return back to school, to see friends and swap summer vacation stories and meeting new teachers. For others though, the there is a fearful hope that maybe this year is the year things will be different. Since bullying is in the forefront of public consciousness, let’s work to make our schools safe for all students, teachers and staff; as we’ve seen over the summer adults can be bullied too.
What can we do to help everyone in our school communities start off on the right foot? Here are some tips for students, parents, teachers and staff:
- There is a saying plastered all over the New York City subway system, if you see something, say something. The same is true about bullying in schools! If you see a fellow student being targeted, ask if he/she is ok afterward, encourage the target to talk to an adult, or step in stand up for the target (I know much easier said than done!) If you can let the targeted student know they are not alone, it’ll help them feel less scared and perhaps will be able to feel empowered to advocate for himself/herself.
- If you are being bullied, feel confident you can speak to an adult. Even if it’s just to vent! Tell your parents when you are ready (the sooner the better, not one parent I know wants their child to keep problems to themselves, especially about bullying). If you want to speak to someone at school think about an adult in your school you trust. It can be the school secretary, a former teacher or the school nurse.
- If you realize that you are being a bully, it’s commendable to see your behavior from the outside. You can change your behavior and do it. Like I suggested to the students who are being targeted, talk to an adult you trust if you can see that you are starting to bully other kids. I’ve seen kids as young as 9 talk to me about being bullies and wanting to be different.
- Let your child know that if they have any problems at school it’s safe to talk to you. Kids are often worried about how their parents will react when they disclose being bullied.
- As you and your child talk about how his/her day went, try to find teachable moments to encourage your child to be an upstander – kids who stand up for targets – instead of a bystander.
- If your child comes to you and says their being bullied, see my earlier post about how to stand up for your child at school.
- If you learn your child is bullying, see my earlier post about how to cope with a bullying child.
- Foster a relationship with your child’s advisor/homeroom teacher. They could be a tremendous asset if you are concerned about your child’s school experiences.
- Help create a climate in your school that fosters empathy and communication. Some schools I’ve consulted in have school wide initiatives with each grade creating citizenship rules.
- Kids who do bully are smart at hiding it from school staff, therefore if a student who is targeted does confide in you, listen compassionately and let the student know you care. It’s easy to dismiss a student after a long day especially if you haven’t seen anything happen. Keep your eyes out and check in with the student periodically.
- If you feel ill equipped to manage bullying in your classroom, discuss having professional development workshops about this topic with school administrators. At Freedom Institute I’ve been able to work with school staff how to better mange bullying and online relational aggression.