Your child’s school calls and tells you that your child is under investigation for bullying another student. What do you do next?
Below are five tips that will help you navigate the school’s process in a way that will be most productive for you and your child.
1. Listen to the school.
It is very difficult to hear criticism about our children. Often, parents’ first instinct is to protect their kids at all costs. If we go right into a defensive response when told that our child may have engaged in bullying behaviors, however, we cannot hear what the school is saying, and we are potentially sending a message to our children that it is acceptable to disrespect authority if things are not going our way.
If you believe your child is wrongfully accused, you should express that; but be sure that you are not robbing your child of a learning opportunity by ignoring or excusing behaviors that should not be excused. Although your intentions may be to protect your child, it is better that children face consequences for their actions in a school setting (and at a young age) than in the “real world.”
Follow this link to learn what signs to look for if you think your child may be bullying others.
2. Learn your state’s laws.
Most states have their own legal definitions of bullying as well as steps schools must follow when bullying occurs. Be sure you know what your state’s and school’s anti-bullying laws are. Also find out the consequences for different violations.
For example: Is there suspension involved? Will this be on your child’s transcript permanently? Will counseling and/or education also be provided? In addition to how the school is handling the situation, the law may also map out the appeals process if you believe your child was wrongly punished.
You can find the bullying laws in your state on the Stop Bullying website.
3. Communicate with administrators and your child — only.
Ask questions of both the school and your child to understand what happened and what you can expect. Since the school may not be able to share all details due to confidentiality requirements, your child may be your best source of information. Do not reach out to the other family involved unless the school has given you explicit permission to do so. If your child expresses a side of the story that you think the school is unaware of, share it with the school. For bullying claims, many schools must embark on a full investigation, so your child’s side of the story is important.
For more information, read 5 Ways You Can Work With Your Child’s School to Combat Bullying.
4. Remember the school’s primary responsibility.
The school is responsible for keeping all students safe, so that everyone is able to get an education. This means that even if your child did not realize the repercussions of her actions, the school still has to take steps to ensure that she understands why her behavior was wrong and that she won’t repeat it. Again, if you feel that there is more to the story than what the school is acting upon, you should share that with the school, but understand that even new information may not excuse your child’s behavior.
5. Turn this into a teaching moment.
Ask your child whether she understands the situation she is in and the reason for the consequences she is facing. Try to help her see this as a learning experience. She’s not a bad person, but she may have made some choices that she should avoid in the future. If you think your child could benefit from more education or counseling from the school, reach out to your child’s counselor or school officials and let them know.
Remember, the school is functioning in loco parentis for all children — including your child. If you team up with school officials and act as a unified front, your child will benefit the most from this experience — and, ideally, learn and grow in a positive direction.
You can find further guidance from expert resources on Noodle about school bullying, where you can read more articles and ask for advice from the community.