There are few tougher days in a mama’s life than when she sends her child off to school for the first time. It’s scarier than all heck to let our babies (because, yes, they will always be our babies) go out into the great big world without having our vigilant eyes and caring arms there to watch over and protect them. Let’s face it, for most of us, it’s way harder on us than it is on them, and we’re quickly amazed at how well they manage without us.
Yet when your children are targets of bullying, the fear and anguish at sending them off to school persists well beyond the first days of kindergarten. With the advent of Facebook and text messaging, parents’ worries can continue beyond the school day, thanks to cyberbullying.
Nothing pokes the mama bear in us like threats to our children’s safety and wellbeing. So what’s a mama to do?
Here are three responses to consider:
- Go online for help: StopBullyingNow has some great resources on what parents and other adults (and kids!) can do to both prevent and respond to bullying. There’s a great “Ask the Experts” feature, along with a special section for kids, info on cyberbullying, and more. StopBullying.gov offers great tips, too, including tips for recognizing the warning signs of bullying (including whether your child could be a perpetrator as well as a victim), suggestions of how to keep your kid safe online, and a special section for families of LGBT youth. Both websites talk about how parents can work with their children’s schools to help keep kids safe, which is important, because to help protect our own kids, we also need to help make sure their school community is safe for everyone.
- Look to the law: Thanks to a new state law, schools in Texas should soon have a plan in place to address bullying. As of September 1, public schools are now required to develop a policy that not only prohibits bullying but also lays out the ways the school will respond when it occurs. (If your child go to private school, the new law doesn’t extend there, but that’s no reason you can’t encourage the school to follow the state’s lead.)
- Summon your inner activist: Not all policies are created equal, and even when good policies are established, they aren’t always followed. Many parents have to push hard to get schools to do what they’re supposed to, and unfortunately there is no real accountability built into the new law that guarantees schools will actually do what their policies say they’ll do.
So mama bears need to remain vigilant! Find out what the bullying policy is in your child’s school. Make sure it goes farther than merely prohibiting bullying (if only it were that easy). It also needs to include practices and interventions shown to work when it comes to preventing and responding to bullying. Using threats, punishment or transferring a bully out of a school just won’t cut it. (What does moving a child who bullies do to help him or her change the next time your kid runs into that child outside the school doors? Not to mention that it does nothing to protect the kids in the new school . . .)
Instead, schools should be proactive, teaching and rewarding good behaviors in students and making sure the adults in the schools (that means everyone – teachers, principal, lady at the front desk, cafeteria workers, volunteers) consistently respond in ways that really address the problem. We’ve talked about it before in this space: a recommended approach called positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) offers a great framework schools can use to select and coordinate bullying-prevention strategies that put kids on a better path. (You can find out more about the PBIS approach and how schools can use it to addresses bullying by clicking here.)
If you sense some resistance, point out to your school’s administration that bullying affects more than just the kids directly involved. It impacts the entire school. It’s been linked to lower standardized test scores and higher dropout rates, things that schools don’t want. Changing the way our children’s schools do things may sound daunting, but it’s doable. It’s amazing what the voices and actions of committed parents can do. Unleash your inner mama bear!
Written by: Josette Saxton