We Can’t Stop Bullying Alone

It seems to me sometimes that children’s teachers and children’s families live on different planets when it comes to the issue of keeping our children safe in school. Personally, I’ve lived on both of those planets.

When my daughter was in elementary school, I knew about mean behaviors going on in her classroom, and I didn’t tell her teacher. I didn’t think she’d be interested. I also, as a teacher, heard reports of mean behavior from children’s families and after investigating, didn’t think they were true. At the time, I didn’t understand how hidden bullying behaviors can be. Now I think I didn’t dig deeply enough. I’m not proud of either of these facts, but having both perspectives has helped me understand that we educators must build partnerships with students’ families in order to keep children safe.

Not long ago, I read Michele Borba’s “19 Signs That Your Child Is Being Bullied and What to Do About It” on the Character Education Partnership blog. Ms. Borba states that 160,000 children skip school every day because they are being harassed and intimidated. Sadly, this number matches the research that I’ve done on bullying and confirms the underlying point: Bullying and other mean behaviors occur frequently in schools and they often go unnoticed by adults.

As Borba points out, kids often don’t tell anyone that they’re being bullied. She encourages families to watch for warning signs, and if they suspect that something’s going on, to talk with their child’s teacher. That’s good advice, but it’s only effective if we teachers know what to do with the information.

Meanwhile, those of us who work in schools these days are overwhelmed by reports of “bullying” that are actually not bullying at all, but rather normal, developmentally appropriate conflicts between children of equal social power. Recently, while visiting a warm and nurturing school, full of child-centered professionals, an administrative staff member said to me, “Our office is so swamped with unfounded bullying reports from students’ parents that we don’t have time to investigate the true incidents of bullying.”

Until educators and families can build partnerships to protect children, we’re going to be working at cross purposes, and many children will fall through the cracks. In an international meta-analysis of evidence-based bullying prevention programs, the one practice that all successful programs contained was a strong parent/teacher partnership component. We educators need to work together with our students’ families around this all-important issue.

Here are some things we can do:
  • Make it clear to children’s families that their child’s safety is our highest priority.
  • Plan shared experiences where educators and parents learn together about which behaviors are bullying or gateways to bullying—and which behaviors are normal, developmentally predictable conflicts.
  • Ask children’s families to let us know if they have suspicions that their child is being targeted for bullying.
  • Follow up thoroughly on parent reports of unkind behavior.
  • When we discover mean behaviors, whether they are “gateways” to bullying or out-and-out bullying, we need to respond firmly but sensitively, making children’s privacy a priority.

We can work at cross purposes or we can work as a team with children’s families to prevent bullying. We have a choice.

Caltha Crowe’s book, How to Bullyproof Your Classroom, offers a practical, proactive approach to bullying prevention. Learn how to create a positive classroom environment and how to respond to mean behavior before it escalates into bullying.

“Teacher-friendly from start to finish!”  —Martha Hanley, Grafton, MA


Tags: Bullying, Difficulties with Families