With the U.S. Department of Education having convened a bullying summit last month, the first national summit of its kind, stopping bullying is a high profile topic among educators and parents. The suicide of Phoebe Prince in January after relentless bullying by fellow high school students served as a catalyst to force the growing stop-bullying movement to the forefront of education agendas.
While the effort to stop bullying in schools is long overdue, the skeptic in me wonders whether schools will be willing and able to overcome institutionalized resistance to effectively addressing bullying. Schools’ self-interest often appears to be at odds with the interest of bullied students and as a result bullying is often minimized or recast as two-way fighting.
While schools grapple with new ways to address bullying, parents of bullied children must decide whether to rely on schools to stop bullying or seek parent to parent solutions. I was perplexed to see the government advising parents of bullied children to rely on schools and avoid contacting the parents of the child doing the bullying. This government advice on how to stop bullying runs counter to my own experience as a parent using a parent to parent approach to find effective solutions to schoolyard bullying.
As a parent who has chosen the parent to parent approach on multiple occasions and has achieved positive results, I am a strong advocate of parents handling problems directly with other parents when possible. My tips for discussing a bullying situation with the parent of the child doing the bullying follow:
• Vent any anger that needs to be vented before approaching the other child’s parents. Avoid using the discussion as an occasion to cast blame or trumpet moral superiority.
• Introduce the issue in a nonjudgmental way. Explaining that your child is hurt and/or upset and feels that the other child wronged him is more effective than announcing to the other parent that his child did something wrong.
• Labeling is counterproductive. Instead of saying the other child is a bully or bullied your child, stick to the facts of what your child says the other child did.
• Acknowledge upfront that there are two sides to every story. Your child may have done something wrong or said something mean that you don’t know about. Or the other child may have misinterpreted something your child said or did and acted in presumptive retaliation. Even if your child is blameless, an open-minded approach is more effective in obtaining the other parent’s co-operation.
• Engage the other parent in finding a solution that works for both kids. The kids don’t have to become friends but both sets of parents should firmly set the expectation that the children adhere to standards of civility.
• If the other parent is agreeable, involve the kids. This is their problem and they are key to an effective resolution. Help them to see each other’s point of view but as the bottom line, make it clear to them that their behavior must conform to acceptable behavioral standards no matter how they feel about one another.
The parent to parent approach to stopping bullying may not work in all cases, but it does work often enough that it’s unfortunate the government advises parents to avoid it.