How Should Schools Handle a Bully?

In recent weeks, I’ve discussed steps both children and their parents can take when confronted with bullying. Let’s move on to what schools can do to both prevent bullying before it starts and handle it when it does.

To be fair, school systems are caught between a rock and a hard place. On one side, they are tasked with providing a safe, healthy and positive learning environment for our children. On the other side, they are restricted by laws and regulations that are sometimes in complete contradiction to providing that environment. On yet another side, they have to deal with parents who have the “not my child” indignant mentality. These are the parents that are more interested in defending their children, no matter what their behavior. Rather than owning up to the fact that their children have a problem and are acting inappropriately, the parents ignore the responsibility of doing something about it; transferring that responsibility off to the school or law enforcement.

Fortunately, lawmakers are beginning to take the bullying issue seriously. Laws are being put in place that give school officials some tools they can use to intervene in bullying situations and probably more importantly, offer school systems some protections against lawsuits from parents who are more interested in protecting their  child’s “good name” than doing something about their children’s inappropriate behavior.

So what’s a school to do about bullying? Here are a few suggestions:

First – stop turning a “blind eye” to bullying situations. Treat them with the same urgency and importance as other abusive situations. For example, an adult walks into the school and starts verbally and/or physically abusing a teacher or administrator. That behavior would simply not be tolerated, not even a little bit. Police would be called, charges would be filed. Unfortunately, bullying is still, for many schools, just part of “kids being kids” and “a normal part of growing up.” If you still have this mentality about bullying, please submit your resignation immediately. You have no business being responsible for our children’s safety.

Second – know that it is possible to have a “bully free” school. There are plenty of examples out there of schools that have done just that.  Seek them out for ideas about how they have done it. Accept, however, that it’s going to take hard work, resources, and a sense of priority.

Third – have a “character development” curriculum in place that is taught along side the Three R’s. Have daily talks about issues like what it means to have integrity, to be honest,  to be assertive, and to be nice to others. Teach them why we should treat ourselves and others with respect. Teach them why these things are important. And it’s not because our parents, religious leaders or societal laws tell us they are important. It’s because there are consequences to our daily behaviors and if we want certain things in our lives, we must act and behave in ways that support those goals. It’s hard to enjoy your life from a jail cell. Teach them what to do when people don’t treat them appropriately. They need to learn this as it’s going to happen to them a lot out in the real world. I have just such a program that we teach at my martial arts school. It is one of the reasons parents bring their children to us.

Of course, now I can hear the old argument, “Schools shouldn’t be teaching our children morals, values, etc.  That’s the parent’s job.” No, it’s everyone’s job to help our young become happy, healthy, and positively contributing members of society. This is certainly not about teaching morals. It’s about teaching what behaviors will serve them well in their adult lives. It’s about teaching that there are natural and logical consequences to their behaviors, and that avoiding negative behaviors will help them avoid negative consequences. “Shouldn’t the parents be doing this” you ask?  To be quite frank, if these kids are displaying bullying behavior, then its obvious that their parents are not teaching these concepts and/or are role-modeling the exact opposite at home.

Fourth – when you have a child that is a known bully, and yes, you already know who they are, treat them as a student that needs special help. If you don’t help them now, statistics show they will go into society with a greatly increased risk of criminal activity, spousal abuse, etc. When a child displays bullying behavior, get them into a program that will teach them about appropriate behavior, better communication skills, non-violent conflict resolution and perhaps even about compassion and tolerance.  

Fifth – Get their parents involved. Get the parents and their child in for a conference, or many conferences. As many as are necessary.  Have your facts well documented, explain the situations their child have been participating in clearly and factually, and let the parents know that this type of behavior is unacceptable. Let the parents know in no uncertain terms that you expect them to do something about their child’s behavior.

Sixth – Something schools should never do. Never put a bullying victim face-to-face with the bully to “talk it out.” The victim does not need to talk anything out. They need to be allowed to go through their day without being abused. The victim does not need to change their behavior. They have done nothing wrong – they are the VICTIM! It would be like putting a rape assault victim in a room with the rapist and sit with them to “discuss the situation” and work it out. There’s nothing to work out. The bully has behaved inappropriately and has to be made to stop by whatever means necessary. Think that this example is too extreme? Then you still don’t get the damage that bullying does to children.

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