One of the best things parents can do to fight back against bullying and feel empowered is to having productive meetings on the issue. One of the best things schools can do is make a plan to hold the meetings, and take a proactive approach.
Whether parents are the parent of a bullied child, or the bully, it is important to always make them feel they have a resource in the school. As is true of anything in education, if the problem of bullying is to be handled properly, there must be a proactive approach on the part of the schools to be the parents’ first line of defense on such issues.
Here are 10 ways a Productive Parent Teacher Meeting can be held, and some tips to accommodate such meetings:
1) Productive Parent Teacher Meetings: Have a policy in place about parent/teacher involvement. Having a policy in place from day 1 ensures that everyone starts the school year on the same page, and the doors of communication are open to both parents and teachers. By taking the perspective that we do better when we work together, as some schools have, we increase the positive attitude toward the school among parents, and communicate the idea that schools are there to help.
2) Productive Parent Teacher Meetings: Be an information source. Schools should be a good source of information to parents, a place they can turn to when they need information, as well as guidance on how to handle bullying, or other problems. Schools should connect to a number of agencies, such as a local crisis center, anti-bullying organization, or other advocacy group, which can provide additional help and resources if they are needed.
3) Productive Parent Teacher Meetings: Teach units on anti-bullying within the school. Many schools have an entire unit devoted to anti-bullying rules, and get both kids and parents actively involved in the campaign against bullying. By involving all participants in an active stance against all bullying, the mission of the school to stamp our bullying is reinforced. Parents should feel that the school takes the perspective of “zero tolerance” when it comes to bullying.
4) Productive Parent Teacher Meetings: Once meetings are scheduled, take a proactive approach. Meetings schools hold with parents should be respectful, sincere, and to the point. If the parent is the parent of someone being bullied, it should be communicated that the school is aware of the situation, and determined to punish offenders. Many schools have gotten in trouble in the media and the law in my state of Arkansas due to the fact that they were aware of the bullying, but did nothing to curtail it. The school’s stance on bullying should be that it is disciplined and punished, whenever and wherever it occurs.
5) Productive Parent Teacher Meetings: Learn to listen more than talk. One of the biggest problems with any parent meeting situation is the lack of truly listening to what the parent has to say. If parents feel they are listened to, they are more likely to cooperate, and thus may go the extra mile to be supportive in any situation involving their child. From my experience, I have found that, as long as a parent feels their child is being treated fairly, they will usually work with school people. Listening skills are not just innate. They have to be learned. Listening involves focusing on what the person is saying, not interrupting, giving the person time to finish their thoughts, and other active listening skills. If we want respect as schools from parents, we need to try to show that same respect to parents in return.
6) Productive Parent Teacher Meetings: Focus on the positive. Even though there are situations which require discussing negative circumstances, such as, if the child of the parent you are talking to is the bully in a situation, try to find something good to say. I worked with emotionally-disturbed and behavioral-disordered students for 15 years, but I always tried to start by telling the parent what I liked about their child. If they get the idea you don’t like their child, think they are mean, or want to “write them off,” why should they listen to you? No matter whether the child in question is the bully or not, if you can appear to be someone who is trying to save their child from legal action, or some other negative fate, you might be the best advocate they have. I learned as a Special Education teacher, and now as a counselor, that I am an advocate for both the victims and the perpetrator. This is not an easy role for some to play, and requires delving deep into one’s psyche to find that part of yourself who has empathy for both. But if you open yourself up to the idea, you may find you have the capacity to see even a bully as someone with a “cry for help,” as either a counselor, administrator, or teacher. If we learn to see the bully as someone who is in need of help too, we move closer to being able to help them.
7) Productive Parent Teacher Meetings: When the parent is the parent of a bully. When you are sitting across from a parent who has a child being bullied, that is one thing. But what about talking to the parent of a bully? As mentioned in step 6, school officials and teachers have to find empathy for even the bully in order to help and have productive meetings with parents. The last thing that needs to happen in these parent meetings is for the parent of a bully to feel their child is being interrogated beyond extremes, is being treated unfairly, falsely accused, or discriminated against. Also, it is important, even when the bully is guilty, not to set up these meetings like it is a court of law. The purpose is not to sentence a bully to prison. It is to solve the problem. Instead of being accusatory, simply state that bullying will not be tolerated at the school, no matter who is involved, and state that the purpose of the meeting is to work together to solve the problem.
8) Productive Parent Teacher Meetings: Involve outside agencies when appropriate. If bullying has been severe, involved physical violence or abuse, or other red flags, sometimes outside agencies have to be called in to help. Again, try not to create an atmosphere of accusation or hostility. Instead, call the agency members in as a source of information to the parent of a bully, and take the approach that they are there to help the parent deal with their child, in a way that will promote positive self-esteem of both themselves and their victim. Research tells us that bullying often occurs because the bully has a lack of general self-regard, and feels they are unimportant or second class. They often commit certain bullying acts to try to increase their worth or importance in the eyes of peers or others, to gain approval. If they are taught that they are important without this, and that they do not have to do this, in order to achieve importance or power, they may find other outlets to address their power needs.
9) Productive Parent Teacher Meetings: Work out a reward or reinforcement plan with the bully’s parent and the school. I believe in rewards. Many counselors don’t because they think it involves bribing a child to get them to do what you want. Quite the opposite is actually true. Rewards simply teach the lessons society has in store anyway. In society, if we treat others nicely, we generally get back the same treatment. That’s a reward. If we work, we get paid. That’s a reward, too. If we set up a reinforcement plan or “contract” between the school and the parent, we are simply saying that we are willing to reward their child for improved behavior and treatment toward others, something they will learn in the real world anyway. One example of a possible reward might be allowing the bully to have extra free time during the school day, or getting to leave for lunch 2 minutes early. Doing these things gives the student prone to bullying behavior the upper hand, and instills them with a sense of power. If they have this power, they may be less likely to use power in a bad way, by bullying others. What the bully wants more than anything is to feel important. So, rewarding them with a return of power, in return for their stopping bullying others is one of the most perfect ideas possible to curb bullying among school students.
In addition to rewards at school, reward plans can extend to the student’s home life too. Though some schools do not like to have any say in what happens at home, simply asking the parent if they are willing to reward students at home when students do well at school is a great idea. I did this for many years as a special education teacher in Arkansas. If you develop a positive relationship with parents at the beginning, they will be glad to work with you. The key is to communicate that you want their child to improve, and that you are their advocate. Counselors are especially important in this role, but teachers, administrators, and other school personnel all play an important part in this process. Getting on the same side of the parent is the first line of defense against bullying.
10) Productive Parent Teacher Meetings: Involve the student when necessary. Once a plan has been drawn out as to what to do about a bully’s behavior, bring the student in to explain how the contract or plan will work. Again, it is important not to sound accusatory, but once it has been established that bullying took place, tell the student, in front of the parent, what is going to happen next. Explain to them that there is an anti-bullying policy in place at the school, and that when the student bullied another child, they broke the rules. Then tell them what you are willing to do for them, to encourage and motivate them to clean up their act. If a reward plan has been put into place (this approach is often used with special education students), have the student sign the contract, reminding them again of what they will get if they follow the contract. Tell them that you understand that they are seeking power, but that bullying in any forms will not be tolerated. Teach them to redirect their need for power to more productive outlets, and to learn to respect others, as well as themselves. This sometimes involves more direct involvement with the school counselor, arranging for the bully to meet with the counselor on a weekly basis, or other special circumstances. All actions taken must be primarily to protect the bullied student, but also to help the bully learn more productive ways of gaining popularity or following with their peers.
A note about punishment: Note that when we say to work with the parent of the bully, this does not mean that the bully is immune to punishment, or that they should get out of any circumstances that they deserve, as a result of bullying. Sometimes punishments must be met first, such as suspensions, or other results. But, these parent meetings with the student (or without them) should occur after the punishment has been served, or in lieu of punishment, if it is a first offense, and the bullying incident was not severe. Providing it was an isolated incident, or something that did not result in physical harm to another student, administrators may decide that having a parent meeting is enough. In many cases, the result of such a meeting results in punishment at home, or at least a stern warning from a parent that they are going to punish them if they get into any more trouble. This productive communication, when it is productive, works wonders for the situation on both sides of the bullying issue.
While the focus on this article has been individual, smaller meetings with the parents of a bullied child, or a bully, it is also important to note that larger-scale meetings between parents, school people, and the community are equally important. At these larger meetings, there are a number of things which should be on the agenda. Here are 5 important ones:
1) Discuss and remind everyone of the policy of the school in the subject of bullying. Even if you think everyone knows the policies, going over them again in the initial moments of a general PTO meeting reinforces everyone’s commitment to stamp out bullying in any form.
2) Show statistics or slides about the effects of bullying. Sometimes parents or others do not realize the huge and everlasting impact of bullying. Perhaps they, too were a bully in school, even if for only a short time, and picked on other kids. It is interesting to note that oftentimes the bullies themselves do not even remember the details of a bullying incident. But the student who was bullied remembers it all. Remind everyone of the harmful effects and consequences of bullying and how this carries on into someone’s adult life. Back it up with research to show empirical evidence.
3) Have guest speakers speak on the issue of bullying. By having people come to these meetings to present information on the topic of bullying, parents and community members get a chance to hear from another perspective. There are also videos and other media featuring personal experiences with bullying. Some of these are easily available and free on You Tube, and other sources. Seeing and hearing first hand from a bully or former victim of bullying can help lead the way to important discussions that can be productive.
4) Schedule visits to other schools who handle bullying in a positive way. While it might not be possible to have parents come on these trips, you can have staff attend instead (teachers, counselors, etc.) and come back with the information to share with parents. Just observing and studying what others are doing may help spur ideas within one’s own school district which will help address the problem in a positive way. Another productive activity is simply networking with other teachers to combat bullying. Ask them what they do in their school, both with regard to the bullied and the bully. See how it compares to your school. Not every solution will be effective in every school district. But finding out how other schools handle bullying will start the ball rolling in terms of addressing the issues.
5) Consider a monthly newsletter . At the charter school where I serve as a part-time counselor, we send out a monthly newsletter as something we normally do. I write about issues effecting academics, as well as behaviors, screen time in media, and many other pertinent topics. If your school gets in the habit of communicating directly with parents and the community this way, it will be easy to address such issues about bullying when it becomes necessary. Because the problem with school bullying is so great, the topic should be addressed at least briefly in every other newsletter, as a minimum.
We know how important it is to keep the lines of communication open between parents, school personnel, and the community. We should continue this idea throughout the school year, and keep it as a backdrop for everything we do.
Having productive parent meetings, both small and large scale is a huge step toward this. If everyone works together on a plan, and we learn to be an advocate for both the bullied and the bully, we can move toward a positive solution.
Focusing on information sources, and sharing these with parents is the first step toward getting everyone working toward the same goal-to stop bullying in its tracks, once and for all.
There are many resources on this site and other articles to help schools and parents deal with the continuing problem of bullying. One of the best things we can do is get everyone working together, and the first important step in that is having productive parent meetings.