#AskParentHub – How to talk to your child’s school about bullying

December 3rd, 2019

#AskParentHub is a weekly column providing expert information and support to reader’s questions about parenting and cyber safety.

Question

My daughter has told me she is being bullied at school. She said that some of the girls in her class are excluding her and sending nasty Instagram messages and writing comments about her. I’m so upset and glad that my daughter has opened up to me, but I’m not sure what’s the best way to deal with this. What should I do next and how do I raise this with the school to stop this?

Answer

Finding out that your child has been bullied can be devastating. Every child should be able to go to a school where they can learn and make friends without being afraid of the behaviour of other children.

It’s important to work as a team with the school wherever you can. Schools want to prevent and stop bullying, and staff should have suggestions on what to do.

Whether your child’s experience of bullying is quickly resolved or not, it’s important to take care of everyone’s wellbeing – please check out the services at the end of this post.

Sometimes, it’s a long process. Sometimes, the problem is complicated or the school is dealing with other challenges, too. Things can be especially hard if the children involved have other stuff going on which the school may not be able to share with you.

There’s no approach that guarantees a perfect outcome. But here are the first steps we recommend.

  • Stay calm and get the full story from your child. Work out with your child what solution they want. Many children just want the bullying to stop.
  • Keep a record of everything that’s happened: dates, places, people involved, screenshots of any cyber bullying. Bring it along when you meet with the school.
  • Book a proper meeting time with the school – don’t just rock up.
  • Involve the staff who know the kids best; usually the class teachers.
  • Don’t assume the school know everything that’s happened. Many children don’t report bullying to teachers, and there are often things the staff don’t know.
  • Find your school’s anti-bullying policy. It should be on the school’s website. This document should explain what approaches the school will take to stop bullying. It’s OK to bring this document when you meet with the school and politely check everyone is working to the guidelines.
  • Stay focused on the outcome you want, and try to work together.
  • Ask for a follow-up appointment to check how things are progressing.
  • Try to stay calm, and never get aggressive or personal with staff, other parents or kids. Feeling angry or frustrated is normal but try to talk it through with a trusted friend or counsellor first. When meeting with the school, you might decide to take a support person, to keep things calm and focused.

Most problems are resolved at a school level. Unfortunately, though, there will be a few parents who’ve worked with their school in good faith but are still left feeling seriously worried about their child’s safety or wellbeing.

If you decide to raise an external concern – e.g. with your Department of Education or Catholic Education Office – it’s important you can show you’ve made a genuine effort to resolve the problem at a school level, working respectfully with the school and using the school’s own processes.

If your state or territory has an anti-bullying strategy (like this new one released in South Australia), you might want to check politely that everyone is working to it. It’s also helpful to understand how your department or diocese goes about handling a complaint – usually, they’ll explain this on their website.

If you feel the school has treated your family unfairly because of a ‘protected characteristic’ such as disability, religion or culture, you may be able to get assistance from the Human Rights Commission in your state or territory.

If you’re looking to find out more about what the law says about bullying, you can contact Youth Law Australia or a youth legal service in your state or territory.

If your child has been bullied online, you might decide report it to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. Its team can advise, assist, and get certain material taken down.

Bullying can take its toll on the mental health of everyone involved, and you or your child might find it helpful to talk things through with a professional, such as your local GP, psychologist, or one of these free, confidential counselling lines: