By Dr Frank Sacco
What’s a parent to do when their child is involved in bullying?
One of the most terrifying aspects of being a parent is the realization that we cannot really protect our children when they need it most. Bullying is a fine example. The first urge of a parent is to advise “fighting back” and teaching the bully a lesson. This might have worked in the 1950’s or 60’s but is today a recipe for disaster, litigation, criminal involvement, and the problem will live on in cyber space, on the child’s court record, or expulsion from school.
I have offered hundreds of parents advice on this matter and the first step is always the same: keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth closed. Your child will only send oblique signals that he or she is in trouble. A parent has to be aware that it is virtually impossible for their child to go to school and not encounter some form of bullying. This requires that the parent resist the urge to jump in an directly solve the problem. The child will become further humiliated.
Parents are advised to team up with teachers and the school in efforts designed to monitor the climate of their child’s school. When parents and teachers team up, the child becomes part of the climate and is not singled out as either a bully, victim, or bystander. Now, the parent can have a direct impact on the climate hat fosters the bullying and not become adversaries in a power struggle with no winners.
Parents can ask schools and schools can ask parents what can be done to make this school a safe and creative learning environment. The beauty of prevention is that simple and inexpensive initiatives can be crafted to encourage a positive school climate. This becomes more difficult the more the problem is swept under the rug. The later the initiative, the more complex and technical the solution.
Bullying is a community problem. When children learn coercion works, then the future leaders develop bad habits that will haunt a community. Schools are the eyes into the soul of the community. This all sounds very remote for a parent with a child in current trouble, but the parent’s first step begins with understanding the need for a school-wide solution. When parents back the school’s leadership in building school pride and a sense of safety, they invest in the solution of bullying for their child.
I would invite parents to share their problems of bullying in their child’s school by using this blog to air out their problem and create positive and cooperative options to explore. CASSE is designed to promote community involvement under expert outside guidance. This model works.
Dr Frank Sacco PhD is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts and has a PhD in Psychology from the Humanistic Psychology Institute. He began his professional career working in drop in centres for runaways and transient addicts and is currently the president of the Community Services Institute. He specialises in violence reduction at home, in the school and at the workplace, and pioneered the use of home-based interventions with hard-to-reach, often violent and resistant families. Dr Sacco is a leading authority on bullying and violence in schools and his work has been instrumental in the establishment of CASSE in Australia.