Maybe another student is sending your child mean texts on social media. Or maybe kids are picking on (or even threatening) your child at school. When there’s bullying at school, it can be emotional, upsetting, and scary.
But there are concrete things you can do to find out what’s happening and put a stop to it. Here are eight steps to take if your child is being bullied at school.
1. Care for your child.
Before doing anything else, care for your child’s needs. It’s OK for kids to be sad. But you want to make sure they don’t harm themselves or others. Try your best to remove your child from the bullying situation.
Saying “I love you” can be a big boost to your child. Just listening to whatever your child wants to share helps, too. When you show that you care about your child’s feelings, it empowers your child to share the full story.
As you go through the remaining steps, make sure you always return to this one. Caring for your child is an ongoing responsibility.
2. Get the facts (and document them).
Ask your child gently but directly whether anyone is doing anything that makes your child feel upset, uncomfortable, or embarrassed. Use open-ended questions to encourage your child to share. Once you have a basic idea about what’s happening, see if you can learn specific information, too. You can ask things like: Are you getting mean messages on social media? Who is sending them? How many? When?
Next, reach out to others who may know more. You want to find out what’s been happening, who’s involved, and when and where it has taken place. (Think carefully, though, before you reach out directly to the students or adults doing the bullying.)
Be sure to gather any documents that show the bullying. You can save emails or texts and print them out. You can also take screenshots of social media or online forums, as well as save voice messages.
3. Write down and tell the bullying story.
Write down all the details of what you’ve learned. Try to create a timeline of what happened when. If you feel your child can handle it, review the timeline together. (This may not happen all in one sitting.)
Tell someone else — like a trusted friend or family member — the bullying story. Ask for feedback: Did you explain everything clearly? Did you stick to the facts? Were you too emotional to share what happened?
4. Review the school’s anti-bullying policy (and any state laws).
Check your child’s student handbook or the school district website for its anti-bullying policy. This will give you the steps you need to take to report bullying. There should be information about how to contact the staff members who can help.
All 50 states now have anti-bullying laws. Look at your state’s law. It may give you additional rights, like a time limit for the school to take action.
5. Report the bullying to the school.
If the bullying is happening in class, meet with the teacher. Ask for the principal to join if you feel it’s needed. If the bullying is happening outside of class or at recess, go directly to the principal.
Ask whether school staff have seen the bullying and how they’ve responded. Share your child’s bullying story and any supporting documents. During the meeting, ask what the school is going to do and when. Follow up in writing (an email works), describing what you discussed.
6. Monitor the school’s response.
Once bullying is reported to the school, state anti-bullying laws may require a specific process of investigation and action. Ask the school to send you written updates on this process.
Monitor what actions the school takes. If the bullying continues, document any new incidents. Let the school know about these new incidents and ask what it’s going to do. As always, make sure you connect with and comfort your child during this time.
7. Take it up the chain of command.
If bullying is still going on two weeks after you first reported it, contact the school district superintendent both by phone and in writing. You may also want to write to the local school board.
Share all the facts you’ve collected, including how you reported the bullying to the school, the name of each person you’ve spoken with, and what happened afterwards. Ask for help with ending the bullying. Save any responses.
If there are still no changes, reach out to your state department of education. The state may have staff that will investigate bullying. Your local Parent Training Information Center may be able to give advice, too.
You can also go to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR protects public school students with from discrimination. You can file an OCR complaint about the bullying.
8. Get legal help.
If bullying is still happening, contact a lawyer. A lawyer with experience in education law can help if you’re still not seeing results. Here’s where you can find legal help.
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About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Molly Algermissen, PhD is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.