Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How To Stop and Prevent Bullying (Cross-Posted at ALLYnceSchool)

October is National Bullying Prevention Month
Bullying can be a serious problem for children with disabilities.  Let's talk about what to do if you think your child may be a victim.

The first task is identifying the problem. Not all children will tell their parents what is happening: A child may be afraid of retaliation, or he may be feeling too helpless and humiliated. And, of course, some children may have language disabilities, or may not realize they are being bullied. In fact, only about a third of bullied students will report to an adult.

A child who is being bullied may come home with unexplained injuries, lost books or torn clothes. Headaches and stomach aches may increase, grades may suffer, she may have trouble sleeping, or there could be other signs that something is wrong. If you
suspect a problem, talk to your child and to her teachers and others who may know.

Document as much as you can. Keep records of the dates and times of any incidents: what happened, who was involved, who might have seen it. If any incident involves cyber-bullying, save and print copies of any e-mail or text messages, and print screen shots of web or social media pages. Do not delete any of the texts or emails, but do not respond to them either. Report online abuse to the social media sites.[1]

If the incident involved another student at your child's school, notify the principal and the teacher, and schedule a meeting, immediately. This should be done even if the incident occurred off-campus, or on-line, as the conduct still may violate the school's policies. I would also send a letter or email documenting the incident. Make copies of all correspondence.

Also, depending on the circumstances, for example, if the incidents involve physical violence or sexual harassment (including inappropriate online postings), or if there has been a series of incidents amounting to possible criminal "stalking" or harassment, you may need to notify the police as well.

If your child is a special education or 504 student, you should also request (in writing) an emergency IEP or 504 meeting. This may take up to 30 days to schedule, so the IEP request would be in addition to an immediate parent/teacher/principal meeting, not instead of.  For the IEP meeting, some suggested supports include: (1) Having the school implement a “buddy” system, so your child has someone with him at lunch and recess, (2) Increasing hallway, cafeteria and playground monitoring, (3) Allowing your child to leave class 5 minutes early, to help avoid hallway and bathroom incidents, (4) Giving your child a “signal” (hand sign, word, etc.) he can use to call for help, (5) Scheduling frequent and regular follow-up meetings, and (6) Counseling.[4]  Goals and objectives should include those that teach how to identify and report abuse; for increasing self-advocacy skills, including strategies to avoid confrontation, with modeling and practice sessions; and, generally, for increasing social and language skills.

The school district must respond  to stop bullying in its schools. If the school is not being helpful, and the problem continues, you have several options: Of course, you can request a hearing should you disagree with the outcome of the IEP. In addition, because bullying of special education students  could constitute “disability harassment” under civil rights laws, you may file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. Disability Rights California has more information on your rights and on the complaint and hearing processes.

In the meantime, help your child to realize this is not his fault, and that you are there to support her and to find ways to stop it. If the incidents involve cyber-bullying, counsel her not to respond to any of the postings, but to show them to you.[2]  Likewise, most experts counsel avoiding in-person incidents: At school, your child should try to keep to places that are public and patrolled, and avoid areas where he could get trapped alone with the bully. If possible, he should link up with friends or with a school-sponsored “safety buddy.”  Of course, a confrontation may still occur. Tell your child, in that case, he should just walk away (but try saying, “Stop,” first, as that may actually work).

Outside the school, organized sport and hobby activities build social skills and confidence; but they also provide an extra network of friendship and support. Southern California's public libraries, local parks and recreation programs, and even museums offer hundreds of after-school classes, sports and activities for all age groups. Adaptive programs are also available, but many of the typical (non-adaptive) programs are accessible to children of all abilities.[3]

Any of these suggestions also may be used preventively, to help protect your child from becoming a victim of bullying. Additionally, if your child's school does not have strong anti-bullying policies and procedures, consider enlisting other parents and teachers in a campaign to start a “safe school” program. The Department of Health and Human Services' “StopBullying” website includes tips and checklists for setting school safety programs, including policies and procedures, codes of conduct, reporting systems, monitoring of “hot spots” (cafeteria, hallways, etc.), parent-student-teacher committees, reward-based programs, and innovative ideas for engaging students (e.g., “Mix It Up At Lunch Day”). More resources and toolkits are available at PACER, Safe Supportive Learning, and PBIS.
[1] If you are not getting results from your report to the online site, try having your child file the report himself. One reporter found that some sites may give a higher priority to personal claims of abuse than to “third-party” (e.g., parental) claims.
[2] For the protection of your child online, establish firm ground rules about internet and cell phone use. This may involve limiting computer use to central locations (e.g., living room), rounding up phones at bed time, “friending” your child online, monitoring passwords, etc. These will be personal decisions, based on your child's age and situation, but you may wish to consider some of the suggestions at: http://www.cyberbullying.us/Top_Ten_Tips_Parents_Cyberbullying_Prevention.pdf and http://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/prevention/index.html
[3] As a fencer, I get to see first-hand how protective kids can be of their sport mates.
[4] Bullying can be traumatic. Depending on the severity, you may wish to specify the credentials of the counselor (e.g., LCSW, MFCC or Psychologist); and you may also consider seeking specialized mental health services through California's  “AB 3632” process.

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