Guest Blog: How Effective Parents Communicate with a School about Bullying

By | January 6th, 2011 | 3 comments

By Brian Gatens

Just before the holidays, I blogged about ineffective strategies parents use when they communicate with schools about bullying. This week, I’m sharing the “best practices” of parents I’ve worked with over the last 18 years. When parents practice the principles below, it very often leads to appropriate and satisfying resolutions to the family’s problem.

1) Be Emotionful (ok, it’s not really a word), not Emotional – Effective parents are clear, direct, strident in their desire to have the issue addressed and express their emotions to the principal about their daughter and their concerns. But they do not fall back on the ineffective “weapon” of being emotional (yelling, banging the table, carrying on, making unreasonable demands, etc.). The weapon of emotion, while it may be effective in getting a lot of attention, isn’t that good in getting a lot of results because it automatically creates an adversarial relationship.

2) Show Perspective – Effective parents do realize that relational aggression occurs among adolescents and have faith that the school can appropriately address the situation. (The developmental nature of behavior is not an excuse to diminish the seriousness of the issue). These parents realize that the emotion that goes along with these issues will pass and that they can’t act immediately on their feelings (the old count to 10 rule), no matter how appealing that sounds.

3) Communicate with others – Effective parents very often will seek out the advice of parents who have gone through similar situations and have seen them successfully addressed. Stepping away from the “echo chamber” of each other, mothers and fathers will work with friends and families to gain information, perspective and strategies. Very often school administrators can act as effective go-betweens to help like minded parents find each other.

4) Partner with the school – This is A BIG ONE. When I’m in a parent meeting and the parent is echoing my suggestions and concerns to the child, they are sending the very strong message that the school will be able to effectively address the situation. This support does two things: 1) It strengthens the ability of the school to resolve the matter in the eyes of the child and 2) reinforces to the child that the home and school are working in concert to address the matter and that, by working together, the situation can be made a whole lot better.

Clearly, my suggestions assume that a parent is working with a school prepared to deal effectively with bullying. I get that not every school falls in to that category. That said, it is important to give a school a chance to do its job before making assumptions about its capacity. At the end of the day, working together will always make success more possible.

Brian Gatens is principal of Harrington Park School in Harrington Park, NJ. An 18-year veteran of both public and private schools, he has worked with grades K – 12 as both a classroom teacher and a school administrator. Most importantly, he is the husband of Kathie and the father of Jimmy, Jack and Meg, a Girls Leadership Institute Alumna.

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