News coverage over the years has revealed that bullying isn't limited to the playground. For many kids, teasing, harrassment and more may start as soon as they board the school bus. Here, parenting and education expert Michele Borba, EdD, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solution: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, offers ways to ensure a safer trip to school.
If you suspect your child is being bullied:
Have a "safe" talk. Since directly asking your child if he is being bullied may not yield honest answers, Dr. Borba suggests using real events to get him to open up. Tap into news stories, YouTube videos or educational films like Bully, which features a scene showing bullying on the bus, to get the conversation going. In addition, ask your child if his friends are being bullied before addressing whether or not he's being bullied himself.
If your child actually is being bullied:
Do your research. Use your school or district’s website to find out whether there are policies protecting your child from bullying, and find out if there’s one that extends to school bus bullying. Be prepared to follow up with your school or community office if you need to.
Get prepared with evidence. If your child is getting bullied or her friends are getting bullied, find out the bus number and bus stop, and keep a log detailing the bullying. “If your child is emotionally or physically distraught from the bullying, you’ll need to be able to report it since she can’t handle it on her own," says Dr. Borba.
Don’t promise you won’t tell. As much you want your child to trust you, you may have to advocate for your child when it’s off school grounds and the bus is run by the city, for example. In that case, you may have to get the authorites involved.
General safety tips for the school/city bus and for walking:
Strategize seating and travel arrangements. Avoid having your kid sit in the back of the bus, the worst spot for bullying, advises Dr. Borba. Instead, have him sit on the right hand side across from the bus driver. Sitting close to the bus driver may intimidate bus bullies. On the city bus, have your child sit closer to the driver and by an adult while wearing earplugs or doing his homework. That way, he’ll seem too preoccupied and will be less likely to catch a bully's attention. If you can, have your child partner with another kid who is bigger or has a bigger status so he feels safer from bullies.
Befriend the bus driver. If you child is continually getting bullied on the city bus, in particular, you may need to take a little time off to ride the bus yourself to see how bad the situation is. Dr. Borba suggests sitting away from your child to make sure no one knows you’re related, but remaining close enough that you can see what is going on. After the ride, talk to the bus driver and let him know you’re concerned, or call the bus line. “A lot of times, bus drivers aren’t trained and don’t know what to do," says Dr. Borba. "Very often you can get a driver to be sympathetic if you just take a couple seconds to talk to him.”
Find alternative routes if necessary. In serious cases where your child is getting a lot of emotional or physical damage and the bus driver isn’t helping, you may have to find other, longer routes to ensure your child gets to and from school safely.
Have your child learn the PLAN. Since kids very often don’t notice their parameters, Dr. Borba suggests teaching them to Plan the (safe) route; Let a trusted adult know; Avoid certain spots (and choose a different route, if necessary); Notice your surroundings (avoiding kids who look troublesome or are problematic in school). This last point may be the most important advice we can give our kids for when we're not with them. "We can teach our kids to follow their gut and trust their instincts," says Dr. Borba. "If there's a fear factor, then your child is probably right."