Sunday 23 October 2016

Ask the expert: My daughter was bullied. Should we change her school?

Published 12/07/2016 | 02:30

Bullying at school
Bullying at school

Q: My daughter will be going into third class in September. She was bullied in first class and it was handled badly by the school. The children then excluded her all through second class, with no action by the school.

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She was very upset during the year but learned to cope and got on well with some of the children from the class behind. I want to move her to a new school, but my husband is determined she should stay as he feels it was not her fault. She also has resource hours because she has dyspraxia and I'm not sure if they can be set up in a new school.

David replies: I think the first and most important consideration for your daughter is her emotional wellbeing. Your daughter must be happy in school if she is to be able to learn, with or without extra educational resources, so I wouldn't let the availability of resource teaching be the factor that sways your decision about whether or not to move school.

My understanding is that if your daughter is entitled to resource teaching hours, then she must receive them, no matter the school. It may involve any new school applying to the Special Educational Needs Officer (SENO) and then ensuring they have a resource teacher available.

I would imagine that the SENO for your area can advise you about the transfer of any resource hours that your daughter is entitled to, if you decide to move her. Even if you can't speak with the SENO, the principal of any school you are considering should also be able to let you know what resources will be available to your daughter, from September, or what resources will come her way within a short period.

Be sure to talk to the principal of any potential new school, in any event, to inform them of your daughter's needs (academic, emotional and social). Reassure yourself that any new school has the ambiance, policies and the attitude to deal with bullying effectively.

The more significant factors that I think you need to consider in making a decision about moving school involve the extent to which your daughter has become isolated within her class (to the point that she may not be able to re-establish herself as part of the group, perhaps) and the extent to which her current school is willing and able to support her in reconnecting with her classmates.

From what you say, the problem with bullying has been going on for nearly two years now. That is a long time for a school to allow such a problem to persist without resolving it satisfactorily. The exclusion that your daughter continued to suffer after the initial bullying also constitutes further bullying. No school should ignore this kind of isolation of a child within her class. Not dealing with it seems like a failing on their part.

I can understand your husband's reluctance to move schools. I think that his feeling, that your daughter, indeed your family, has done nothing wrong, is justified. Indeed, it does seem very unfair that you and your daughter should have to bear the disruption of moving school because of the actions of other children and the inaction, or ineffective action, of her current school. But, in my long experience of working with children who have been bullied, there is almost nothing that a child can do, on her own, in the face of exclusion, without the support of adults who are actively working to change the dynamic of the group.

They need the school to act appropriately, so if you have the adults in the school failing to take action, or taking the wrong action, then it is highly unlikely that your daughter's circumstances will change in her current school. If that is the case, then you may want to be pragmatic. If you don't think the school can, or will, resolve the bullying to allow your daughter to feel part of her class, then I think moving her is a wise choice.

Yes, it presents its own challenges in terms of your daughter fitting in to a new group. There may be practical and logistical challenges with travel, timings etc, but at least it gives your daughter a fair chance of being happy in school.

How do I stop fighting with my husband about how he deals with his children from his first marriage?

Q. I am married to a man with two children from his first marriage. They are aged six and 13. They manipulate and emotionally blackmail him and, because of his guilt, he gives in. They are disrespectful to him and he does nothing. He just "talks it through" with them. I believe they need firm discipline. I encourage him to apply the approach of "reward good behaviour, punish bad behaviour", but all that does is cause rows between us. Now I worry about what kind of father he'll be to our own children? How can we relieve the tension?

David replies: Differences between partners, in parenting style or parenting approaches, are very common.

When you become a parent at the same time as your partner, you usually have a period to grow, together, into the experience of parenthood, discovering your differences and hopefully having time to adjust, adapt and find your common ground as you move through the process of rearing your child. However, when, as a step-parent, you parachute into an existing relationship between a parent and his or her children, it can highlight any differences in parenting approach quite starkly, and there may not be the same period of adjustment in which to find your similarities.

It does sound to me that this is exactly the problem you're now having with your husband.

You have one style, based, it seems, on behavioural principles and he has another - one that is bound up in the existing dynamic he has with his children, where it seems he prefers to talk through issues.

Both approaches can work. You do need to remember that, in parenting, there are few absolute "rights" or "wrongs" about how to interact with and manage your children.

So, there must always be some negotiation or compromise between two parents when they decide how best to deal with their children.

That negotiation and compromise might be harder for you, too, because of your status as step-parent. Perhaps your husband doesn't accept your opinions because he considers the children to be "his" children, and therefore, his responsibility to parent.

This issue is worthy of explicit discussion and understanding. You and he both need to know whether you are going to take a shared approach to dealing with the children. In practice, you taking an active and shared role in managing his children from his previous relationship does make sense, since you and he have committed to a long-term future together, and so, will be sharing all other aspects of your life.

But, if you are to co-parent his children, then you and he need to spend a lot of time discussing this so that you can find the common ground necessary to merge your preferred parenting style with his.

Equally important is that his children need to know that you and their dad are working together to mind and care for them. They need to know that you have equal authority, and responsibility, for them while they stay with you in your home.

Having disagreements with your husband about how to deal with the children is never a problem as long as those disagreements are had in private. You do need to be careful, though, not to undermine each other in front of the children.

Since this is the first time you may be properly seeing your husband in action with his children, I could see why you may feel a certain amount of anxiety about how you now perceive him as a father (separate to how you perceive him as a husband).

Perhaps you had certain expectations of how a father should be and now you find that your husband is not meeting those expectations. This is not a cause for panic, but it is a cause for greater discussion and emotional intimacy about what you each want and need from the other.

Renegotiating, compromising and finding a balance whereby you can merge how he chooses to be a father with how you will choose to be a mother is a hard task. It can only be achieved if you both keep the communication open.

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