Working with Resistance

Despite our efforts to share power, to build a collaborative partnership and to engage in respectful and empathic empowerment listening and problem-solving, we are likely to encounter parents and caregivers who resist any acknowledgment of their children’s role in a situation involving bullying or inequity.

Sometimes, resistance may be a result of privilege, such as a situation when a parent or caregiver with a high social status is unwilling to question themselves or their children. In other situations, resistance may be a form of self-protection against something that is too painful to absorb. For a marginalized parent or caregiver, especially one who has experienced historical or collective abuse, resistance may be a defence against difficult memories or awareness.

Ideally, we can go some way toward preventing such a situation. For example, we can:

  • reach out to the parent or caregiver early on, before the bullying dynamic becomes entrenched;
  • begin the encounter by saying something positive about the student;
  • state the problem in factual terms (without judgment);
  • outline the behaviour and actions that illustrate the problem;
  • identity ways the student can improve and change;
  • end the conversation by saying something positive about the student.

In any encounter, our goal is always to ensure the parent or caregiver feel heard and understood, so listening carefully and empathically and checking our understanding will be important throughout the encounter. (See Empowerment Listening.)

Understanding does not necessarily mean agreement and we may not be able to obtain the parent’s or caregiver’s full collaboration. Any cooperation we can garner from a parent or caregiver will go a long way towards supporting change in a student.

Saying it

"It seems as though we have different perceptions about some parts of the situation. It may be that there are different ways of understanding the situation. How can we make sure our action plan makes sense to you while still ensuring that the bullying ends?"

Parents or caregivers may attempt to justify or excuse their child’s behaviour. (For example, “They were only joking/playing.” “All kids fight. What’s the big deal?”) If so, it will be necessary to confront such beliefs by clearly stating our own and our school’s position on the matter.

In the end, if we are unable to come to a consensus about the situation, we may need to “agree to disagree”. We can respectfully state our position and acknowledge our different perceptions.

Saying it

“Based on the examples I’ve provided, I believe your child has been bullying another student. I understand that you have a different perspective. I’ve described our school’s policy on bullying, and I need to let you know that I’ll be reporting this situation to our principal tomorrow. The school will then follow the procedures I outlined. Thank-you for the time you’ve given me. I’ve seen what a positive leader your child can be when she/he is engaged in her/his work, and I look forward to supporting those qualities and continuing to teach her/him throughout the year.”