Parent: What did you do at school today?
Parent: Come on now you had to have done something—learned something—anything?
Child: I don’t know.
Sound familiar? Many parenting books advise using open ended questions with children. But sometimes they just don’t work. Especially when we really need to understand what is happening to our children at school. Our children will avoid talking about their day at school for many reasons—like practicing their independence from us, or not wanting to get into long conversations with us that can lead to lectures.
Some children don’t share that they are being bullied because it is uncomfortable and they may feel embarrassed. We know that the more we can get children to talk about what’s going on at school, the better we can help protect them against bullying. So how do we get kids to talk about bullying?
Try by asking the right questions. Rather than asking, “How was school?” which usually leads to “good” or “ok,” try asking questions that require a direct answer.
Remember to share what happened during your day as well. Here are a few examples:
—What did you eat at lunch today? Who did you you eat lunch with? Who else was sitting at the table? Did anyone tell a joke?
—Someone at work made me feel very sad today. Did anyone ever make you feel sad at school?
—I had a really nice day at work today. We all took a walk together. Did your class go outside today? Did you play on the swings or the slide? Who went first down the slide? And then who? etc…
Keeping your conversations short, calm, and compassionate will help your child reflect and share more about what is happening at school.
What to do if your child tells you they’re being bullied…
Stay calm. Reassure them it is not their fault. Confirm they did the right thing by telling you. Don’t bombard them with questions. Let silence be your friend. Just sitting with them quietly can encourage some children to keep sharing. Ask them if it is okay if you ask them a few questions so you better understand what is happening. If they say no, ask them if you can make a plan to talk about later. When they are ready try to get more details about what is happening. Try to understand why they feel bullied, was it a one time event or has it been an ongoing situation. It is important to find out if they are alone when the bullying is happening or if other children or seeing it too. After you feel comfortable that you have as many facts from your child about why they feel bullied, call the school to make an appointment with the teacher or principal. Ask them what the school policy is for preventing, monitoring, and intervening when a child is being bullied. Then develop a plan with the school and others in your child’s community to keep your child safe.
What would a plan for my child look like?
A bullying intervention plan could include some of the following actions:
—All adults have responded to the bullying behavior calmly, quickly, and consistently and have sent a message to those involved that it is not acceptable.
—The children involved have been separated to insure your child is safe.
—Any medical or mental health needs have been identified and resources have been provided to help your child.
—If appropriate, a plan will be made for the children involved in the bullying to make amends to your child by apologizing formally.
If the bullying include serious threats, the legal or police assistance is recommended.
Serious threats are considered as follows:
—A weapon is involved.
—There are threats of serious physical injury.
—There are threats of hate-motivated violence, such as racism or homophobia.
—There is serious bodily harm.
—There is sexual abuse.
—Using force to get money, property, or services.
You can find a lot more resources for your family and for your school at Stop Bullying