Communication is key to all healthy relationships. At The Bully Box, we understand just how difficult this can be. On some level, we have all experienced instances that stretched our comfort zones, particularly in regards to parent/child/school relationships. Because of this, we offer you tips on how to strengthen your communication skills in a way that makes you a solid advocate for your child’s needs. However, we fully understand that all situations are unique and there isn’t a one size fits all when it comes to human relations. By using our contact form at the bottom of the page, we invite you to ask the Bully Box Brigade questions or share your stories in hopes of helping others in your situation.
Communication with Kids
Make Communication a Priority: If frequent conversation is already an established pattern, your child will be much more comfortable discussing difficult topics with you.
- Start small. Learn how to talk with your child long before you want to know the nitty gritty. If you are approachable and your kid knows you are interested in other areas of her life, she will be more likely to come to you with problems later on.
- Talk to your child every day. Set aside time to talk about anything at all. Trips to and from school are great opportunities, as are dinner and bed times. Five minute increments are sufficient to set the pattern of thoughtful communication.
- Give your undivided attention. During those moments of conversation, set aside your life to listen. Ask that your child do the same. Technology free moments are vital for truly connecting with others.
- Create Family Time rituals that are all about human connections. Set aside one night a week for sit-down meals, games and/or outings. We get that busy is part of family life in today’s world. However, making a point of prioritizing family goes a long way in getting to know your kids and showing them just how much they mean to you.
- Demand honesty. Set up the habit of telling the truth from the start. You can do this by sharing honest moments about your life and praising them for the honesty they share with you. This will smooth the road for bumpy conversations.
- Validate every emotion. You don’t have to agree with how your child acts or feels, but you need to let her know it’s okay to feel the way she does. Instead of inserting your own emotions with “That’s dumb,” or “Suck it up,” try, “I can see that makes you really sad.”
Listen: Children often provide us with cues as to how they are feeling. It’s our job as parents to pick up on them. Just remember that not all cues are verbal. We also need to listen to body language.
- Withdrawal in an otherwise talkative, friendly child can be a red flag. Behavior changes can indicate social or emotional turmoil.
- Short answers or failure to provide information about certain people or experiences often results when children don’t want to talk about something. This is your cue to dig a little deeper.
- Vague reasoning can occur when kids don’t quite know how to frame their thoughts or when they are too embarrassed to do so. “I don’t want to,” or “It sounds dumb,” might actually translate into, “I wasn’t invited.” Or worse, “I was told nobody wants me there.”
- Facial expressions, crossed arms or clenched fists are good indicators as to how your child is really feeling. They might be able to lie verbally, but a physical lie is much harder to pull off.
- There is often some truth in tattling. If your child says someone is picking on them, making fun of them or threatening them, you need to listen. Deciding which details are true might take time and effort on your behalf, but kids need to be heard or they will stop talking.
Ask: Part of good communication is asking the right questions in the right way.
- Ask open-ended questions. This forces deeper responses. “How was your day?” opens the door for one word answers like “fine” or “okay.”
- “Why” is not a good question, even if it is open-ended in theory. Remember the days of answering “why” questions until you were ready to burst? Well, now it is your turn to annoy your child with your “why” renditions in which you will receive equally annoying answers. “Why did today stink?” will be met with “It just did.”
- Know specific things before asking your questions. This does two things: (1) it lets your kid know you care enough to know, and (2) it is much more likely to elicit an honest response. “What was your favorite part of the science museum today?” will earn “the shark pool” as an answer, which will give you an opening to your next question. Or, it might even start a steady stream of show and tell without further prompting. This is when you listen for those times when your child avoids or hesitates or clenches his fists to indicate that maybe something else was fishy at the museum.
Brainstorm Solutions: Supporting your child is key to successful communication. Helping them figure out solutions to their problems empowers them, while demanding they act a certain way increases the likelihood of their withdrawal. Besides, these moments are good lessons on how to deal with difficult people–something your child will have to learn unless they plan on living with you forever. Below are some kid-driven solutions to bullying.
- Have your child talk to the bully. Sometimes bullies don’t actually realize how their actions and words affect others. By hearing from someone whom they have hurt deeply, bullies might back off.
- Have your child disengage from the bully. Bullies gain their power by intimidating others. They make others feel bad or look bad in front of their peers. By walking away, your child takes the power away from the bully by not giving him the reaction he wants.
- Have your child evaluate her friendships. Often, bullies are those we consider to be friends or want to be friends with. Encourage your child to hang out with people who are respectful and discourage them to hang with those who are hurtful.
- Look at the places where the bullying occurs and avoid those places if possible. Part of the reason bullies have so much control is that we continually put ourselves in their paths. Cyber bullying is a prime example of that. If your child is repeatedly kicked off the lunch table, have him find a new lunch table with other friends so he doesn’t have to go through the humiliation of moving later. If your child gets cruel snap chats or twitter messages, have your child block the bully. Removing the bully’s number from his phone removes temptation to communicate and blocks the easy access that technology allows bullies to have.
- Have a meeting with the bully and her parents. Most of the time, parents don’t know how their kids behave in public. Bringing it to their attention can go a long way in helping the situation–especially if the bully has to face your child in front of both sets of parents.
- Have your child report bullying incidents that occur on school grounds or at school events to trusted school staff. Bringing bad behavior to the attention of adults can stop bullying in its tracks.
*While these solutions may work most of the time, some kids are tenacious and bullying may increase. That is when parent intervention becomes necessary. As always, if your child faces physical harm, steps to remedy the situation should be fast tracked before any serious damage is done.
Sometimes kids can’t work out the bullying issue on their own. Sometimes it takes parent intervention and requires contact with the school. This can be difficult as most parents fear that contact with the school will peg them as troublemakers and earn their child a black mark in the secret file. Sometimes this is true. But contacting the school and asking for their support is a still a step you may need to take.
- Don’t overreact. Sometimes kids will be kids. Incidents will happen and feelings will get hurt. Knowing your child is important in assessing the degree of intervention you need to take. Not being invited to Jimmy’s birthday party is not grounds for parent involvement no matter how sad your child is. Being excluded from activities because kids call your child names and say everyone hates them is.
- Have a meeting with the principal and/or the school counselor. Sometimes bullying continues despite other attempted solutions. If behavior escalates or continues, call the principal and set up an appointment.
- Familiarize yourself with the school’s policy on bullying, so you go in with realistic expectations. If your school does not have a policy or is not upholding their policy, you have grounds for asking them to create a policy and adhere to it.
- Set up an agenda of the things you want to talk about. Start with your concern that your child is struggling with other students and isn’t feeling safe at school, list the problems you know about (facts are always good to have), talk about the things you have tried in your attempt to resolve them and end by asking the school to help create a safe atmosphere for your child. Agendas can help keep the meeting from being too emotional which almost always is detrimental to a good resolution.
- Avoid attacking the school or school staff. This puts the school on the defensive.
- Discuss your expectations regarding the school as a safe, learning environment for your child. Outline steps you will take in the future if problems are not resolved: a school meeting with appropriate staff, the parents and all children involved; followed by a school board request if things continue to persist, and/or potential legal action including police involvement.
If physical bullying or threats are made, other action may be required. Likewise, awareness of the issues might be a wise idea and effective in creating a culture that stands against bullying and advocates for kindness.
- Contact the police if physical violence or threats occur. Make sure to have as many facts as possible to back up your report. He said/she said is difficult to act upon by law enforcement.
- Contact an attorney to discuss possible legal options. A letter from an attorney to the family outlining legal consequences may be a strong deterrent against future bullying.
- Create a community network to align families, schools and area professionals in the fight against bullying.
Creating Community Programs
- Find a group of like-minded individuals willing to act on behalf of your cause. We’ve all heard the rumblings, but we also know that not everyone is comfortable being on the front line. For a community program to succeed, you need people willing to volunteer their time and stay involved.
- Set up an informational meeting to garner support or membership. Libraries, schools or churches may allow you to use their space. They may also be willing to help host.
- Know your mission and set an agenda based on what you want to accomplish.
- Spread the word. Often, newspapers are looking for stories. Schools may be willing to put flyers into backpacks, and churches might have room in their bulletin to make an announcement. Further, local businesses often allow information to be posted on their community boards.
- Follow through whether it’s a one day workshop or an ongoing project. Just remember that frequent contact with ideas is the most helpful tool in creating new behaviors.
Use the contact form to get more information on communication and community programs or to share your ideas.