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If you want to stop your child from being bullied — or better yet, prevent it in the first place — there is a very simple thing you can do: talk to your child.
I don’t so much mean talk to your child about standing up to bullies, or about letting a teacher know if they see or experience bullying, although both of those are important messages for your child to hear. I mean literally just talk to your child, so that you can better get to know him or her — and better get to know what their daily life is like.
As parents, we like to think that we know this already. But the reality is that once our children head off to school we don’t know everything about them. We don’t know what all of their interactions with others are like; we don’t know all the details, such as who they sit with at lunch, what happens in the locker room, or what happens when they get on the bus.
That’s where the talking comes in. According to stopbullying.gov, talking to your child for 15 minutes a day can make all the difference when it comes to helping keep them safe from bullying.
As any parent will attest, talking with our children doesn’t always go the way we think or hope it will. The answers to “How was your day?” or “What did you do today?” tend to be “Fine” and “Nothing,” neither of which are conversation starters. In general, our interactions often tend to be logistical and closed-ended, like “Did you get your homework done?” or “What time does practice end?”
The conversations that make a difference are more open-ended ones. “Tell me about your day,” for example, or “Did anything good happen today? Anything bad?” Asking open-ended questions about teachers, classes, the lunchroom, sports teams, and any other parts of your child’s life can get conversations started. You can and should ask follow-up questions, but as much as you can, try not to be interrogatory. The more you let your child tell you things the way they want to, the more you keep it comfortable and build trust, both of which are crucial. “Tell me more about that” and “What happened next?” are good ways to keep your child talking.
Because, really, that’s what you want to do. You want to keep the lines of communication open, and make it clear to your child that you are interested in the details of his daily life and that you care about what makes him happy, angry, or sad. By talking for 15 minutes a day, you can learn a lot — including about bullying or circumstances that might lead to bullying.
Those 15-minute conversations can help you help your child navigate difficult situations and help you troubleshoot and problem-solve together. They can also help you understand better what your child enjoys, which helps you guide him toward people and activities that can bolster his self-esteem and build friendships — and can help you understand who the important people are in his life, so you can get to know them better.
Our lives are busy, but 15 minutes aren’t hard to find. Eat dinner together (cook together, too) or have an afternoon snack together. Talk during car rides. Hang out on the couch before bedtime. Shut off the devices and concentrate on each other instead. It truly can make all the difference, in so many ways.
To learn more about who is at risk for bullying, warning signs that your child is being bullied (or is a bully), and what you can do, check out all the really helpful information on stopbullying.gov, and learn more about KnowBullying, a free smartphone app for parents and caregivers.