As a trusted confidant, you are likely to witness bullying or have bullying behavior reported to you. Two important elements to consider when talking about bullying with children are to:
- Listen without judgment
- Strategize next steps
Listen without judgment. Listening without judgment sets a tone that everyone’s ideas and experiences are valuable. This is important because bullying is a complicated behavior, and there are usually several sides and interpretations for the behavior. Through the conversation, the goal is to understand others and not just to express our own views. When you listen, it also helps to take a minute to put yourself in another person’s place. How would you feel? How would you act?
Use open-ended questions. Sometimes it might take a child some time to verbalize what they are feeling, or to feel comfortable opening up. Asking questions that start with the following words can help a child open up and set a tone of respect and empathy.
- Tell me more
Sample open-ended questions:
- Tell me what you think just happened.
- How are you feeling about ________right now?
Conversations don’t need to start with the worrisome event. You may start with another behavior – “I noticed that you have been absent/haven’t been participating as much/have seemed angry or distracted” lately. Tell me, what might be happening in your life right now?” This lets the child tell you what they are feeling and what they need.
Focus on objective behavior.
When listening, help the child identify the behaviors in question.
- Limit the description to what happened – nothing more.
- Note your tone of voice. Avoid the slightest hint of moral opinion.
The following sentences focus on objective behavior:
- Your friend said things that hurt you.
- You call [Jimmy] names because you think he’s different.
Reflect the emotional response.
Affirm what you are hearing and reflect on the information being shared to help the child know that his/her viewpoints are respected and that you are listening. The following sentences are affirming and reflecting what is said:
- You are feeling lonely when your friends are excluding you.
- You are frustrated but also afraid to speak up.
- You’re torn between wanting to be friends but feeling hurt.
- You feel angry when [Brenda] wants to sit with you at lunch.
Strategize about solutions to help a child move forward. Collaborate together to come up with solutions that are acceptable to those involved. It is natural to try to fix things quickly – to come up with solutions and provide direction to a child. But, sometimes a child just may not feel prepared to stand up for him or herself. Use open-ended conversations to think of strategies together.
- What are some things that can help you right now?
- What are some things you can do if you see _____________ next time?
- Who do feel comfortable with who might be able to help you with these steps?
Some children may feel so much fear and anxiety that they shut done and cannot strategize or open up. That is okay. Try the open-ended questions again. Consider picking up these conversations on another day or time.
This might be a time to ask for some professional help from a counselor. As you talk to through strategies, some children may be afraid to seek help. You can offer this suggestion gently. If in any event you are concerned about their mental health, seek a mental health professional. If what you learn meets the need to report, make sure to tell the child that you are required to report the behavior, but that you will continue to talk with them and help.
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