Dear Louanne: ‘How can I persuade my child to open up about the possibility of being bullied?’

I think my son is being bullied at school. He’s withdrawn and doesn’t want to talk to me or my husband about how he’s doing at school. He is normally a very open boy, always wanting to talk things over and tell us about his life. I think it’s happening, but I can’t be sure. I don’t know how to talk to him about it and encourage him to open up. He’s eight.

M

Hello FM,

First of all, I can say that you are a loving and caring parent by noticing changes in your child’s behavior. You sound like you really know your little boy and pay attention to him.

Talking to your child about what he thinks is kind or impolite behavior at school and in the community helps you understand what is going on in his life. Open communication from you ensures that he can talk to you, as he has so enthusiastically done in the past.

It’s never too early to start talking, thinking, and learning about relationships, how to treat others, and how a child can expect to be treated by others.

Bullying is a horrible and harmful experience. Along with the physical effects of bullying, there are emotional and mental health issues that can arise.

Your child has the right to a safe and nurturing school environment.

Supporting your child to have a conversation when he seems reluctant is helpful (consider that he may have been threatened if he came out to you).

Stories are a very important part of a child’s world.

You can use a book or movie to talk about what’s going on in the story, how the characters might feel, and what they might do.

‘Wonder’ by RJ Palacio, for example, is a fantastic book and also a film about bullying, empathy, compassion and acceptance. It is suitable for ages 8 to 12 years old.

By playing along with your favorite characters, you can help them practice the affirmation by saying, ‘No! Stop it’ and ‘No! I don’t like it’ in a clear voice.

Ask about how friendship groups at school feel to be a part of. Encourage your child to spend time with people who make him feel good about himself. Talk about what characteristics make a good friend. Remind them that real friends won’t make you feel sad or make you do things you don’t want to do.

Schools have a legal responsibility to prevent bullying and keep children safe. Bullies don’t usually bully in front of teachers, so pick up the phone and let your child’s teacher know that you are concerned about what is happening to your child. The teacher can keep an eye on it. Ask to stay updated.

Being bullied can really make a child feel very sad and lonely. Reassure your child that it’s not his fault, that he is very loved and amazing. Make sure you set aside family time to do things your child enjoys and make them feel good about themselves. Let your child know that he is not alone and together you will be able to resolve this and make him stop.

‘My best friend doesn’t talk to me anymore’

I told my best friend that I liked her boyfriend – only liked him, nothing more – and now she’s not talking to me! It didn’t mean that I liked him or that I wanted to date him; I thought it was good to say this because it’s important to like your friends’ partners. I thought it would make her happy, but actually she’s very unhappy with me. How can I talk to her?

SJ

Hello SJ,

Sorry to hear your friend isn’t talking to you. It’s a disturbing experience when a friend stops talking to you. While you can’t make your friend talk to you, you can let them know that you’d like to clear up the misunderstanding and repair the friendship.

You can apologize for hurting your friend’s feelings and reassure her that you’re glad she’s in an important relationship for her, that you never meant anything other than thinking her boyfriend is a lovely person.

Give your friend time to reflect on your apology. Let your friend have time to heal. Fortunately, your friend will accept your apology and your friendship will resume. You will have learned something about your friend and her sense of vulnerability around her boyfriend.

After your apology, if your friend still doesn’t want to talk to you, you can let him know that you’re happy to be friends when he’s ready, no pressure, no judgment.

Have you ever considered the possibility that saying that you like your friend’s boyfriend isn’t the reason she stopped talking to you? Sometimes people use silence as a way to end a relationship when they don’t have the communication skills to articulate their preferences or actions.

Her friends’ relationship with her boyfriend may have caused her priorities to shift. It’s not an excuse for the silent treatment, but it could be part of the reason she stops talking to you.

Sometimes it is necessary to know when to let go. If you try to talk to your friend and she keeps ignoring you, then there really isn’t a friendship anymore. This is going to hurt, of course, but for your own health and well-being, it’s important to take care of yourself, realizing that the friendship is probably over.

Take comfort from other friends and family you trust. They can reassure and support you in the sadness of an important friendship coming to an end.

If the friendship isn’t restored, you’ll have to put that into the experience. Sometimes people do things in life that are very difficult to understand and this can happen because of their own internal issues and not about you.

In the end, it will be your friend’s loss as much as it seems yours.

For more information on Relate NI, see www.relateni.org

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