Talking about friendships.
This morning in my Facebook Group 'Katie's Classroom - Honest Parent Chat' I talked about what we should do if our child is having a friendship issues or being bullied.
It’s a really horrible topic if I'm being honest and I hate talking about it and thinking about it.
I remember when Bass was born and I was holding him in my arms for the first time and instead of the thoughts of ‘wow, aren’t you beautiful' I looked down at him (and I remember this so distinctly) and got this huge pang of overwhelm and dread and I thought 'God I hope he isn’t ever bullied.’
Part of me wants to bury my head in the sand and hope that none of my children have any friendship issues ever or never get bullied but that is just not being realistic.
Of course our kids will have friendship issues and they may experience bullying at some point in their school lives so we need to talk about it because actually we hold the power, our children's teachers' hold the power and our children hold the power to stop bullying taking place. We need to educate our children to change things within their classes for the better.
So what should we do if we think our child is having friendship issues or being bullied?
First, take a deep breath.
Remember your emotions will be high when you find out someone has been unkind to your child. This reaction is of course completely normal. It is like innately built within us this need to protect our children – it’s an animal instinct that comes over us doesn't it so it's very easy to let our emotions take over so take a deep breath.
Also, remember that your child will be feeling very vulnerable and will be monitoring your reaction and did you know naturally your child will want to protect you so if they feel you are suddenly behaving extremely anxiously or angrily they might stop talking to you in fear they are affecting you negatively. Did you know many children worry about the perceived pressure that they put on us as parents? So remember to take a deep breath.
When your child comes to you remember to take a deep breath, do your best to speak and act calmly while empathising with them and validate their feelings and simply listen to them.
The next thing you need to do is gather information. Talk to your child about their experiences.
Actively listen to them and thank your child for opening up to you. Your child being vulnerable is incredibly difficult for them and can be very painful to listen to.
But try and gather specifics: who is/was involved? What has happened? What type of bullying or friendship issue is it? What days? What times? Have they told a trusted adult at school? Gather as much information as possible.
If you remain calm, you'll learn a lot at this stage by simply listening to them. The next time a situation arises go and sit down with your child. Duct tape your mouth if you have to! Please don’t interject. Sit and listen. Put your phone down. Put your work away. Stop making dinner. But listen to what they say. Listen to what they say and then when they’re done, validate their feelings.
Confirm if bullying is taking place
I think we know the difference from a little friendship issue and fall out, to full blown bullying but just to clarify I'll explain bullying.
What is bullying? Bullying is an aggressive behaviour that involves an imbalance of power. Bullying is repeated over time and can take many forms, such as hitting, punching, or shoving (physical bullying); teasing, taunting, name-calling, or sexual remarks (verbal bullying); intimidation using gestures, spreading rumours, or social exclusion (psychological or social bullying).
Create a written record
If you think your child is getting bullied then the next thing to do is to create a timeline outlining all the incidents, including dates, individuals involved and your child’s account of the event. God forbid but if they have been physically bullied take pictures. Collect as much evidence as you can.
Keep talking and listening to your child
Sometimes children are fearful of adult intervention because they believe (justifiably) that it will “make things worse”.
The first thing you should do is validate your child's concerns and listen to them non-judgmentally to any feelings your child is experiencing. Talk about what can be done to help make school a safer, more comfortable learning environment for them.
Discuss with your child what bullying is and practical ways to handle these situations when they occur. Consider role playing.
Work with your child’s school
If the situation cannot be safely resolved or continues to worsen then you may need to talk to the school. Be sure to include your child in this decision and discuss how much involvement they’d like to have. When meeting with the school you’ll want to follow the chain of command: child’s teacher, child’s school counsellor, headteacher etc.
Meeting at school – what to consider
Prior to the Meeting
First write an email to your child's teacher about the situation. You could write down all the things you have done at home to help them and the situation.
You could jot down the most important points and questions you would like to ask.
During the Meeting
Share what has happened so far and then the main question to ask is: “What can be done to keep your child safe in school physically and emotionally so he/she/they can learn?”
Explain the impact this is having on your child.
Work together to create a plan of action together. It would be really good if your child is included in this because their opinions and feelings eon making this plan matter!
Keep a written record at this meeting about what was said and who is responsible for what.
Following the Meeting
Send a follow-up email summarising the meeting.
Should the situation not improve or worsen after several weeks (or after the determine amount of time required to put supports in place), you may decide to move up the chain of command.
What are my takeaways?
When you child first comes to you, stop and listen and then validate their feelings and really listen to what they are going through. If we don’t do this – they feel unheard and they feel like we don’t care.
Your child needs you to listen to them and to validate how they feel.
Your child needs you to understand their feeling even if it doesn’t make sense to them or you! Parents often fail to really hear the child.
Do you know that 75% of children do not tell a trusted adult what to do when they are struggling through these issues because and they say that parents either yell or scream, tell them to ignore it or that they're going to go in and fix it, they also overreact or they say what they should have done or what they have failed to do?
Another classic is to say “oh just ignore them, they will get bored and tired. They’ll move on.” Could you really do that, if it was you? I as an adult would have a really hard time having people say things to me and then all of a sudden just go back to work and be normal.
I know it is hard as we're mum or we're the dad, the parent and you feel you should have the answers and the life experience to fix it but often the first thing to do is NOT immediately fix it but just LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD.
So ask your child: “Am I a good listener?”
The next time a situation arises go and sit down with your child. Duct tape your mouth if you have to. Please don’t interject. Sit, listen. Put your phone down. Put your work away. Stop making dinner. But listen to what they say. Listen to what they say and then when they’re done, validate their feelings.
We have the power to really stop and listen to our children.
Teachers need to create an environment of acceptance in the classroom.
Children have the most power. What research shows is that if another pupil intervenes within 10 seconds of a bullying incident it can stop the situation. That is powerful. Pupils need to be able to stand up to every single one of their classmates.
Thank you for reading my email. I hope it helps you and all makes sense. Please do get in touch by replying to this email. I would love to hear from you - I really would.