Sometimes you can’t wait for the child to come around to talk about their bullying situation. If you already have evidence that something’s seriously wrong (the child is coming home with torn clothes, or continually fakes illnesses, or you’ve seen threatening e-mails, for example), you’ll have to take a more forward approach.
“I see a problem here and I can’t let this continue,” you might say. Talk about the evidence you’ve seen and ask for details in a nonthreatening way.
If I allow my child to keep coming home with bruises or missing lunch money without talking to me about it, the message I’m giving is that I’m unwilling to stick with him and get the problem solved. Even if the child doesn’t want to open up, I have to role-model the appropriate behavior—I have to show that what’s happening is not acceptable and that I care enough to intervene. If the child is at least ten years old, I have to become a polite pest until I get the story.
“Because I care, I’m not backing down from this,” you could say. “I will not act on anything you tell me until we come up with a plan together, but I know there’s an issue and I love you too much to ignore it.”
If the child won’t open up, take a ten-minute break. Tell him he can go think about it and you’ll come back to talk. If he’s not ready to deal with it then, give him thirty minutes and try again. Let him know you’re not going away.
For children under ten years old, you may have to get the information elsewhere—possibly from the school, others who may have observed the behavior, or friends’ parents.
For older children who remain reluctant to talk, suggest that the child write you a note if that’s easier. Promise to keep the note confidential and even to destroy it after you’ve read it if that’s what the child wants.
Dr. Joel Haber