One of the most difficult conversations parents can have with their children is about bullying. The word “bullying” triggers some very strong emotions in people. Anger, fear, shame and guilt can all come to the surface, whether we are adults or children. Many of these emotions stem from being bullied, which makes talking to your child about this topic that much more difficult. From my experience, as a bullied child who told no one, it’s not an easy topic for your child to talk about either. These strong emotions can hijack a conversation or prevent it from happening at all. If you suspect your child is being bullied, or you want to have a proactive conversation about with your child, here are four easy ways to use to books to open that conversation.
Before you dive into a discussion about bullying, you want your child to feel comfortable to share or talk about their experiences. To do that, I suggest developing a reading routine. Take 15 minutes before bed and find a comfortable spot (include a favourite blanket or stuffed animal) that is free from distractions like the television or other family members, so you can give your child your undivided attention. Give your child some control in choice of books. I use the “You choose, I choose” method for determining what you to read each night. This gives you the opportunity to introduce books to your child that will open the discussion.
Second, connect over the books you read. I know this can make it seem like it takes forever to read the book, but this simple step not only provides the opportunity for your child to think about another’s point of view, it’s a great way to develop future reading skills. The O.W.L. acronym is a great strategy to start the conversation. The O is what you observe or notice in the pictures or the story. W represents what you wonder or what questions do you have, and the L is for link it to your life or how it connects to your life. If you remember this simple acronym, you can open the door to difficult topics while reading. Some other options are to talk about the pictures, how the characters feel and what you predict will happen next in the story. Ask your child what would they do in this situation? This is also a great time to offer some of your own solutions that your child may not have thought about. Also, look at it from both perspectives, the bully and bullied. It may help your child to know the bully may have issues going on in their lives you don’t know about. This helps your child to see that the bullying not about them, but about the bully.
Third, if someone bullied you, share that with your child. Many of us still carry the childhood wounds of bullying, but sharing your experience lets your child see they aren’t alone and keeps the lines of communication open.
Finally, find books that talk about the bullying experience. If you don’t know where to start, here are picture books I’ve used in my classroom year after year when discussing bullying. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes is the story of a girl teased about her name. She doesn’t tell her parents what is going on, but as her enthusiasm for school disappears, they become concerned. A great book to discuss why she doesn’t tell her parents that ends with a happy twist. Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola is the story of a boy who wants be a dancer and despite the disapproval of his father and the teasing of the kids at school, he sticks to what he loves. Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill is the story of how one girl dethrones the playground bully. A great story about discovering your power. Kids will love the language and pictures. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson is a lovely story about taking your dad’s advice on how to deal with your “enemies” and how your actions may have unexpected results.
For older boys, I suggest Restart by Gordon Korman. In this story, the school bully loses his memory due to an accident and tries to become a better person. Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan is the story of two boys who team up to take down the class bully. For girls, Jerry Spinelli’s, Stargirl, explores how denying your true self to fit in is dangerous. My chapter book, See Me, tackles the difficulties of navigating school when you feel you don’t fit in.
If you need to have a conversation with your child about bullying, but don’t know where to start, pick up a book and let the story open the door.