Positive communication is what binds us. It connects parent to child, friend to friend, individual to community. It connects A Platform for Good to Baffle That Bully -- it connects you to me. Communication is the basic building block of a relationship, of a society, of humanity. That is why it is so important to consider:
What will we choose to do with this powerful tool that is communication?
When my 2nd grader was the target of verbal and emotional bullying a few years ago, I had no idea what was wrong with her. All I saw was a string of symptoms that grew more bizarre over the course of about three months: difficulty sleeping, claiming illness, declining academic performance, increased sensitivity, anger, aggression. (If you’d like to read more about recognizing the signs of bullying please click this link: The Signs of Bullying I Should Have Seen.)
When I asked her what was wrong, she came up with every possible problem she could imagine other than the truth. She wouldn’t (or couldn’t) tell me that she was being picked on incessantly at school.
It wasn’t until I changed the way I communicated with her that the truth came out.
Instead of asking, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I can tell that something is bothering you. I want you to know that I’m here to listen anytime you feel like talking. I really would like to help.” You see, “What’s wrong?” can easily be interpreted as, “What’s wrong with you?” or “What’s wrong NOW?” Neither of those is what I intended. What I chose to say instead could only be interpreted as kind and supportive. As it turned out, that was exactly what she needed.
Similarly, rather than asking, “How was your day?” which can too easily be answered and shut down with, “Fine,” or “OK, I guess,” I decided to start a conversation with a suggestion. For example, I said, “Tell me about something that happened today that made you happy or made you laugh.” Later, I asked the follow-up question, “Tell me about something that didn’t go as well as you hoped or that made you sad.”
With a few tweaks in how I communicated with my daughter, she trusted me more and saw me as non-judgmental. Eventually, she told me about the kids who constantly picked on her, called her names, and told her that nobody liked her. Once she admitted what was really going on, we were able to start the healing process and strategize about how to take control of her encounters with bullies.
Helping my daughter overcome bullying also reminded me that listening is one of the most powerful forms of communication. We started setting aside 10 uninterrupted minutes per day for her to talk about anything she wanted to discuss. Some days, 10 minutes was all she needed; other days, that 10 minutes launched a series of topics that we discussed off and on for the rest of the evening.
Without a doubt, when you give your child your time and attention on a regular basis, they feel valued, and their confidence grows. A sense of self-worth can help your child handle just about any unpleasant encounter.
In addition, giving your child your full, undivided attention and asking relevant questions is an excellent way to model positive communication skills. They will carry those skills into conversations with their friends, online as well as offline. Those friends, in turn, will carry the skills with them and so on. This ripple effect might just break the cycle of negativity that seems to be so prevalent these days.
As my daughter and I worked through coping strategies for overcoming bullying, she communicated more effectively and positively with not only me but our whole family, her friends, and even the bullies. It’s amazing how what starts with just one person can spread.
Try to improve your relationship with just one person by communicating in a more positive way. Then, watch the ripple effect. It can be pretty powerful.
Cover image courtesy of Kimberly Garcia.