As School Starts, Parents Can Pave the Way for Hard but Honest Discussions

Parents: Tips for tough chats

The 2022-23 school year is upon us! For your child, it may bring new schools, teams, peer groups, and uncertainties—including the possibility that they encounter concerning behavior by peers or adults.

Misconduct and abuse can be hard to discuss even for adults and more so for children. Parents can lay the important groundwork now for a healthy parent/child communications dynamic. Such a dynamic can increase the odds that your child would bring bad behaviors by others to light—even if the child can’t easily put words to the feelings and actions they experience.

The tips below are among many resources the U.S. Center For SafeSport has developed to help parents, coaches, athletes, and other sports allies prevent and respond to inappropriate activity.

Five Tips for Communicating With Your Child About Misconduct

  1. Talk about it: Talk to your child. Let him or her know that sport is supposed to be a place where they have fun and never feel uncomfortable. Watch educational materials together to help develop a language around abuse.
  2. Create a “safe word”: When talking to your child about abuse in sport, establish an unusual “safe word” or phrase that’s easy to remember that they can use to tell you something is wrong—like “jellybean” or “upside down.”
  3. Establish open communication: Let your child know that they can always tell you if something’s wrong, and that you’ll always believe them.
  4. Encourage them to “just tell”: Let your child know that they can tell anyone they’re comfortable with—like a friend’s parent, teacher, or coach—if something bad is happening to them and they don’t want to say anything to you.
  5. Tell them they can play sport anywhere: Sometimes, we think the only way an athlete will be successful is if they train with a particular coach or club, and athletes may even be told this by an abuser. It’s important for them to know that they can train anywhere and be successful. Abuse is not a part of being successful in sport.
son and father in conversation while sitting on basketball court sideline

These tips and more are found in the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s Parent Toolkit, whose guidance and resources for parents and caregivers on preventing, recognizing, and responding to abuse and misconduct is tailored for each youth age group, from preschool to high school.

If your child tells you about inappropriate behavior they’ve been subject to, know the policies for reporting abuse and misconduct in your child’s school or organization, and report your concerns appropriately. If the organization is affiliated with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement, you can report through the Center’s Report a Concern page or 1-833-5US-SAFE.