This post continues our series on childhood bullying. Part one promoted bullying awareness and part two offered ten ways individuals can get involved. This article shows ten ways your kids ministry can address the topic.
Truth be told, the subject of bullying is something that we have never had to address before in our children’s ministry. I have referenced it here or there in lessons, most often in a case study format, but that was the extent.
One month ago, a sixteen year old from our area committed suicide due to malicious bullying. Her story has since received widespread news coverage in an attempt to bring awareness to the issue. We did not know her personally, but we do know her friends and the devastation that it caused, and is causing now.
My husband has been addressing the issue among his junior high and high school students. In speaking with them, we have learned how rampant bullying is in schools (public, private and Christian), how vicious it can be, and how young it can start. It was then that we realized we had a responsibility to address the issue with our elementary students also.
In the first post on bullying, the magnitude of it was discussed, as well as its definition, its effects on victims, and its warning signs. In the second post, intervention steps were outlined. This post will identify practical ways of addressing the subject in your children’s ministry with a proactive stance.
1. Plan for paired, small group, or team activities in your lessons: Many children who are bullied are targeted because they lack close friendships, confidence, and/or social skills. As you plan your lessons, provide for many fun opportunities to work together. Consider pairing children up, having them work in small groups, or in larger teams. These chances for light hearted interaction give children the chance to get to know each other and make friends.
2. Provide opportunities for fellowship outside of the church: Develop a sense of community with fun activities outside the church walls. Organize field trips and family events so that children can build relationships and have a chance for socialization.
Plan events such as bowling, ice cream socials, open gym night, hay rides, girls’ spa nights, pizza parties, progressive dinners, play dates at the park, game nights, or trips to a zoo, children’s museum, or bounce house.
3. Participate in community service projects: Bullying occurs because of man’s inherent sin nature. Children act out their aggression to circumstances with self centeredness and do not consider the feelings of others. Consider planning community service projects to allow children to see outside of themselves.
Have them help out at a food pantry or homeless shelter, organize boxes for Operation Christmas Child, distribute food through Meals on Wheels, write letters, color pictures, and pray for military personnel, support a child through Compassion International, take them on a short term missions trip, collect money for causes such as “Loose Chains to Loosen Chains”, or participate in an athletic endeavor such as “Hoops of Hope.”
4. Allow Literature to Spark a Dialogue: There are a number of great bullying resources for students out there. Consider using one of the following picture books to initiate a conversation or begin a lesson. Such resources include: The Bully by Judith Casely, Lily’s Secret by Imou Miko, Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester, Crickwing by Janell Cannon, The Ant Bully by John Nickle, Emily Breaks Free by Linda Talley, and The Berenstain Bears and the Gift of Courage by Jan and Mike Berenstain.
These two chapter books can be utilized for older children: Nobody Knew What to Do: A Story about Bullying by Becky Ray McCain and The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. Consider reading 1-2 chapters a week, prior to a lesson on bullying or loaning these resources out.
5. Incorporate Role Play and Case Studies into Lessons: Teach students socialization skills such as standing up straight, looking people in the eye, responding when people talk to you, inviting friends to play, saying no, speaking clearly, and being confident in new situations. Have children act out bullying scenarios where they choose to walk away, hang out with others, tell an adult, and are reminded of their identity in Christ. Use role play to practice how friends should respond to bullying. Case studies are also good exercises to get children thinking about proper Biblical responses in a non-threatening type of way.
6. Utilize Biblical Examples of Bullying: Prepare lessons about bullying from Bible accounts. You can utilize the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 and discuss David’s courage and trust in God. You can use the story of Joseph and his jealous brothers in Genesis 37 and discuss how God had a plan for Joseph’s life that included challenges to make him stronger.
Almost as bad as the bullying, is the quiet response from the victim’s peers. When friends remain silent and do not stick up for the victim, that child feels a sense of betrayal. You can discuss how to stand up for a friend with the passage of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. You can also explain that Jesus understands what they are going through, as he was betrayed by Judas in the garden (John 18) and abandoned by his closest friends when He was crucified.
7. Discuss God’s Response to Bullies: In regards to bullies, Proverbs says that the person who gossips, slanders, or spreads lies is a fool. James 3:1-11 discusses the evil that the tongue can do. Psalm 5 states that God will destroy those who speak falsehood and that the righteous will be protected. Proverbs 14:31 says, “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors Him has mercy on the needy.” In other words, it is an insult to your Maker when you exploit (or hurt) those who are powerless. Though God’s Word is harsh when it comes to bullying, He still loves the bully and longs for the bully to know Him and be changed by Him.
8. Discuss God’s Response to Victims: In John 1:12, it states, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 15:15 states that we are Christ’s friend. Matthew 5:11 says that we are blessed when people insult us, persecute us, or falsely say all kinds of evil against us. Psalm 84:1-2 invites us to cry out to God for help. Psalm 12:5 states, “’Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the LORD. ‘I will protect them from those who malign them.’” I especially love Psalm 34:18, where God says that He is, “Close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
9. Discuss God’s Response to the Rest of Us: God has asked us all to live in accordance with Micah 6:8, “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” In Isaiah 1:17, he says, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.” Matthew 25:34-46 provides us with harsh words for those who do not help those in need. As individuals who follow Christ, we should be the first ones to be speaking out against bullying because we do not accept the mistreatment of any person in any way.
10. Regularly Bestow Value on Your Students: Speak truth into the lives of your students on a regular basis. Combat the lies they hear at home, school, or on the playground with words of affirmation, encouragement, and love. Celebrate birthdays, special events, milestones, and victories with your presence, parties, small meaningful gifts, or handwritten notes. Publicly affirm them in front of their parents, siblings, or peers when you see positive character traits in action. Use Scripture to encourage them to continue growing in Christ like character.