There’s little doubt that bullying among children is significantly rising in the United States. The increase is so dramatic that the Centers for Disease Control recently issued a 2011 Fact Sheet describing the problem as a “form of youth violence.” This shocking escalation comes as no surprise to parents and guardians of school age children. Sad stories about teen suicides as a result of bullying or more prevalent today in our cyber social culture.
Children without parental guidance, lacking spiritual and moral definition find bullying an effective tool for getting what they want. It happens every day at schools, in neighborhoods–even at church.
It’s easy to scoop up little ones and want to protect them from their aggressors, but who’s reaching the bullies? As the parent of a child with Autism, I know the pain parents feel when bullies victimize children who can’t defend themselves. As a Christian, my heart also melts for the kids who become bullies. What does the future hold for them?
A recent, successful push in child evangelism efforts left our church asking the same thing. Our bus was full of kids, some who were known bullies. Tough questions arose like, “How do we minister to everyone yet make kids feel safe?” Other questions like, “Can we change how a bullying child interacts with others with just one or two days of ministry per week?”
Here’s what we discovered about reaching bullies in our church.
1. Teach frequently on the Golden Rule. It seems so simplistic, but to these kids, the Golden Rule is a great revelation. How freeing it is for children when they understand that yelling and bullying aren’t what God had in mind for them. Have mini lessons ready on “Do unto others..” at the beginning of every service and make it the central lesson at least once a month. Involve “bullies” in role-playing and demonstrating the object lessons.
2. Pull bullies close. Bullies need lots of love because bullying is based on fear. A bully may resist your hugs or kind words at the beginning but don’t give up. Make it a point to include a child labeled as a bully. Break down barriers with Christian love and keep the child close so you can monitor his behavior.
3. Correct, don’t challenge. When correction becomes necessary, and it will, make sure you do it the right way. For younger children, stoop down to their eye level. Get on your knees to have a chat. Say. “Jerry, were you following the Golden Rule when you pushed Susie down?” Don’t embarrass, humiliate or make a public spectacle of the child. Be stern but loving and follow up with any punishments, like losing a treat.
4. Take threats seriously. If you are threatened or another child is threatened take the threat seriously. Quickly separate the bully from the other child and immediate take the child to a pastor or administrator. Take threats seriously so children will know that making threats won’t be tolerated in your ministry.
Every child that bullies needs love and attention but unfortunately, some children won’t be willing to change their behaviors, at least not for a long while. Be patient but don’t neglect the other children in your ministry. Don’t forget to pray for the children in your care. Prayer can move mountains.
Read more about Mimi at her blog, “Encouragement for Christians.”