Bullying (Part II): Practical Intervention

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Statistics report that one in three children are involved in incidents related to bullying, as either the perpetrator or the victim.  As a result, there is a strong probability that there are children in our ministries who are affected by the prevalence of bullying.
This is part two in our series on childhood bullying. In our first post, we addressed the magnitude of bullying, its definition, its effects on victims, and its warning signs.  Part three offers ten ways you kids ministry can address the issues. In this post, we will discuss what we can do as individuals who love kids, to intervene on behalf of these children.

10 Ways We Can Intervene on Behalf of Children Who are Being Bullied:

1. Be an Observer.
Know the children in your ministry.  Know the warning signs of bullying.  Be attentive to whether a child has had a change in behavior, physical appearance, or confidence level.
2. Ask Questions.
Find the time to talk to the child.  Get on their level.  Express your concern.  Ask open-ended questions to invite discussion.  You may say, “I’ve noticed that you seem really sad lately.  Can you tell me why you feel that way?”  Or, if you suspect bullying already, say, “Tell me what school is like for you these days.”  Share personal experience if applicable and ask them if something like that has happened to them.
3. Reiterate your Role of Love
Children may not confide in an adult because of embarrassment, shame, or fear that the bullying will intensify.  Let them know that you love them and are on their side.  You laugh when they laugh and you cry when they cry.  Their hurts hurt you also.
4. Listen.
Allow the child to have space to talk.  Listen well.  If a younger child has a difficult time verbalizing their hurt, bring in items like stuffed animals, action figures, cars, dolls, or puppets (anything really) to allow for role playing.  You may also have children draw pictures or cartoons.  Don’t force conversation.  If they don’t want to talk, don’t pressure them.  Tell them you are available to listen if they ever change their mind.
5. Encourage.
After hearing the child’s hurts, applaud the child’s willingness to talk.  Convey that they are very brave for telling you.  Focus on providing comfort and support.  Remind them about who they are in Christ and how much God loves them.  Let them know that they are not alone.  Tell them that this bullying is not their fault and that you will do whatever you can do to make it stop.  Go to God in prayer together.
6. Partner with the Parent or Caregiver.
You may want to partner with the parent even before the discussion with their child.  Use wisdom and discernment as to when to involve them.  Reiterate your role to them as well, letting them know that you are there to support their family.  You have noticed a change in their child’s behavior and are concerned.  Ask open ended questions in this dialogue as well and allow space for them to verbalize. 
7. Give parents resources and options.
Be familiar with the laws in your school district or state concerning bullying. Convey them to the parents.  Discuss alerting authorities about the issue, starting with expressing concerns to the teacher in conversation.  If bullying continues, consider progressing to a counselor and administrator.  In serious cases, legal authorities need to be informed.  If needed, provide parents with contact information for professional Christian counselors.  Also provide them with resources about bullying.
8. Provide Strategies for Dealing with Bullies.
Educate children as to how to deal with bullies.  Teach them how to confide in trusted adults, how to walk away from the situation or stick up for themselves, how to make friends and how to ensure they are not alone when bullies typically initiate their aggression.  Read age-appropriate books for discussion.  Role-play scenarios.    This education should also address bullying behavior itself by teaching what God says about those who bully others, how to deal with sin, and appropriate ways of interacting with others.
9. Speak Truth into their Hearts
Satan is the father of lies.  Bullies speak lies into our children’s identity.  Counteract those lies with continual truth from the Word of God.  Have children hide that Truth into their hearts.  Model that Truth with every interaction you have with a child.  Discuss why people bully, teach against bullying, and tell them how God abhors it.  Teach them to know how much God loves them specifically and to receive their value from His Word.
10. Follow Up
Dealing with bullying may be a process that is not solved immediately.  For the child’s sake, follow up with the situation.  Once children have confided in us, we are responsible with that information.  Continue to ask questions, ensure that something is being done about the situation, cover the child in prayer, and encourage him or her as best as you know how.
Clearly, this is not an exhaustive list.  We all benefit from pooling our resources and experience.  What have you done in your ministry to intervene on behalf of children who have been victimized by bullying?

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