Because bullies often don’t act alone — they
enlist a group of henchmen to carry out their cruel deeds — kids
take the side of the bully out of fear that they’ll become targets.
The key then to creating a bully-free environment is to hold
everyone — bullies, the henchmen acting on the bully’s behalf,
targets, and bystanders — accountable for their actions.
Addressing each person’s role in bullying will lead to a more
responsive, collectively caring environment.
“There are no innocent bystanders,” says Coloroso. Kids must
understand how their participation — or lack thereof — in
bullying affects the cycle of violence. Bystanders generally fit in
one of these two categories.
• Actively Involved Bystanders-These bystanders
witness the bullying and do nothing. Through their non-action, they
give silent approval of the situation. They’re unwilling to step in
and stand up for the target because they’re either gratified by the
bully’s behavior or on his or her “side.”
• Disengaged Onlookers-Adults often fall into
this role without realizing it when they witness a bullying
situation and dismiss it as “kids being kids.” Kids take on this
role when they refuse to stand up for the victim out of fear that
they’ll become targets.
As parents, teachers, and children’s ministers, our role is to
teach kids to have integrity. “We need to teach [kids]to do the
right thing when the burden is heavy,” says Coloroso. “And this
burden is very heavy.”
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Teaching kids to stand up when the pressure is on takes commitment
on your part and the ability to set a powerful, positive example of
caring. Here are suggestions to ensure a bully-free attitude takes
hold in your ministry.
• Do as you say. Look at your behavior toward
kids. If you find there’s a Little Bully lurking in you, work on
eliminating that tendency.
• Put in place strong anti-bullying procedures.
By doing so, you’ll ensure the safety of targeted children and
bystanders. The code in your classroom should be, “Everyone has
value. Everyone is an integral part of our group. No one is left
• Deal with bullies sensitively. Understand that
bullying children may be bullied at home. As many as 89% of
American children witness some type of abuse at home, and 79% of
those children turn to violent behavior, according to a recent
report by the YWCA.
• Set behavior standards. Then stick to your
guidelines with the kids you minister to. “Teach that bullying is
not going to be tolerated,” says Coloroso.
Healing the Collective
An important step in helping bullies move beyond their aggressive
ways is to help them develop self-
discipline and self-worth. Coloroso recommends this three-step
cycle for former bullies.
1. Be good. Bullies have a big ego but not a
strong sense of self. Help them learn that they have self-worth and
are important. Encourage good behaviors and create situations
that’ll help these kids succeed in “being good.”
2. Do good. Give bullies the opportunity to
serve others and experience the positive emotions associated with
putting someone else first. They’ll be less likely to feel the urge
to harm others.
3. Will good. By teaching bullies to act with
integrity and compassion, you’ll bring them full circle. At this
stage, they often become the person standing up for a victim.
Jennifer Hooks is editor of Children’s