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Jaden couldn’t wait to start kindergarten. He was up and ready to go an hour before they had to leave for school. Two weeks into the school year, however, he reluctantly dragged himself out of bed, dawdled at breakfast, and complained that he had a tummy ache. Mom’s questioning revealed the true nature of the problem: a classmate—a much bigger boy—had been calling him names and pushing him down on the playground at recess. When the parents consulted the teacher, they were told, “Boys will be boys. He’ll toughen up.”

Mark and his parents were thrilled to find a Lutheran school near their new home. The bright boy quickly became a favorite of the teacher. But that, coupled with his lack of athleticism, didn’t earn him any points with his male peers. They excluded him from their games at recess, and when he tried to join them at lunch, they asked him to move to another table. When Mark became withdrawn, his parents approached the teacher for help. The teacher shrugged it off as a difference of interests but created a lunchtime seating arrangement to address the issue.

Katie tore the wrapping off the present and tried to smile and thank her parents, but she quickly put the gift back into the box. She had hoped for a pair of boots like all the popular girls were wearing, yet she knew these knockoffs were all her parents could afford. Not wanting to hurt her Mom’s feelings, she wore the boots to school. The pointing and giggling were bad enough, but Katie was mortified to find her picture and some girls’ catty remarks on a social networking Web site that evening. Katie cried herself to sleep.

“Kids can be so cruel.” Perhaps you’re thinking, “Thankfully, not to my child” or “not in our Christian schools.” Sadly, our children are sinful human beings too. They have probably given or received cruel behavior. I’m not talking about the occasional scuffle or horseplay between kids who engage in it one minute and then are off being best friends the next. I’m talking about bullying—when a child is relentlessly picked on, over and over again, by an individual or a group of kids. The bullied child may be weaker, smaller, or look different from others. Or perhaps the bullied child is shy, acts differently, or has a hard time making friends.

Bullying behavior may include verbal insults, teasing, or name-calling; physical confrontation—shoving, kicking, or destroying property; social exclusion or spreading rumors; psychological control with fear. Newer technology allows cyberbullying, where bullies use Internet social networking Web sites, e-mail, or cell phone texting to wreak their havoc.

Most kids could probably survive a single instance of bullying, but when it becomes relentless, the child begins living in a constant state of fear. Parents need to know and look for warning signs. Children abused by their peers may have bruises or injuries or missing property. They may begin having health issues, such as headaches and stomachaches, and mental health problems like low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, even thoughts of or attempted suicide. They no longer want to go to school; schoolwork suffers. Bullied children may be reluctant to talk to you about it for fear of retaliation. Being a repeated victim may lead to planning revenge.

Children who are bullying may be aggressive, self-centered, manipulative, insecure, and lack social skills and empathy. Their parents may not see any warning signs. But these parents need to be forewarned as well, because bullies are at risk for future problems. They will eventually lose friends, may have trouble in their future careers and relationships, and may possibly grow more violent.

What can be done about bullying?

  1. Pray! Pray for the wisdom and the right words to talk about it with your child. Ask God to help you handle the situation and bring a speedy resolution.
  2. Talk with your child. Comfort her; bullying is painful! Encourage her to come to you, a pastor, or a teacher when she is bullied; this is not tattling. Pray together. Remind her that she is special—a loved, redeemed child of God. Assure her of God’s promise to make all things— even bullying—work out for the good for those who love him.
  3. Take action; don’t assume the issue will go away. Teach your child how to react to the bullies of this world.
    • Remind your child to ignore and walk away from verbal and psychological bullying. That’s not being a coward. Showing anger or using physical force, like hitting, only promotes more violence. Bullies get their power from the other child’s reaction, and if they don’t get one, they may become bored with bothering him. Your child needs to release angry feelings in a healthy way like through exercise or journaling.
    • Tell your child to try talking it out with the bully. Be calm, confident, and try humor.
    • Parents may need to talk to the teacher or principal to be sure the school takes action. Sessions with both sets of parents and their children may be beneficial.
    • Severe physical abuse should involve contacting the police.
  4. Encourage your child to find activities to enjoy with supportive friends.

What if you’re the bully’s parent?

  1. Be sure you’re not modeling bullying behavior: calling your child or spouse names, constantly putting them down, or frequently hitting your child or spouse.
  2. Pray! You also need to pray for wisdom, for the right words to talk with your child about such behavior, and for God’s help in handling the situation.
  3. Talk with your child. Find out what is at the root of the bullying. Insecurity? Assure him that he is loved by you and is a redeemed child of God. Anger? Sometimes professional counseling is needed to help work out issues. Make it clear that the behavior is unacceptable and that there will be consequences.
  4. Don’t shrug it off; act! Contact the school and the other parents.
  5. Get and keep your child in the Word—daily devotions, a Christian school, Sunday school, youth group, and, of course, church. After all, the gospel is the only thing that has the power to change a person’s heart and attitude.

Jaden’s parents taught him to walk away from the boy; there were plenty of others to play with. The bully became bored with the lack of reaction and, after a while, he became a playmate too. The incident prompted the principal to draft an anti-bullying policy.

The new seating arrangement forced a couple of the boys to get to know Mark better. One found that he and Mark had similar interests outside of school. He was able to get the other boys to stop bullying Mark. Mark’s father, together with the PTA, began working on a new anti-bullying policy.

Katie’s school had an anti-bullying policy, but it wasn’t being enforced. The principal told her parents that he couldn’t force the kids to like Katie. The family left that school for another, where Katie made a couple close friends and found her niche in the drama club.

Bullying is a serious issue—even in our Christian schools. Let’s help put a stop to it.

By Karen Maio, from Parents Crosslink © 2012 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Image credit: "Bully" by John Hain is licensed under CC0 1.0.

Karen Maio lives with her husband and son in Brown Deer, Wisconsin.

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