Thursday, April 30, 2009

Childhood Bullies: Part Two

As parents, we send our children off to school with a few tears and a few more worries. Will they succeed academically? Will they make friends? Will they choose the right kind of friends? Will they avoid the pitfalls of youth? If there are special needs, will the school manage the IEP adequately to help our children overcome the obstacles they face?

I don’t know about you but how other children would treat my girls never entered my head. My girls are nice girls, what is there not to like? As behind the scenes reports of the insidious shooting sprees at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech University over the last decade described the perpetrators as “loners,” students who had been at the mercy of teasing and ridicule, I never dreamed that my children could also be victims of school bullying. I don’t know why I didn’t think that through. After all, I was teased as a child about my thick glasses, teasing demeaning enough to have a lasting impact on me. I figured schools’ attitudes had changed over the last twenty years and the policy of “handle it yourself and don’t tattle” was archaic and obsolete.

Schools have become more tough on bullying, reaching a zero tolerance policy. Yet teasing, bullying and ridicule still happens. Next week, I hope to share an interview with a local school official whom I’m confident will give some terrific insight into why bullying happens and what the schools are doing about it.

I’m finding out I’m not the only parent who can be clueless as to what is happening at school or on the playground. Here are some things a parent can do to discover if their child is the object of school bullying.

1. Listen and take seriously when your child complains of unfair treatment from a fellow classmate. While the lone incident may seem minor, your child may be sending out a test line to see how you react. Ask if this has happened before. Ask if the other child is usually his friend. Ask how the other child treats other children. Don’t be timid to contact the teacher and ask the teacher to observe interactions between your child and the other child for a few days.

2. Look for warning signs. Is your child withdrawing? Is there a major shift in behavior? This should have been our warning sign. When we moved from Kansas to North Carolina, my happy-go-lucky daughter suddenly became reserved and somber. I thought it was just the difficulty of moving from a small rural school to a large multicultural urban school. Only years later did I find out bullying was happening as well.

Is your child hesitant to be involved with other children? Is your child aggressive and “bullying” others himself? This actually may be a rebound from bullying he has received; as a child, he doesn’t have the coping skills to know how to respond, so he lashes out.

3. Be aware of potential bullying triggers. If your child moves to a new school, he or she will be more of a target, simply because they are new. My daughter was picked on in fifth grade because she attended a school in a rich neighborhood and didn’t wear the latest fashions. If your child has no friends, bullying may be more likely to occur because your child is seen as a social outcast. If your child is different in any way – handicap, social/economic status, a child of integrity or one who doesn’t cuss like the other kids – bullying and teasing is more likely to occur.

I hope to share with you next week from my interview what parents can do to help their child not be a victim of bullying. I also want to share how you can work with the school your child attends to stop the bullying.

Each child is precious in the sight of God. Each of us, our children included, are made in the image of God. Everyone, no matter who they are, deserves to be treated with kindness and respect. Let’s teach our children to lift others up instead of tearing them down. Yet we live in a fallen world where there will always be nasty people in our lives. Let’s also help our children kept their eyes on Jesus for, after all, Jesus’ opinion of them is the only one that counts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Childhood Bullies: Part One

What will get me steamed more than anything else Inside the Classroom? When I see a bully in action. When I hear kids tease each other. When I hear kids ridicule another’s opinion, abilities, decisions or interests. When kids in my high school class recently made fun of a boy for dropping out of college on his first day, I felt sick to my stomach. He was humiliated enough – why did they have to rub it in? How awful to be branded as a loser! If a kid dares to say something derogatory about another kid in my class, very quickly, he is very sorry he bothered to open his mouth. I’m so glad to see school instilling zero tolerance policies for bullying. Gone are the days, I hope, that most teachers scold the victim for being a tattletale, tell them to settle it themselves, then turn their backs. A zero tolerance policy has been needed for a long time.

I know how it feels. I was the kid who got picked last for class ball teams. I was called “ugly” and “four eyes.” Because of my Coke-bottle bottom glasses, I was given the distinct impression that no boy would ever want to go out with me.

Kids can be cruel. And, in spite of how much we say kids are resilient, those kind of wounds last a lifetime – unless God heals them. I’ll talk about how God healed me in another post. Have you noticed that we don’t hear the adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” anymore? It was a nice cover up to smart back to the bullies because under no circumstances did we want to appear weak and let the bully know how much it really did hurt.

Yet, with experience, I’ve also realized that being a bully doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Bullies aren’t bullies just because they are made to be mean. A kid has the drive to bully others because he or she needs to feel superior – perhaps because he or she feels inferior in another venue of life. The slogan I’ve come to appreciate is this: “hurting people hurt others.”

I want to look at this topic from several different perspectives over the next few posts. I want to suggest classroom management for handling the bully in your class. I want to suggest ways to help the victim cope. And I want to discuss how children’s ministry workers can teach respect and kindness as a way of preventing the careless insensitive comments kids make to each other. While we’re in the middle of this series, I would appreciate your comments and feedback. How do you discipline a bully? How do you help the victim? How do you keep a victim from becoming a bully himself? What curriculum have you used to teach respect for others? How have you dug to the root issue in a bully’s life? Email me your input at

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Children's Ministry and Discouragement

"Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." - 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV)

He was always getting into fights at school. Sunday School lessons on kindness and forgiveness were beyond him. “It’s not right to hit others,” we told him. “He started it,” was always his excuse. Slowly, we saw his heart soften. He began asking more questions about Jesus. We saw him on the brink of making a decision for Christ, then he backed off. “I’m not ready,” he said. “He’s not ready,” he said. Soon after, the boy moved to Florida to live with his dad. Surprisingly, the grandmother told me, his was thriving and doing well. Still, I felt my co-workers and I had failed. We had not seen him through to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing 
that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NKJV)"

They came with two car loads of street kids, kids from broken homes, kids with hard exteriors, kids who didn’t even know their hearts were broken. One came to the Lord yet was stubborn to change his way of life. The others thought church was a game, a time to text message each other, eat food, throw pillows and sit next to girl friends in my Sunday School class. After a year, the youth leaders left, taking both car loads of kids with them. I felt I had failed. Did anything I taught them manage to stick to their souls?

"So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. – 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NLT)"

Last night, Bill O’Riley, on
The O’Riley Factor, quoted James Dobson, former CEO of Focus on the Family, who said, regarding the culture wars on the American family,“"We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict (quoted from the Washington Monthly). Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles." O’Riley respectfully disagreed – there are still many in America who hold traditional values, he said. I add another reason why the battle is not lost:

"Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. - 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV)"

As Children’s Ministry workers, we never know how long we will be blessed by the presence of one child. They may come one week, never to darken our door again. They may come sporadically, or come faithfully for several years, only, one day, to come no more. Each session, we stand firm on the truth of God’s word. Each week, we give ourselves fully to the work God has given us to do. Each time, we stay faithful to God’s calling, confident that God will make sure, even if we never know, that our work will not be pointless. In ways only He can orchestrate, God will print our words to the pages of the lives around us and use our words and deeds to someday convict others of their need for the Savior.

I like
Dobson’s conclusion which O'Reilly failed to pick up on: : “ . . . but God is in control and we are not going to give up now, right?”


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Creative Classroom Expressions About Easter
April 5, 2009

I’m a big proponent of interactive learning, where the teacher gets the students involved in the learning process. It’s the kind of learning my 4-H motto from years ago described as “Learn by Doing.” Long gone are the days where kids sit dutifully before a teacher who spoke words of wisdom, confident something was oozing into the little brains between the wiggles. Now, kids actively participate in hands on learning and discovery.

I’m learning to become an interactive teacher. It would be so easy to study my lesson and let the words of the curriculum ooze into the pores of my tired brain so I could then repeat them by rote to my dutiful students. I’m a better teacher when I practice what I preach and learn to do something in my own life with the material I’m teaching.

Today, I decided to give my junior church students an overview of the week before Jesus’ Resurrection. We wrote out the days of the week from Sunday to Sunday, then lay them on the floor. We stepped on each paper and talked about what happened on each day of Holy Week. We played a game so we could name ways to praise God for Palm Sunday. I gave them each a journal for this week, so each day, they could draw pictures or write about their responses to this special week. Then we started the project I spoke of several weeks ago in this column. We started to create art work of things in this world that remind us of Christ’s Resurrection.

I came home pondering what I had taught. How would I express my wonder at the miracle of this Holy Week? I’m by no means an artist so I won’t drive anyone to tears of frustration over my feeble artistic attempts. I don’t claim to be a very good poet either, but I do want to share with you my creative expression of how I feel about this week.



On Sunday, they sang;
On Monday, they swang
To a different opinion of Jesus,
The one to redeem them from their sin.

For two days, He taught;
For two days, they sought
To find a way they could still
The voice of salvation to all men.

On Thursday, He broke the bread;
On Friday, He broke His body,
So his blood could remove
The stain of our errant ways.

On Friday, He died;
On Saturday, his disciples cried
So wretchedly for the one
They thought would restore their land.

On Sunday, He rose;
From then on, they chose
Whether to believe the gift of Love
Enabling them to stand
Before God, spotless and pure
For the rest of their days

And Eternity.


Now it’s your turn. How can you express your reaction to what Jesus did for you during this Holy Week?

Have a blessed week!