Several years ago my son started seeking me out immediately after church ended. I would barely dismiss my Primary class when he would come bursting in through the door of my class sometimes with other children on his heels. After several weeks he told me why.
My son, who had a difficult time sitting still and tended to talk about things that interested him regardless of whether anyone else was interested or not, frequently annoyed another boy in his class. And whenever my son annoyed this boy, he would hold up a finger. He added another finger each time he felt it was warranted. The number of fingers he held up equaled the number of times he was going to hit my son after church. And worse yet, he recruited two other boys to hold my son’s arms while he hit him!
It’s hard to believe isn’t it?
I talked to the boys’ parents and the threats and bullying ended. It’s disheartening for bullying and unkindness to happen at church — a place that we want to be welcoming and safe for all. But unfortunately sometimes it does. And needless to say my son hated to go to church.
Bullying, and if applicable, retaliation, needs to be addressed immediately and firmly. It is completely inappropriate in any setting! The most effective way to stop bullying is to tell the bully their behavior is wrong and will not be tolerated. Tell the child’s parents about the incident (hopefully they will reinforce an anti-bullying message) and watch vigilantly to make sure the behavior does not continue.
Teachers and leaders need to be especially vigilant in looking out for children with special needs. Especially watch out for children with social skills deficits because often those children do not read social cues and can inadvertently annoy or offend other children. Often other children wait for a time to bully others when they are less likely to be caught.
Fortunately, bullying in Primary is uncommon because children are actively being taught to follow the example of Jesus.