Educational psychologist Dr. Michele Borba provides tips in the book Mobilizing Bystanders to Stand Up to Bullies and on her blog: “Bystanders often don’t intervene because they don’t want to make things worse or assume the victim doesn’t want help,” she writes. “But research shows that if witnesses know a victim feels upset or wants help they are more likely to step in.” Here are the three steps she recommends:
1. Teach children the difference between tattling and reporting.
“Tattling is when you trying to get kids IN trouble when they aren’t hurting themselves or other,” says Borba. “Reporting is when you’re trying to help keep kids OUT of trouble because they may get hurt (or they are). Report bullying to an adult you trust. If the adult doesn’t listen, keep reporting until you find an adult who does listen.”
2. Make sure children know what bullying looks and sounds like.
Borba identifies the three qualities of bullying as: “1. Bullying is a cruel or aggressive act that is done on purpose. The bully has more power (strength, status, or size) than the targeted child who cannot hold his own. 2. The hurtful bullying behavior is not an accident, but done on purpose. 3. The bully usually seems to enjoy seeing the victim in distress and rarely accepts responsibility and often says the target ‘deserved’ the hurtful treatment.” Some other sources for understanding what’s happening are: Confessions of a Former Bully by Trudy Ludwig; Say Something by Peggy Moss Gardiner; Teammates by Peter Golenbock; The Bully Blockers Club, by Teresa Bateman.
3. Teach “Bully B.U.S.T.E.R.” skills.
Borba’s steps for bystanders are:
B - Befriend the Victim
Show comfort: Stand closer to the victim.
Wave other peers over: “Come help!”
Ask if the victim wants support: “Do you need help?”
Empathize: “I bet he feels sad.”
Clarify feelings: “She looks upset.”
U - Use a Distraction
Ask a question: “What are you all doing here?”
Use diversion: “There’s a great volleyball game going on! Come on!”
Make up false excuse to disperse a crowd: “A teacher is coming!”
Feigning interruption: “I can’t find my bus.”
S -Speak Out and Stand Up!
Show disapproval: Give a cold, silent stare.
Name it: “That’s bullying!”
Label it: “That’s mean!”
State disapproval: “This isn’t cool!”
Ask for support: “Are you with me?”
T-Tell or Text For Help
E - Exit Alone or With Others
Encourage: “You coming?”
Ask: “What are you all doing here?”
Direct: “Let’s go!”
Suggest: “Let’s leave.”
Exit: If you can’t get others to leave with you, then walk away. If you stay, you’re part of the cruelty. Leaving means you refuse to be part. Just quietly leave the scene.
R - Give a Reason or Offer a Remedy
Review why it’s wrong: “This isn’t right!” “This is mean!” “You’ll get suspended.” “You’ll hurt him.”
Offer a remedy: “Go get help!” “Let’s work this out with Coach.”
contributions from Frankie Thomas and Ilya Tsinis