Be More Than a Bystander

A student being bullied while others helplessly watch

Every day, kids witness bullying. They want to help, but don’t know how. Fortunately, there are a few simple, safe ways that children can help stop bullying when they see it happening. Be sure to talk to the child about how they can be more than a bystander. Those who witness bullying can:

Be a friend to the person being bullied.

Children can help someone who’s been bullied by simply being nice to them at another time. Being friendly can go a long way toward letting them know that they’re not alone.

  • A bystander can help by spending time with the person being bullied at school. Simple gestures like talking to them, sitting with them at lunch, or inviting them to play sports or other games during physical education or recess can help a lot.
  • Advise the child to listen to the person being bullied, let them talk about the event.
  • They can call the person being bullied at home to provide support, encourage them and give advice.
  • Bystanders can try sending a text message or going up to the person who was bullied later. They can let that person know that what happened wasn’t cool, and that they’re there for them.
  • A bystander can help by telling the person being bullied that they don’t like the bullying and asking them if he can do anything to help.
  • Bystanders can also help the person being bullied talk to a trusted adult.

Tell a trusted adult, like a family member, teacher or coach.

An adult can help stop bullying by intervening while it’s in progress, stopping it from occurring or simply giving the person being bullied a shoulder to lean on.

  • Bystanders can tell a trusted adult in person or leave them a note.
  • If bullying is occurring, bystanders can go find, or ask a friend to find, a trusted adult as soon as possible. Perhaps they can help stop it from continuing.
  • Remind children who witness bullying not to get discouraged if they’ve already talked to an adult and nothing has happened. They can ask a family member if they will help, and make sure the adult knows that it is repeated behavior.
  • Try talking to as many adults as possible if there’s a problem—teachers, counselors, custodians, nurses, parents—the more adults they involve the better.

Help the person being bullied to get away from the situation.

There are a few simple, safe ways children can help the person being bullied get away from the situation. However they do it, make sure the child knows not to put themselves in harm’s way.

  • Create a distraction. If no one is rewarding the child who is bullying by paying attention, the behavior may stop. Bystanders can help to focus the attention on something else.
  • A bystander can offer a way for the person being bullied to leave the scene by saying something like, “Mr. Smith needs to see you right now,” or “Come on, we need you for our game.”
  • Remind children to only intervene if it feels safe to do so, and never use violence in order to help the person get away.

Set a good example. Do not bully others.

If a child knows not to bully others, then other students will follow their example. To help even more, children can actively participate in anti-bullying activities and projects.

  • Make sure children don’t bully others and don’t encourage bullying behavior.
  • Encourage them to look for opportunities to contribute to the anti-bullying culture at their school through school clubs and organizations.
  • They can create anti-bullying posters, share stories or show presentations promoting respect for all.
  • Use tools like the youth leaders toolkit to help older teens work with younger children to prevent bullying.

Don’t give bullying an audience.

If one of your child’s friends or peers begins to bully someone, they shouldn’t encourage the behavior by giving it an audience. Instead of laughing or supporting, they can let the bully know that his or her behavior isn't entertaining. 

  • Oftentimes, those who bully are encouraged by the attention that they receive from bystanders. Children can help stop bullying by actively not supporting it.
  • Remind them that when they see bullying, they can act disinterested or blatantly state that they don’t think bullying is entertaining or funny.
  • Children can help by keeping their distance from the situation. If they ignore it, it may stop.
  • If the bullying doesn’t stop, the bystander should follow other tips like telling a trusted adult.