The Elephant in the Room: How Kids Learn to Bully

Recently, I attended a school meeting to discuss progress and create plans for an energetic, kind, insightful fourth grader.

The teachers, school counselor, parents and principal intently discussed accommodations that would help this student stay organized and on task. The conversation flowed naturally into the child’s needs during non-classroom portions of the day, such as recess, lunch and bus rides. Reluctantly, bravely, the parents began to share the difficulty their child was experiencing during these unstructured periods of time.

Tears flowed. Anger surfaced.

The team refocused the discussion on what one researcher calls “a pervasive public health problem.”


The parents described specific examples of social aggression…exclusion, rumor-spreading, teasing. The staff listened intently, and somewhat incredulously. “We had no idea this was going on…” And that is understandable. Bullying can be incredibly subtle–even silent–and quite easy to miss.


As the team discussed a plan to address this issue, a team member ruefully asked, “Where do they learn this?”

At that moment, a glossy magazine on the corner of the table caught my eye:


And then I knew the answer.

While this Time cover may be construed as clever, it has been perceived as insulting, unkind and just plain mean. Bullying.

Most kids don’t need to have a subscription of Time to learn the subtle tactics of social aggression…they have adults in their schools, churches and neighborhoods that will model mastery for them in real life.


Think about the kinds of things they hear…

“Did you see the Halloween costumes Alice made for her kids? Sheesh. Talk about elaborate. She’s clearly got too much time on her hands…”

“Hey…thanks for inviting us to your timeshare for spring break. It’s going to be SO much fun. Are the Donaldsons and Hansons coming, too? All our kids are going to have a great time on the beach…” (said in front of those who were not included)

“Have you noticed the Margaret’s kids? They are OUT of control. Wow. I heard the police took the oldest in for drug possession. Margaret’s really got her hands full. Bless her heart.”

“Hey, I want you to pray for Marty. He just can’t seem to keep a job…he got fired AGAIN! But I’m telling you so you’ll pray for them. It’s not gossip.”

We’re the Elephant in the Room.
I am.
You are.

And our little elephants are watching and listening…
And everyone knows…elephants remember everything.

Photo credits: eonline; images.smh;mycolormusic.

Great Gifts: The Key Catalog

Have you started your Christmas shopping?

keys I really love to choose gifts for the folks in my life! And, since you all are a big part of my life, I want to share the gift of good information with you. This month, I’m going to be sharing some great products, books and services that you can give as gifts! I know you’ll find these ideas just right for someone in your ministry or family.

Today’s idea:

The Key Catalog

As you know, Key Ministry provides direct training and consultation to churches across the United States (and all over the globe!) Through our services, we help pastors and volunteers understand how disabilities affect children’s learning, behavior and spiritual development. We also extend our training to include information on how special needs impact parents and siblings. This year alone, we have traveled to 10 states for live training, and our blogs and resources have reached over 131 countries.Our training is free of charge to churches, because we don’t want cost to be a barrier to inclusion.

Would you like to sponsor a training for a church or network of churches? We’d love to include YOU in our ministry through the opportunity of sponsorship. When you give through the Key Catalog, you provide solid, research-based training to churches…and as a result, you open the church doors to families affected by disabilities who might not have been able to attend.

And that is an everlasting gift.

Please click over to the Key Catalog and partner with us in this great adventure of inclusion!


“Safety Slims:” a tool for traveling!

Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving! I’m hoping to post more regularly now…I have missed the back-and-forth of blogging (and I’ve missed all of you!)

I want to share a handy little tool with you today…Those of us who work with kids who have disabilities in school and in church know that safety is critically important for ALL kids. For children who have communication, behavioral, emotional or health issues, however, we often need to plan proactively to ensure safety…especially when we take our show on the road! Traveling with kids requires us to think through the logistics of managing these needs on the road. We want to include students in retreats, field trips and service projects to the greatest extent appropriate; the extra care we take contributes to increased participation.

And so I’ve hopefully made this a bit easier by developing “Safety Slims.”

These safety cards were created using a Word bookmark template. They can be printed and laminated. If multiple kids have special needs, these can be hold-punched and held together with a vocabulary ring. One leader can hold these in a backpack or purse (and it’s always wise to have a duplicate set kept in the bus or retreat center…just in case!) Therefore, in case of emergency, all of the critical information is easily accessible. Hopefully this will lighten the load…these safety cards are easier to carry than large folders of information.

A couple of notes:

  • Be sure to get permission from parents when using any photograph of their children
  • Take care when sharing this information with volunteers and staff. Confidentiality is so critical to building a trusting relationship with kids and families. Be certain that safety information is shared on the foundation of confidentiality and respect.
  • Modify the template to fit the needs of your church, school, program and individual kids! This is just one way to share information…not the only way!
  • Download the template here: SafetySlims

Hope this is helpful, friends!

Be safe…