Skills for bystanders

A look at bullying triangulation: Why bystanders don’t get involved

08/23/2010  |  SANDY RAGONA

In the triangulation of harassment, there is a bully, victim and bystanders.  Much has been written on the power and control of why children bully.  Likewise, we understand the effects of victimization.  However, the role of a bystander is misunderstood and not emphasized in the literature.



Today, many children react to bullying situations out of fear and trepidation.  They believe that they could become the bully’s next victim.  Their actions or no actions are passively standing by or ignoring the bully.  Children are afraid because they lack skills.

When facing these situations alone, children retreat as a flight response.  As educators, we need to reverse this mentality to a more proactive response.


Stop the Violence

As the author of the book, Becoming Someone’s Hero, I wrote a children’s story to facilitate ways to respond appropriately and firmly in rescuing victims from playground bullies. I helped my elementary students learn powerful steps to stop bullying as a bystander.  My research helped to define skills that all elementary children need when in the role of a bystander.

Action Plan for Bystanders

Step 1:  Feel something’s wrong

Step 2: Get a group

Step 3: Tell the bully to stop

Step 4: Invite and play with the victim

Step 5: Report it

Elementary students can learn these steps, feel empower to help a victim and become someone’s hero. In my research, my elementary students retained these steps throughout the year through periodic post testing. 

Ways to Teach Bystander Skills

Starting in kindergarten, students begin to understand empathy.  Teachers and school counselors can help students to develop empathetic responses. Teaching students about their own emotions and reactions is the first step to becoming an effective bystander.   Just as we teach students about protecting themselves from abuse, we need to help students understand and trust their instincts.

Moving beyond the old advice of, “just ignore it,” educators need to help students understand that we don’t need to act alone to respond to a bullying situation. Teach students how to form a group and the whys of group response in times of need.  Students, who are confident in standing up for themselves, can organize others when they see another student who is being bullied. We can not ignore these problems any more. 

Once a group is formed, the group assertively tells the bully to stop.  While in this group, students feel the comfort of numbers and understand they don’t have to stand alone.  We have just eliminated the fear and the flight response.   While the group assertively tells the bully to stop, simultaneously, the group is telling the victim to get out of the situation and come join their group.  In my school, we call it a rescue mission.

Once the victim is rescued, the group offers support, empathy and an invitation to join them to play at recess.  The group reports the harassment/ bullying situation to school authorities. 

Become Someone’s Hero

The role of a hero is someone who goes above and beyond to help another person.  

Every student needs to learn how to stand up for themselves and other people.  We can not ignore and passively stand by anymore.   The image of real heroes is the satisfaction and feelings of compassion while helping a victim of bullying.

Can we all become someone’s hero?

Can we stop reacting to problems and starting teaching real skills that stop problems? 

The answer to these two questions lies in the power of educators to start the real work now. Please don’t give the advice to just ignore it.

(Portions of this article were taken from the book, Becoming Someone’s Hero by Sandy Ragona.)

Comments & Ratings