It can be hard to step in and intervene when others are being harassed. This can be especially tricky for kids, who might not feel they have the authority to intervene, and often want to avoid standing out among peers. But it’s so important to learn to be an ally to those in need—you can teach your child to be an upstander, rather than a bystander, by helping them practice five specific intervention strategies. Knowing a few different tactics ahead of time can help kids (and adults) decide, in the moment, the best way to respond that will stop the behavior without escalating the situation.
Hollaback!—an organization dedicated to ending harassment, particularly against women, LGBTQ+ folks and people of color—has launched a new initiative in partnership with Asian Americans Advancing Justice to educate kids about the importance of being an ally to people with marginalized identities.
Their Bystander Intervention for Kids video collection encourages children to “Be A Super Ally with the 5 Ds”—distract, delegate, document, delay, and direct. The series of five short videos comes in multiple languages and is suitable for kids ages 3 to 10. The 5D methodology is the basis for Hollaback!’s bystander intervention training modules for folks of all ages, but their new videos are targeted specifically to kids with easy-to-remember repetition and catchy music.
The 5Ds are meant to be used by folks who are witnessing harassment of someone. For example, if your child sees a classmate with disabilities being made fun of or bullied at school, they can put the 5Ds into action to intervene. Here’s how it works—
One indirect, subtle strategy to try when someone is being bullied is to distract that person with kind or engaging words like, “Do you want to play with me?” “Whose class are you in?” or “What’s your favorite color?” A distraction might also look like getting between the target and the harasser (continue what you’re doing, but just get in the way), or causing a distracting commotion by dropping your books. This can remind the person being harassed that they have people on their side while also giving them a much-needed break from what’s going on around them. It also takes attention away from the person doing the bullying, and being ignored is sometimes all it takes to get them to stop.
If a child sees harassment happening and doesn’t feel safe enough to step in, the best thing they can do is to ask an adult for help. Delegating this intervention to a trusted adult is a safe way to help someone in distress. It’s also ok to ask a friend to get an adult if they don’t feel comfortable leaving the side of the person experiencing harassment. If there’s harassment going on, a bystander can look to see who is nearby that could be helpful, and ask them to step in or find a parent, teacher, bus driver, or other trusted adult who can help out.
If your child witnesses bullying, it’s very important for them to try to get an accurate account of what happened to share with adults who can help. Encourage them to mentally document what happened, and try to answer questions about the incident like:
- “Who was there?”
- “Where did it happen?”
- “When did it happen?”
- “How did you feel at the time?”
It might also be helpful to have them write down or draw a picture of what happened afterwards to help them remember.
For adults, this strategy might involve recording the encounter in a video or photos, which is fine as long as local laws allow it and someone else is already helping the victim. You just want to be sure to give the materials to the person being harassed after the event is over, and let them decide how to use them, if at all—posting, sharing, or otherwise using footage of an encounter like this could further victimize the target, even if your intentions are good.
Encourage your kid to check in on the person being harassed after the event is over, to see if they’re ok. This approach is especially useful if the harassment happened quickly or in passing, and there was no opportunity to react in the moment. They can try to delay any further interactions with the bully by offering to sit with them and talking about how they’re feeling, or offering to walk them wherever they’re headed. Showing kindness during these tough moments can not only comfort the person being harassed, but it can show the bully that being mean to others isn’t acceptable.
If the person doing the bullying continues, it’s time to be direct. Encourage your child to let the bully know that it’s not ok to harass others. They can try saying this: “What you’re saying is wrong and hurtful. Please stop.” or, “That’s not ok, leave them alone.” Kids should keep it short and to the point, and avoid getting in a debate or argument about it, since that’s how situations escalate. After telling the bully to stop, the focus should be on the target and making sure they’re ok. It’s important to stand up for others when they are being bullied. This shows our friends we care, and it shows bullies that it’s not ok to harass other people.
The 5Ds can empower kids to stand up for others, and themselves. Giving kids the tools and words to use when faced with harassment is a powerful way to grow a community of allies and make the world safer for folks with marginalized identities.