Confronting Those Whose Behavior Creates Challenges

“Just try to ignore it.”

“Avoid the person.” (or the situation or the location).

“Give it right back to them only worse. That will teach them.”

“Whatever you do, do not tell on them. Snitches need stitches.”

These might be examples of advice received by a student who is bothered by the behavior of a classmate. It might involve bullying words or actions. It might be someone who puts others down. It might be someone who is seen cheating. It might be someone who uses bad languages or tells off-color jokes. But in all these cases, students face a dilemma. “This other person’s actions are making me uncomfortable or hurting me. What should I do?”

Tim Elmore addressed this issue in a recent blog post. He wrote specifically about confronting a teammate on a sports team. And he was addressing high school or college age students. But, nevertheless, his advice, modified here very slightly, is good advice for us adults, and for younger students. It would be awesome if parents could walk through these with a child who is bothered by something in the classroom or playground.

Tim Elmore’s Steps (modified slightly) Mr. Boyd’s suggested actions and words
1. Be sure you embody the conduct you’re demanding of others.

We cannot expect classmates to listen to us in a healthy way if they’ve never seen a good example from us. As Mother Teresa said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”


Make sure you are not involved in the kind of behavior that bothers you in your classmate.
2. Reflect and work through your own anger.

Wait long enough to become objective, but not so long that the issue feels irrelevant or tired. I try to let my initial emotion subside, then after a day, confront the person.


Take a day to cool down. Take a deep breath and think about what you want to accomplish. But do not put It off!
3. Initiate the contact.

If something’s wrong, don’t wait for answers to surface somewhere else. Don’t blame the culprit or some other scapegoat and wait for them to make things right. Go do it. The sooner, the better. Waiting only leads to a buildup of negative feelings.


Say, “Hey, could I talk to you for a minute over here? There is something bothering me and I know you would rather hear it directly from me.”
4. Say something positive about them as you begin.

As you sit down to talk, thank them for meeting with you and find something positive to say. By affirming them, you show that you see good qualities in them, not just wrong ones.


Say, “I think you are funny a lot of the time. You have a good sense of humor.”
5. Tell them you are struggling with a problem.

As you launch into the topic, be sure and own it; it’s your problem as much as theirs, since it involves class/school conduct. Don’t begin by pointing the finger at them.


Say, “I have to tell you when bad language is used to try to make classmates laugh, that just does not feel right. It really bothers me.”
6. Outline the problem; admit you may not understand all the details.

It’s important to clarify the specifics of your dilemma. Why is it a problem? Be sure to give them the benefit of the doubt. Lay out the issue in good faith confident there’s a solution.


Say, “I think SPLS should be a place where those words just do not get said. I may not know everything that is happening, but I can hear words that are being said.”
7. Share the principle that is at stake.

Generalizations lead to even more problems. Communicate what principle may have been violated. Compromise on opinions but don’t discard your principles.


Say, “I am trying to live out what God teaches, and He says not to use coarse language or to use His name in vain.”
8. Encourage them to respond.

At this point, listen well. Let them explain or clarify what happened. Work hard to understand their perspective. Listening earns you the right to be heard.


Say, “What do you think about what I said?”
9. Establish forgiveness and repentance, if necessary.

Once the dilemma is clear to both sides, choose and relay the proper response. Create a game plan for change. Invite them to help redeem what has happened. Living ina Christian community should make this a natural part of things, but we often forget.


Say, “I hope you will think about this. God’s forgiveness is real and so is mine. So I am not mad at you. I am just hoping for a change.”
10. Let them know you care for them as you conclude.

Whenever possible always end with words of encouragement and friendship and belief. As a servant-leader, this is your chance to build not burn bridges.


Say, “Understand I come to you as a friend and know God can help us to make better choices.”

In His Children’s Service, Robert C. Boyd

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