BULLYING IN PRESCHOOL…Is it real or is it just normal childhood behavior that needs to be redirected?
With so much of the mainstream media focused on how hurtful it feels to be bullied, many parents and educators immediately think of this becoming a real issue around the middle school years. However, we know that we cannot wait until then to address the bully behavior nor can we wait until a child IS bullied to teach them how to cope with a bully. We must equip our children at a very young age with the skills, the knowledge, and the words to use if they are being bullied even before it occurs. We must stay connected with them on their level so that we can assist them in navigating through the preschool years successfully. If we do this, we have empowered them and have given them a great foundation for later success in this area.
Bullies typically bully because they can. They bully because they do not value and appreciate the feelings of others. Often they have been bullied by someone, and bullying gives them a sense of power and control. When a child in preschool hurts another child in an altercation, it is very important to understand what happened. Educators need to give the children an opportunity to express their feelings, but they should have very clear rules that our classrooms are safe and respectful. We use our hands for gentle hugs and exciting exploring, but never for hurting. We use our words to express our feelings. If we are angry with our friend, we talk about it; but we do not make fun of anyone or cause anyone to feel afraid. Every preschool classroom should have a “Peace-Table” or a “Talk-it-Out” center or some place or procedure designated for preschoolers to go to resolve issues. Educators can/should facilitate conversations, but we must TEACH our children the process of working together in a healthy manner.
It is important that we remember that young children often will not tell us that they are being bullied. We must watch for signs of distress and open up the conversation, spend time observing in the classroom, and build strong bridges between school and home. If we are going to eradicate bullying, we must start early. Every social issue that becomes a crisis in this country begins in the early years. What we know through research is that abused, neglected and disrespected children often grow up to abuse their spouses and their children and we must stop the cycle with early intervention. A child bully must be viewed as a child needing direction, instruction, and an adult advocate that will take the time to teach peaceful and respectful ways to resolve conflict.
I have listed a few signs that might indicate that your child is the victim of a bully and may not be able to tell you. I encourage parents to never ignore their instincts. Even if your child doesn’t exhibit these exact symptoms, continue to equip your child with coping skills to deal with anyone who disrespects them.
1. Be aware of any physical changes in your child, such as unexplained stomachaches and/or headaches that occur around school time or physical issues that seem to disappear if child does not go to school.
2. As children are becoming more verbal, listen to what they say and listen to what they do NOT say. Children learn by playing, and you can learn from them by playing with them. If you are playing blocks with your child, pretend you are in the block center at school and ask your child which friend you can be. Play nice and then play unfairly and see how your child responds. Hopefully you will see your child use words and systems of respect that he has seen in action at school. Seize every teachable moment to role play what to say and do if someone treats your child unfairly. Use words that a young child can understand. Keep it simple.
3. If your child avoids looking you in the eye when you talk about school, that COULD be a warning sign and is most certainly a sign if that is combined with a withdrawal or other unexplained behavior. Again, I think the best way to connect with your child is to spend time connecting in THEIR world through hands-on interaction. Young children love sensory play such as working with clay, water-play or finger-painting and sometimes will open up when engaged in some sensory activity.
4. If you suspect bullying, find a good book that will open the door for discussion. The younger the child, the simpler the message should be—“Hands are for gentle touches” or “It is NOT okay for anyone to hit, kick, pinch or hurt you.” Keep it simple and tell them exactly what to do if it happens. You might consider a book that focuses on the positive behavior rather than on the bullying to point out how children SHOULD treat each other. A great book for preschoolers is Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud.
It will take all of us working together to ensure that we instill in our children the universally acceptable character trait of respect if we desire to make this world a more peaceful place for them and their children. We must begin early, and we must be strong advocates for those children who are being bullied by adults. Bullying hurts everyone. Bullying is a learned behavior and if a very young child is bullying, there is pain, a lack of respect and boundaries in his life that need to be defined and resolved so that the bullying is addressed.
written by Donna McClintock, COO Children’s Choice Learning Centers