Written by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.
The November and December holidays bring families and friends together and remind us to make sure that the children in our lives are surrounded by peace, love, and kindness. Mainstream media has made us very aware of how hurtful it is to be bullied, and many parents and educators think that this abuse doesn’t become a real issue until middle school. However, we know that we cannot wait until children are bullied to teach them how to cope with this hurtful behavior. We must equip them at a very young age with the skills they need to successfully navigate through the preschool years. When we do, we empower them with confidence and self-respect.
Bullies taunt others because they can and because they don’t value and appreciate the feelings of others. Often they themselves have been bullied. When a preschool child hurts another child, it is important to understand what happened. Educators need to give each child the opportunity to express his feelings, but it must be very clear that our classrooms are safe and respectful. We use our hands for gentle hugs but never for hurting. We use our words to express our feelings. If we are angry with our friend, we talk about it. We do not make fun of anyone or cause someone to feel afraid. Every preschool classroom should have a Peace Table or a Talk-it-Out Center where children can resolve issues. While educators should facilitate these conversations, we must teach our children how to work together toward a respectful solution.
Young children will not always tell us that they are being bullied. It is our responsibility to watch for signs of distress, observe 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 begins in the early years, and research shows that children who are mistreated often grow up to abuse their spouses and their own children. We must do our part to stop this cycle.
I encourage parents to never ignore their instincts. Watch for these signs that your child is being bullied and be persistent in equipping her with the skills she needs to cope with anyone who disrespects her.
1. Be aware of any physical changes in your child such as unexplained stomachaches and/or headaches that occur around school time or seem to disappear if she does not go to school.
2. Listen to what your child says and what he does not say. Children learn by playing, and you can learn from them by playing with them. Pretend that you and your child are in the block center at school and ask him which friend you can be. Play nice and then play unfairly and see how he responds. You should hear kind words and see respectful behavior that he has experienced at school. Seize every teachable moment to role play what to say and do if someone treats him unfairly.
3. It could be a warning sign if your child avoids looking you in the eye when you talk about school. It is definitely a warning sign if this is combined with withdrawal or other unexplained behavior. Again, connect with your child in her world through hands-on interactions.
4. If you suspect bullying, keep it simple and tell your child what to do. 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.” Consider a book such as Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud, which focuses on positive behavior rather than on bullying, to point out how we should treat each other.
It will take all of us working together to instill in our children the universally accepted character trait of respect. Bullying is a learned behavior and hurts everyone, and we must begin early and be strong advocates for the children in our world.