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Laying a Foundation for Antibullying

Bullying remains a significant issue for children and youth throughout their school years. However, bullying is often perceived as an issue that affects only older children, because during preschool years it is difficult to tell the difference between normal misbehavior and emergent bullying behavior.  

Between ages 3 and 6, children are still learning to play with their peers, make friends, share toys, negotiate, and solve disagreements. Since these skills are not fully developed or mastered, children may easily get frustrated and act out during difficult situations.

Is It Misbehavior or Bullying?
When preschool-aged children get frustrated, they often react by saying or doing things that might hurt others. Children may yell, call others names, push other children, or simply exclude others from their inner circle of friends. To some degree, these actions may be normal; however, parents and caregivers need to distinguish between emerging bullying behaviors and behaviors that are the result of other factors. A child may act out as the result of poor communication skills, fear, fatigue, hunger, time of day, or peer influence.  

When children use negative comments to describe their peers on a daily basis, ignore children on purpose, or deliberately plan something mean to hurt another child, it may indicate emerging bullying behaviors that need to be addressed. Often times, if parents help their children understand that negative actions and words hurt others, they will stop. Therefore, it is key to establish positive patterns of behaviors from the beginning, thus setting the foundation for later behavior, attitudes, and relationships.

Keep an Eye on New Changes
A sudden change in your child’s behavior may indicate bullying and should be monitored closely. Changes may be due to various factors or stressors, and if parents work closely with teachers, they can address the issue early and prevent problems from becoming worse. Monitor your child’s behavior closely if he or she:

  • Is suddenly scared to go to preschool;
  • Complains of headaches or stomachaches for no reason;
  • Is clingy and whiny;
  • Comes home with unexplained injuries;
  • Is withdrawn and unusually quiet;  
  • Talks about one particular child doing mean things every day;
  • Has trouble concentrating; and
  • Avoids eye contact when you ask him or her about school.

Fostering Life Skills
Since preschoolers’ behaviors are influenced through their level of understanding of the world around them, their ability to use language, and their temperament, it is important for parents to provide ample opportunities for children to practice and feel comfortable communicating their wishes and needs.

To practice life skills, find a strategy that works best with your child, based on the child’s age, temperament, and inclinations. The following strategies are fun and easy to use when practicing life skills with children.

Role-playing: Young children benefit more from the physical demonstration of a problem than from just conversation. You can use sock puppets, or puppets of any kind, to set up pretend situations and dramatizations. This is a good opportunity to engage in what if conversations, where a child can try different solutions to a given problem.

Problem-solving: Use an incident or problem that has already occurred as an example to talk about alternative solutions to the problem and the likely consequences of those choices. (What could you have done instead? How could you have made a better choice with words? What would you like to have happened?)

For a child, learning how to communicate his or her thoughts, wishes, feelings, and needs is key. Children who can express themselves correctly can practice social skills, such as taking turns, listening, and judging the effects of their words on people.

The ability to understand the meaning of words and then to use words for self-expression affects every aspect of a preschooler’s life. As children continue to understand their world through language, they learn how to control their behavior.

Teach Your Child To Be Assertive
An assertive child is confident, self-assured, and positive in his or her interactions with others. Assertive children know how to stand up for themselves without resorting to physical aggression. Assertiveness protects children from being bullied and is a skill that will last a lifetime.

Social Skills
Teach children the value of making friends, having manners, expressing empathy, and compromising. Show children how to resolve problems firmly and fairly. These skills can be learned through imaginative play while sharing the playground and playing board games. Children with these skills benefit from social acceptance, friendship, and positive social play experiences.

Self-control is a process, and young children need certain abilities before they can control their own behavior. Parents can track the following abilities to assess the readiness of preschoolers to learn and master self-control:

  • The ability to pay attention and listen;
  • An understanding of the vocabulary you use to explain what you expect from others;
  • An understanding of cause and effect;
  • An understanding of how his or her choices have outcomes; and
  • The ability to use words to express needs, wants, feelings, and confusion.

Teaching your children how to control their emotions may prevent outbursts and tantrums, including acting out against other children. Encourage children to work through disagreements by validating everyone’s feelings, restating the problem, and asking for possible solutions. Learning how to resolve conflicts early allows children to have positive and supportive friendships. 

Preschool children benefit by mastering these skills before entering school, since they will understand what type of behavior is acceptable and what is not. Parents and teachers need to work closely together to provide opportunities to reinforce these skills. Young children who master these skills increase their resilience to bullying and are more likely to have a fun, positive, rewarding, and safe preschool experience.

Family Activity: Bullying: Start Talking

Educator Activity: Strategies To Prevent Bullying in the Classroom

Quiz for Parents: Understanding Bullying During Preschool Years

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is a website with resources, tools, and videos to educate parents, children, and community members to prevent and address bullying.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Preschool (3-5 years of age), provides information for parents on the different developmental milestones of children ages 3-5.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
The SAMHSA Blog, October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, provides information about bullying and its impact, as well as strategies on how everyone can and should take action against bullying.

15+ Take Time to Listen …Take Time To Talk … About Bullying cards encourage parents and caregivers to spend at least 15 minutes a day listening and talking with their children to prevent youth violence.

The ABCs of Bullying: Addressing, Blocking, and Curbing School Aggression is a 7-part course on bullying and how to deal with it among children of all ages. The course includes screening and assessment tools, treatment for children and adolescents, supplemental materials, references, and factsheets.
Effects of Bullying On Your Child’s Mental Health: Advice For Parents And Caregivers provides tips for parents and caregivers to understand what actions they need to take to stop bullying.

Stopping Bullying Behaviors: Advice for Parents and Caregivers provides sound advice on ways to stop bullying in the school environment.

The following online resources provide excellent tips, information, and resources for parents and caregivers:

Education Development Center , Inc.
Eyes on Bullying: What Can You Do? is a toolkit that provides parents and caregivers of preschool and school-age children specific insights, strategies, activities, and resources to prevent bullying in children’s lives. 

Sesame Street Workshop
Sesame Street Bullying Prevention provides videos and tips for parents to understand the signs of bullying and the role of adults when dealing with bullying. 

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Updated on 10/18/2012