We’ve all seen kids pulling toys out of another child’s hands or screaming they won’t sit next to a particular kid. When young children act in these ways, they are often expressing frustration, anger or other emotions they are struggling to deal with.
When your child starts pre-school or kindergarten, they will surely act out of frustration at times and will experience other kids acting out of frustration too, especially if they don’t have a lot of experience in group social settings.
It’s important to distinguish between occasional actions that come out of frustration with bullying, which even young children can experience.
Younger children are still testing out behaviors, figuring out what is acceptable and seeing how adults react. There is a difference between one-time or occasional negative behaviors and bullying.
Bullying behavior is:
- Repeated: Pushing, hitting, calling names, etc. repeatedly said to a particular child or a few children.
- Deliberate: Intentionally trying to hurt someone.
- Imbalanced Power: Picking on someone a child thinks they can have power over, such as a child who is shy, unassertive or perceived as weak or children seen as “different” because of their size, racial or ethnic identity, disability or their family make-up.
Young children can engage in bullying that is physical or verbal, such as name calling or yelling. They can also bully another child by excluding them, getting others to gang up on a particular child or with subtle actions, such as hiding another child’s lunch.
Young children are generally very responsive to how adults and peers react to their behaviors. Intervening with bullying at a young age can be very effective for preventing bullying later.
Understanding the B’s: Being Bullied, Being a Bully, Being a Bystander
Children being bullied, who are bullies or who are bystanders all can use clear guidance from adults.
- Children who are targeted by a bully can react by cowering, being passive or attacking the bully back with, for example, hitting or name-calling. These children need to learn to be assertive and firm, but not respond with aggressive behaviors that mimic the bully’s physical or verbal attacks.
- Children who bully can use help with developing empathy, learning about cooperation, and problem-solving when dealing with social situations.
- Children who are bystanders to bullying can be encouraged that they can do something about what they see. They can talk with an adult or object to the bully telling them they shouldn’t sit next to a certain child.
What Parents Can Do
- When talking with your child about interactions with their friends that are okay or not okay, encourage empathy and self-reflection. When their feelings get hurt, what can they do or say? How can they stand up for themselves or others? Also, your child may not tell you that they are experiencing or witnessing bullying because they don’t understand it, can’t name it or feel embarrassed or confused.
- Share personal stories. Simplify them – a work situation, for example, can be explained by talking about having hurt feelings or leaving someone out consistently.
- Read books or watch videos that directly or indirectly deal with bullying. Use them as an opportunity to ask your child about their experiences.
- Encourage your child to be inclusive. Get books, films, games that have many different types of children and families in different roles and activities.
- Help your child understand the difference between actions done by mistake and ones done on purpose. Did their classmate accidentally step on their picture or did they step on it on purpose to ruin it?
- Build up social skills:
- Name feelings and show your child ways to deal with them.
- Encourage assertiveness rather than aggression.
- Encourage and give support for kindness, sharing, and cooperation. Have your child think of something kind to do for a classmate.
- Give your child opportunities to work on problem-solving skills. Use dolls, stuffed animals or create scenes for them to act out to get them thinking.
- Teach relaxation techniques. Deep breaths to calm oneself are a great skill for anyone. When your child is relaxed, they can be more assertive when responding to bullies or taking action as a bystander. A child who is bullying can learn to deal with their feelings better if they can find ways to get calm.
- Practice “ignoring.” Children who bully are often looking for attention and will stop if they don’t get it. Teach your child to ignore provocations with simple yes or no answers or walking away.
- Encourage your child to talk with you, teachers or other adults if they feel they are being targeted or see others being targeted. If your child talks to you about bullying, talk with their teacher(s) or school personnel.
Positive Healthy Relationships Start Now
Bullying can affect even young children. Talk openly and directly with your children about bullying, help them learn preventive skills like relaxing and responses like ignoring. Give them lots of support when they act kindly and generously. They’ll learn not just about bullying, but will also be on the road to having healthy and positive relationships throughout their childhood and their lives.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors, Tova Stabin, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! contact us here.
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