Much research has been conducted around bullying among older children. When it comes to the very young, there is much less research and even more confusion about how to tell if it is bullying or development of social skills.
It’s important to realize the true definition of bullying and that it can occur in a physical manner, as well as verbally and socially. As explained in an NAEYC article, bullying has three elements:
- It is an act that is aggressive and is intended to do harm.
- It is a series of acts that are repeated over time.
- The acts occur within the context of power imbalance.
When looking at younger children, research has shown that there is a big gender difference. Boys who bully have many friends, while girls who do so are more socially isolated. Also, in contrast to older children who bully, children ages 2 to 5 may be a bully one day and then the bully-victim later in the year.
Research has shown that aggression in areas such as the block table, the water table, and the playground are more common, and in areas overall that are more open and less clearly defined.
The good news? As children grow older and develop better social skills, and emotion and behavior regulation skills, bullying tends to decline.
Early Education and Child Care Providers and Parents Can Help:
- Discuss and model positive behavior by offering the words and actions children need to make friends and interact with peers.
- Reinforce and celebrate good behavior by praising a child when he/she is being kind, sharing, or helping a friend.
- Set clear rules for behavior and step up quickly to stop or redirect aggressive behavior before it happens.
- Provide constant reminders to young children about how you expect them to behave.
- Tell stories and talk often about what kindness is and how it is valued while reinforcing that aggression is not acceptable.
- Encourage children to help repair hurt feelings or damage that is done. For instance, sincere apologies or helping to rebuild a knocked over block structure helps to correct the hurt.
- When children use unkind words, help them understand how they can hurt other people. Work with them to suggest other ways and words to show their feelings and suggest appropriate actions and the use of non-aggressive words.
- Teach children to alert a teacher when aggressive behavior happens.
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