Bullying among small children has not been researched greatly, but some studies show that even two-year-old children are able to bully others. Experiencing bullying can have tremendous negative effects on a child's life even into adulthood. It is important to learn about misunderstandings, conflicts, and problem-solving in childhood, but not through bullying. Bullying should not be tolerated at any point.
What is considered bullying in your center?
Bullying can be prevented together. All educators, children, and parents should clearly understand and be on the same page about what is considered bullying in your center. According to Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) a shared understanding of bullying will benefit the whole community including staff, children, and parents, and ensure that bullying is not misidentified and is spotted when it does happen.
Bullying is the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. It can happen face to face or online.
Bullying tends to happen in a group
Research undertaken in Finland by Christina Salmivalli defines the roles involved in bullying. The traditional view of bullying has a ‘victim’ and a ‘bully’. An adult finds out about the situation and what happened and then sorts it out between the two. But actually, the issue is much more complicated than that. Bullying rarely takes place between a 'victim' and a 'bully' alone, but tends to affect an entire group of children. Others can have a significant influence on the outcomes of behavior among children.
Other roles that are usually present in bullying situations are:
- 'ring leader' = bully
- 'target' = victim
- 'reinforcers' = encourage the bully by laughing and being present
- 'assistant' = gives physical or some other type of assistance even though did not start the bullying
- 'defenders' = support and defend the victim
- 'outsiders' = do nothing about bullying, might know what is happening
So, as bullying happens in a group, group rules define how everyone should act in that specific group. In some groups, bullying is socially rewarding and therefore it encourages some children to bully others. For example, not all overweight children are bullied, but in some groups, they might get bullied, unfortunately.
How to teach children NOT to bully?
Children should be taught from early on how to be with other people. Interaction skills are the main thing. Children can practice interaction skills only in situations that require interaction. All children need possibilities to practice those skills in real-life situations and in play.
Children should also practice being in a group. According to research, quality early childhood education affects positively children's social skills in school.
The kindergarten should have clear and understandable rules of what is bullying and what type of behavior is not allowed. Everyone (educators, children, and parents) should be aware of the definition of bullying. It is the adult's job to set the rules of the group and teach children what type of behavior is allowed and what is not. The earlier bullying stops, the better. If bullying can be stopped in early childhood education, it also prevents bullying later on at school.
Every childcare center should also offer interesting and challenging pedagogical activities to children. Otherwise, the atmosphere can get chaotic and restless. A restless atmosphere has a bigger risk of bullying. Even little children need experiences of learning and succeeding! For example, arts, sports, and other age-appropriate activities should be offered daily.
Engage educators and parents in the prevention of bullying
Bullying should not be tolerated in any situation, not in school and not in early childhood education. To prevent bullying, every kindergarten should have an "Anti-Bullying Plan" that explains what is bullying in our center, how we prevent it, and how we tackle it. All children, even bullies, have the right to learn to be with other children. All children have the right to learn proper interaction skills.
Not only educators but also children's parents have a key role in the prevention of bullying. Adults should be curious and interested in the children's friendships and how things are going. Parents can ask what did the child play at kindergarten, with who and how did it go?
Christina Salmivalli & Shelley Hymel: Bullying through the lens of morality and peer group dynamics
Naturally, also educators should observe and document children's play and report about it to the parents. Educators should engage themselves in play with children and create a warm and positive relationship with each one of them. Educators' presence in play situations is important, children enjoy if adults are interested in their games and play. Conflicts can be sorted out easier with the example of the educator. Adults should also take care that all children get to participate in play equally.
It is a smart idea to organize events at the kindergarten so that the parents have the possibilities to meet each other. If all the parents know each other, it creates a better group spirit overall. When families know each other, they can promote friendships also outside kindergarten. Creating a good group spirit between the children is super important. Tools for enhancing better communication and cooperation between children are for example having fun group activities altogether, letting children play in pairs and groups (changing playmates so that children mix up), putting everyone's photo on the wall so that children see and remember all their peers, plan activities together with the children and get to know each other's likes, dislikes, strengths, etc.
Getting to know each other is also important in terms of group dynamics. If children organize birthday parties during their free time, it is vital that all children in the group are invited to birthday parties. If the "difficult children" are left out it affects the behavior of the children and those children become even more difficult.
Anti-Bullying Week 2022 is coordinated in England by the Anti-Bullying Alliance. It will take place from 14 to 18 November 2022.