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.
Bullying among small children has not been researched greatly, but some studies show that even two-year-old children are able to bully others.
What is bullying?
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, but actually, the issue is much more complicated than that. Bullying rarely takes place only between the victim and the bully - it affects the entire group of children.
Other roles that are usually present in bullying situations are:
- bully = ring leader
- victim = target
- 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?
1. Teach interaction skills
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.
2. Practise being in a group
Children should also get the experience of being in a group. According to research, quality early childhood education affects positively children's social skills in school.
When children get used to diversity and play together, they get to practice important social skills such as taking turns, collaborating, problem-solving skills, sharing, building self-esteem, learning from others, helping each other, and getting used to different ways of operating.
When children learn to accept each other as they are and value diversity, there are way fewer issues to trigger bullying.
3. Anti-bullying plan that is clear to everyone
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.
4. Interesting pedagogical activities for children
Every childcare center should also offer interesting and challenging pedagogical activities for 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. If children are busy playing, building, painting, climbing, and baking, there surely is less time and interest for mischief!
5. Talk about bullying with children
It is important to discuss bullying with children. You can watch a short video about bullying (for example Bully from PlayKids) in order to spark some ideas. Discuss themes like:
- How to be nice to your friends?
- What is not nice behavior?
- What is bullying?
- What might someone being bullied think?
- What might someone be bullied feel?
- Who can help to stop bullying?
- What can you do if you face or see bullying?
Here is also a "Stop bullying" themed coloring sheet for children by Ao&Tauri!
Happy learning all together!