Guest Post By: Ronald Slaby, Ph.D., Senior Scientist & Kim Storey, EdD, Senior Scientist with National Center for the Promotion of Mental Health and Prevention of Youth ViolenceSAMHSA’s National Center for the Promotion of Mental Health and Prevention of Youth Violence Bullying among young children is not uncommon. When groups of young children, who often differ significantly in physical size, skill level, and family experience, get together regularly, patterns of hurtful behavior often emerge. Children make mean faces, say threatening things, grab objects, push others aside, falsely accuse, or refuse to play with others. These behaviors are precursors to verbal, physical, or indirect bullying—though they are not always recognized as such. Some young children are also capable of engaging in actual bullying behaviors by deliberately and repeatedly dominating a more vulnerable peer through name-calling, physical attacks, and social exclusion.
To prevent bullying from escalating, caregivers can prepare themselves with effective strategies to deal with bullying incidents—before, during, and after they occur. They can also look ahead and take steps to create an environment that supports respect, where bullying is neither accepted nor tolerated. Finally, caregivers can help children learn the social skills they need to deal effectively with bullying, when it occurs.
Teaching Social Skills to Prevent Bullying
To gain and maintain friends and avoid becoming involved in bullying, young children need to learn a variety of social skills. They must learn how to analyze and resolve social problems, understand and respond caringly to what others think and feel, and stand up for themselves in a fair and respectful way, without attacking others. Child care settings offer a natural learning environment and a potentially safe haven in which to teach and practice these social skills.
1) Help children develop social problem-solving skills:
- Find concrete ways to teach your children the skills they need to solve the problems they face.
- Teach social problem-solving skills directly related to various forms of bullying—verbal, physical, and indirect.
- Help children understand and deal with their strong feelings about bullying.
- Encourage impulse control and self-calming.
- Help children practice listening skills.
- Provide children with practice in thinking of solutions, anticipating consequences, and evaluating the harmfulness of violent solutions.
2) Help children develop empathy skills:
- Encourage children to label their own feelings and tell each other how they feel about bullying and related behaviors.
- Discuss how children who are bullied might feel.
- Explain that despite differences between people, everyone experiences certain basic feelings.
- Remind children how they felt in situations similar to those faced by others in distress.
- Model empathy by talking about how you identify another's distress and think of ways to help.
3) Help children develop assertiveness skills:
- Teach children to ask for and offer things to each other in a polite and open-ended way.
- Teach children to use assertiveness skills to avoid submitting to bullying tactics, bossiness, or discriminatory acts.
- Teach children to ignore routine provocative peer behaviors.
- Teach children to use assertiveness skills proactively to meet their goals.
- Teach assertiveness to girls and boys equally.
This article was adapted from: Slaby, R.G., Storey, K., Minotti,J., Adler, M.,& Katz, R. 2008. Eyes on Bullying website: Settings: Child care. http://www.eyesonbullying.org/childcare.html
To learn more, please visit: http://www.promoteprevent.org/resources/eyes-bullying-what-can-you-do-toolkit-prevent-bullying-childrens-lives.