Updated: Jun 24, 2019
The face of bullies and victims in the media are middle and high school students. The conversation surrounding the origin or precursor behaviors to bullying seldom focuses on the early childhood years. Preschool (ages 3-5) classrooms around the globe have incidents of daily bullying.
"You stink! We're not playing with you. Come on Riley, lets play over here."
"Why are you dirty?" a white student asks repeatedly referencing the skin tone of a child of color.
"My mommy said poor kids are dumb. Ms. Paula, is Chase dumb?"
"Jaxson, Lizzy, and Sarah, you can come to my birthday party. But you can't Kynsley. You're not my friend!"
"You're a girl, you can't play with us."
"Go away, we not your friend."
"You dress funny." A student regular reaction to a peer's cultural and religious attire.
"Alex you can't talk like that." "Why? said Alex. "My mommy and daddy said they need to speak English."
"I don't have a daddy. I have two mommies." "NO you don't. You can't have two mommies silly, that's bad."
The endless list is based on my own experiences and shared from many other classroom teachers and directors. Young children are exposed to adult beliefs and language which directly impacts their social and emotional interaction with their peers.
Bullying Behavior Components
Dr. Dan Olweus, professor and researcher at the University of Bergen, is often considered the "pioneer" in bullying research. He defines bullying as “when someone repeatedly and on purpose says or does mean or hurtful things to another person who has a hard time defending himself or herself.”
Professor Olweus cites three components of bullying:
First, it is a form of aggression.
Second, it is a repeated unwanted behavior. This is not to say that adults should wait until they see a pattern before intervening. Adults rarely see the pattern.
Third, there is an imbalance of power or strength. This imbalance of power can be physical, emotional, verbal, and subtle and makes it difficult for others to defend themselves. There are several things that influence how much power a person has– social status, gender, race, religion, abilities, money, real or perceived sexual orientation, etc. Overall, it is important to remember that bullying is a form of peer abuse."
Prevent Early Childhood Bullying
Children, as young as 4 years of age are experiencing some form of bullying type behavior in preschool, grade school and on the playground. Many may argue that young children are simply learning how to socially and emotionally interact with their peers. Sadly, behaviors that are precursors to bullying and actual bullying do exist in many early childhood settings.
When these patterns are left unaddressed instead of being used as teachable moments, the child exhibiting precursor behavior and the child on the receiving end may enter kindergarten socially-emotionally ill-prepared.
Preschool Bullying Strategies for Parents & Teachers
Parents and teachers must intentionally start the conversation and work together in the early years to model and teach socially acceptable norms. Again, some of the children statements are clearly influenced by adults. What are some basic actions we can do?
First, respond with a firm NO and the reason as to why the behavior is unacceptable. Openly discuss any inappropriate statements and get feedback on why the other child is upset. "How do you think you would feel?" "How do you think the other person would feel? Equally important, have the child on the receiving end express how the behavior actually made him/her feel.
Post in certain area of your classroom and kitchen fridge forbidden words and statements. Alternately, teach young children specific statements they may say to build up others. Teach empathy.
The best outcome would be creating "upstanders" rather than "bystanders" in the prevention and presence of bullying.
My children's book "I'm Gonna Have A Good Day," is a great conversation starter with children of all ages. It sparks children to think about Gabby, the main character, behavior and make an educated guess on why they believe or don't believe she will change her behavior. Equally important, no where in the book do I use the "bully" word. However, it's on the tongue of all age groups during audience engagement after every story read. The book may be purchased on Amazon www.amazon.com and my website www.paulajohnsonneal.com