Social and Emotional Development

How to Stop Bullying in Early Childhood

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It may seem unusual to consider bullying as an issue in the early years, but even children as young as two or three years old can display bullying behaviour, so it’s important to be aware of it and try to nip it in the bud wherever possible. In this article, we’ll look at how to recognise bullying behaviour, how to deal with bullying incidents, and how to stop bullying from happening.

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Recognising Bullying in the Early Years

The preschool years are a key time in the development of young children’s social skills, as they start learning how to negotiate, cooperate, communicate and assert themselves in order to foster relationships. There is bound to be conflict, upset and turbulence along the way, and this is entirely to be expected. But when does natural aggression and the struggle for power tip over into bullying?

There are three different types of bullying:

  • Physical bullying – eg hitting or pushing
  • Verbal bullying – eg threats or name-calling
  • Social bullying – eg excluding or inciting others to be hurtful

In order to identify any of these fairly everyday types of behaviour within a nursery as actual bullying, we need to be able to recognise these three distinguishing characteristics:

  • Bullying behaviour displays a deliberate intention to hurt
  • Bullying behaviour is repetitive
  • Bullying behaviour involves an abuse of power

How to Deal with Bullying Incidents

Of course, the best way to deal with bullying in your nursery is to try to prevent it in the first place (see section below), but even in the most ideal environment bullying behaviour is likely to emerge from time to time. Being able to deal with this effectively in an age-appropriate way will help ensure that it doesn’t escalate. Use incidents as teaching opportunities, to reinforce the culture within your nursery that such behaviour is not acceptable.

stop bullying

When you recognise that an act of bullying is taking place, first intervene quickly to stop the incident and make sure that everyone is safe. Identify the children involved – the bully, the victim and the onlookers – and treat them very distinctly:

  • The bully – tell them to stop their behaviour, and make it clear that it is not acceptable (but don’t give them more attention than that).
  • The victim – encourage them to be assertive, for example by suggesting strategies that they could use to stand up to the bully.
  • The onlookers – remind them to support the victim when they witness this kind of behaviour.

Afterwards, keep a watchful eye out for repeated behaviour, and spend some extra time on preventative measures, which we’ll look at next.


How to Stop Bullying in Early Childhood

There are two main areas to consider when planning practical ways to stop bullying in your nursery; one is practising key social skills (such as empathy and assertiveness), and the other is fostering a culture of anti-bullying.

1. Practise Social Skills

Help the children to develop the social skills they need to avoid bullying behaviour – both as potential bullies and potential victims. Encouraging them to be more empathetic will make them less likely to bully, as they learn to consider how others feel. Supporting them to be more assertive will enable them to resist bullying, as they learn how to stand up for themselves (and others) and express how they feel.

Here are some ideas for practising empathy:

  • Label feelings – get the children to talk about how they feel in different situations that arise, and label these feelings.
  • Facial expressions – do some role play with the children and try expressing and recognising different emotions through facial expressions.
  • Tone of voice – as above, but using different tones of voice.
  • Practise manners – act out some simple scenarios (eg asking for a toy) to show the different feelings provoked (and results achieved) by being polite or being rude.
  • Praise empathetic behaviour – when you notice a child behaving empathetically, be sure to point this out to the group.

stop bullying

And here are some ideas for practising assertiveness:

  • Discuss what it means – role-play some scenarios to explore the difference between being assertive, being aggressive or bossy, and being passive.
  • Maintaining control – teach the children some strategies to help them manage their feelings and keep calm in stressful situations, such as counting to ten, breathing slowly, ignoring, walking away, or fetching help.
  • Different opinions – ask the children to share their different opinions on various subjects (eg favourite ice cream flavour); make sure that they all get a chance to speak and understand that everyone’s opinions are valid.


2. Foster a Culture of Anti-Bullying

It’s important to establish the right environment in your preschool setting so that the children understand:

  • What bullying behaviour looks like
  • That bullying is not OK
  • How to deal with bullying

This can be achieved through age-appropriate discussion, role play, modelling, practising skills and learning strategies. However you attempt to stop bullying in your setting, ultimately the message you want the children to sign up to is very simple: don’t do anything to other people that you wouldn’t want done to you.

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