Nip kid bullying in the budMonday, October 18, 2021
BULLYING is a feature of school life, an ugly experience that usually rears its head in primary and secondary school. But less discussed is bullying at the early childhood level, where toddlers act out against each other.
How do you recognise that there's a problem, and that it's not just a part of their development cycle?
Manchester-based early childhood teacher Janet Rickards said though it may be difficult to spot, bullying does occur a lot but can be curtailed in kindergarteners.
“It can be a very difficult thing for both sets of parents to deal with, rationalise, and accept, because you don't want to label kids that young, who may just be going through a developmental phase, yet at the same time, you don't want to foster negative behaviours,” she said.
She said, having taught in the industry for over 20 years, she can recognise the signs of bullying — that aggressive behaviour that involves physical or emotional abuse from those in a power position — behaviour that's often repeated and causes strain on the child who is being bullied.
Here are her strategies for nipping toddler bullying in the bud.
1. Whether physical or emotional, identify the problem and deal with it urgently. Physical bullying will include targeted pushing, hitting, shoving, fighting and tripping. It could also include the threat of physical abuse.
2. Emotional bullying includes teasing, insulting and name calling. It can also involve social exclusion, which will have one child (the bully) encouraging others to exclude the bullied child from activities or socialising.
3. Know the signs to look out for. Children who are bullied will be fearful, have difficulty focusing, be anxious, and will have stomach pains or nightmares. If you see, for example, that a potty-trained child is regressing, or a once talkative child has gone into a shell, seek to intervene.
4. Adopt a zero tolerance approach to bullying, even while treating the situation by understanding the perspective of the age of the child involved. Ensure that the discipline for the bully is sustained with strict anti-bullying rules and protocols — including provisions for counselling.
5. Understand the impact of bullying. While the children may be young, bullying at this stage, where children are just developing social skills, may have devastating impacts. Talking to both the bully and the child being bullied is therefore critical, as both are developing skills that they will need for interacting with their peers when they move to the next educational level.
6. Stay calm. Yes, you parents! Sure, you're hurt at the thought that someone could want to hurt your sweet prince or princess, but though they're little, you can still use the lesson to teach them how to solve problems. Calm down, and let them see that problems can be solved without fighting and screaming.
7. Make it clear to the child being bullied that the behaviour is not OK. Sometimes bullying behaviours can be viewed by some adults as a rite of passage and par for the course — “kids will be kids”. Let children know that such behaviour is unacceptable. One should never seek to gain points from someone else's misery.
After all this, remember that both children will need support and love at home. If you're the parent of the bully, they will need as much support and affirmation to understand that, though they did something wrong and you want them to change, you still love them. If you're the parent of the child being bullied, use the time at home to affirm how special they are, and let them know that you'll always have their back.