Stamping out bullying in early childhood services
Stamping out bullying in early childhood services
Although bullying is often associated with school-aged children, it can occur amongst younger kids. And whether they're in child care or at preschool, bullying has a big impact on a child’s physical, social and emotional well-being.
Over time it erodes confidence and self-esteem, and although bullying often happens behind the backs of adults, it's important that parents and child carers can identify its signs and work together to stop this bad behaviour in its tracks.
So, let's look at what bullying actually is and how adults can manage it.
What is bullying?
Although a random act of aggression or an argument between preschoolers can be distressing for a child, these kinds of one-off events don't amount to bullying.
Instead, bullying is an ongoing misuse of power in a relationship, where one child (or children) use repeated behaviour to cause harm to another child or group.
Bullying can happen in person or online (called cyber bullying), and the most common types of bullying in the early childhood sector are:
- Physical bullying, e.g. biting, hitting, punching or pushing;
- Verbal bullying, e.g. name-calling, teasing or insults; and to a lesser extent
- Social isolation, e.g. children being excluded from activities and games on an ongoing basis
What are some signs of bullying?
Although it's easy to see a bite mark on your preschooler's arm, physical abrasions are not the only indications of bullying.
Bullying can be overt or covert, but it's often done away from adults. So be on the lookout for changes in behaviour and signs that all is not well with your child.
For instance, a bullied child may start wetting the bed, having nightmares or losing interest in food. They might be unusually fearful, unhappy, anxious, moody or find it hard to concentrate. Their belongings might keep going missing, they may complain about a lack of friends or they may be reluctant to go to child care at all.
What can parents do if they suspect bullying?
If you're worried that your child is being bullied, the best thing is to act swiftly and open up the lines of communication – both with your child and their early childhood educator.
If you suspect that your child is being bullied:
- Encourage them to talk about what is happening. Listen to them and ask simple questions. Let them know that it's normal to feel upset and that the situation isn’t their fault.
- Support your child. Agree that there's a problem, praise them for sharing it with you and assure your child that you will help.
- Meet with your child's carer as quickly as possible. Have a calm and open discussion with them and come to a clear understanding about how the bullying will be dealt with positively and productively. Instead of taking matters into your own hands, let carers address bullying issues with the parents of the perpetrator.
How do child care professionals manage bullying?
Child care centres are encouraged to develop an Anti-Bullying Policy, explaining the centre's position on the issue and how they will manage any bullying.
To prevent and stop harmful behaviour, child care providers can:
- Adopt a policy of zero tolerance for bullying
- Outline everyone's rights and responsibilities regarding bullying
- Model respectful ways of interacting with one another
- Teach children strategies to challenge bullying before it becomes entrenched, e.g. by saying, "I don't like it when you call me that name."
- Communicate openly and sensitively with the families of both bullied and bullying children to solve problems
What if your child is the bully?
It can be alarming and upsetting to discover that your child is the bully, but here's how parents of bullies can respond:
- Tell your child that the behaviour is not ok, and you want it to stop. Explain what bullying is, talk with them about why they might be doing it, and help them see the effects of their actions.
- Work with their early childhood service. Ask about the provider's bullying policy and support their decision about how to manage your child’s bullying.
- Think about why the bullying is happening. Is there something you could change to help stop the bullying, e.g. is your child being bullied themselves?
How else can we take a stand against bullying?
Friday, 16 March is the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. This is a great chance for kids to imagine a world without bullying, so click here to get involved and send home the anti-bullying message.
This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Thursday, 06 February 2020
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