Melissa Graham

Melissa Graham is the Director of Break Through Bullying creating products for schools and organisations that help to promote positive anti-bullying behaviours.

Melissa is dedicated to empowering individuals to stand up for themselves and others against violence and bullying to create harmony in our communities. She has a Bachelor of Education and has twenty years teaching and educational experience.
Positive Anti-Bullying Strategies
A Clear Path through the Maze

We are delighted to present the third and final installment in our series of articles about preventing bullying behaviours in the early childhood education sector by the Director of Break Through Bullying Melissa Graham.

Can bullying be stopped? This is a question often asked by carers and teachers who are looking for solutions to the problem of bullying in educational settings. Having a clear understanding of what bullying is and being able to identify bullying behaviours, allows us as educators to acknowledge the frequency of bullying incidents.

An anti-bullying or positive guidance policy document can give definitions and guidelines about an organisation's procedures for dealing with bullying when it is identified. By promoting positive behaviours and teaching anti-bullying strategies that can help our children to stand up for themselves in difficult situations, shows a proactive approach with a vision to reduce incidents of bullying in child care facilities and schools.

Research shows that (bullying) interventions are much more successful when they are carried out among young children in preschools and primary schools.
This is a good reason to begin with this age group.

The earlier that bullying interventions are taught to young children, the more successful these can be. It is important that we acknowledge this research finding and implement positive anti-bullying strategies sooner rather than later.

As educators, we are role models in the perfect position to demonstrate positive behaviours and promote anti-bullying strategies to the young children we teach every day. There are many prevention and intervention strategies that are currently being used in our schools across Australia.

The Victorian Government recommends that any prevention and management programs that schools or organisations consider implementing, be critically evaluated to ensure that they are theoretically sound, unbiased and evidence-based in terms of content, pedagogy and delivery.. Assertiveness Training is a practical bullying intervention that can be effectively implemented in child care centres and schools.

Assertiveness Training helps children respond assertively to a bullying incident, in a way that is respectful to themselves, their abilities and knowing their basic human rights. This training is particularly suited to an early childhood educational setting as young children have the opportunity to learn the age appropriate skills of being assertive with their peers in a safe, social context guided by a teacher.

One of the assertive strategies that can be taught to children if they are involved in an inappropriate behaviour or bullying incident involves asking the other child to stop.

This strategy requires the child to ask the child who is displaying inappropriate or bullying behaviours to stop the undesirable behaviour. For young children this can be difficult to execute, particularly if the child's speech is still developing.

Instead of asking the child to stop, a hand signal could be taught to the group as a familiar "Please stop that" signal. The carer can model the use of this hand signal saying, "Please stop that" and explain the meaning of it, encouraging the children to use it with each other. Stories and discussions can be used to demonstrate appropriate times to use the signal.

Role play can also help children learn how to and practice using the use the "Please stop that" signal. Photographs taken during the role plays can be displayed in the classroom to remind the students how and when to use the signal. If a visitor, relief teacher or parent comes into the room, he or she is instantly aware of the positive assertive behaviours encouraged in that group or class.

When we are teaching an anti-bullying strategy, there are many micro-skills that are essential for children to learn to be assertive. Speaking bravely, calmly and politely is very important if you are going to use words to tell someone, "Please stop that. I don't like it." As children develop their speech, gain understanding of their emotions and begin to interact with others, asking another child to stop a particular behaviour is important.

If a child feels unsafe, using his or her words to express how he or she feels can empower the child to have some control of the situation. Also, we are encouraging our children to try to stand up for themselves and attempt to change the situation before engaging the assistance of an adult.

Encourage children to practice speaking bravely in front of a mirror, so that each child has the opportunity to identify calm facial features and friendly eyes before the words are spoken. Give children the opportunity to say the words, "Please stop that. I don't like it" to a partner and listen for brave and polite speaking voices. These are the micro-skills that are necessary for children to learn to portray confidence and stay calm in a difficult situation.

Asking a carer or teacher for assistance is another essential assertive strategy for children to use in an inappropriate or bullying situation. It is important that children feel supported and comfortable to seek help from a responsible adult if necessary. As teachers, it is imperative that we listen and provide structured support for our children. We can not assume that young children can ‘work it out' by themselves or that their concerns are not founded.

Remember, that bullying could be occurring if more than one incident has been reported, so listening to each child every time is an important step in correctly identify bullying behaviours. Also, support and positive strategies need to be available straight away from the teacher for those children experiencing difficulties so that the essential learning is taking place at the time when the child needs it most.

A final assertive strategy and one that also incorporates bystander training is to teach our children to be friendly to a child who is demonstrating inappropriate or bullying behaviours.

Forming and maintaining friendships is a dynamic process that requires children to engage with others in a friendly manner, using appropriate interaction and communication skills. Having an equal balance of power between children who are forming friendships is important to develop balanced relationships.

This encourages anti-bullying behaviours within the class or group, as we know that when bullying occurs there is an imbalance of power between individuals or groups.

Making a new friend can be difficult for children who have not had positive examples or experiences of forming and maintaining friendships. As educators we can encourage children who could be good role models or those who feel confident to be friendly to help others learn to do the same. This can be a powerful way to assist a child who is experiencing difficulties forming friendships because he or she has displayed inappropriate or bullying behaviours.

The carer or teacher's direction in this situation can help facilitate a friendship if he or she suggests that the two children engage in an activity together and scaffolds this learning experience for them.

A bystander is any child who is standing by and watching an inappropriate behaviour or bullying incident taking place. Bystanders can behave in a way that can stop the bullying from occurring or intervene safely to assist the children to act appropriately. Young children who are bystanders may not be able to intervene in an incident and it would not be suggested to do so if their safety could be compromised.

Teachers can discuss with children how they can act to discourage bullying and give suggestions about what would be the appropriate, acceptable actions to take as a bystander. Some actions could be going for help, showing displeasure at what is happening or being friendly to both children involved and diverting their attention to an activity or different place in the playground.

Teaching our children positive behaviours and anti-bullying strategies can make a difference to the culture of our child care centres and schools. We know that bullying interventions are much more successful when they are carried out among young children. When these interventions are applied thoroughly by educators who genuinely care about stopping bullying, they can be more effective. As educators, when we demonstrate our ability to be assertive against bullying, our children can benefit from having role models who are aware, supportive and keen to use everyday interactions as opportunities for genuine learning.
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