Bullying in child care centres pre-schoolers can be mean too
Bullying is not something most parents expect in a child care environment. However, bullying can occur at any age, including in preschools and early childhood education and care services. Though it would be easy to dismiss the bullying actions of a young child as a developmental phase, it is a very real problem that needs to be taken seriously, to ensure children retain their confidence and self-esteem and are allowed to grow and learn in a loving and safe environment.

What is bullying?

Experts define bullying as an intentional aggressive behaviour, usually involving an imbalance of power and repeated over time. It can be broken down into three types:
  1. Physical: including pushing, kicking, punching and biting.
  2. Verbal: including name-calling, taunts and put-downs.
  3. Social: Less prevalent at a young age, this includes the spreading of rumours, social rejection and exclusion from group activities.
It is important to remember that not all aggressive behaviour is an act of bullying. Young children are active and impulsive and they will have frequent friendship fights, scuffles and wrestling matches, both physical and mental, that can occasionally escalate. These everyday play occurrences actually make kids stronger as they learn through experience and act to resolve conflict through compromise, negotiation and forgiveness. Conversely, bullying is the opposite, undermining a child's self-esteem, causing hurt feelings, anxiety and fear. This is unacceptable at any age.

If you believe your child may be experiencing some form of bullying at child care, look out for some of these signs:
  • Physical: Could be things such as bruises, cuts and scratches, ripped or missing clothes, poor sleeping or wetting the bed.
  • Emotional: Displaying signs of anxiety, becoming nervous, unhappy, crying, being quick to anger, becoming secretive or withdrawing.
  • Social: not wanting to attend child care, staying close to educators, sitting alone and not taking part in discussions or answering questions.

How to address bullying

If you suspect your child is bearing the brunt of attacks from a bully, action must be taken immediately before things progress further.
  • Talk to your child and let them know that you will take action to stop the bullying.
  • Speak to their educator or carer and find out if they have noticed any unusual behaviour.
  • Agree on a management plan to deal with the bullying.
  • Keep in constant contact with the educator to check on progress.
  • Keep a record of any bullying that may occur and provide this to your child care centre.
  • If the management plan isn't working, speak to the centre Director and request a written response to your concerns.
  • If you are still unhappy with the outcome, make a formal complaint to the centre following the procedures set out under their Anti-Bullying Policy.
Most importantly, provide as much love and support at home for your child as you can, listen and talk with them about the issue while you, the teacher and your child come up with a plan to fix the situation. Let your child know that in no way is the bullying their fault and it most definitely can be fixed. You could also give your child some ideas to cope with the bullying in the interim, such as:
  • Ignore the bully and move away, putting space between the child and the bully.
  • Stand up to the bully in a calm way and tell them to stop.
  • Keep away from places where bullying occurs, such as particular parts of the playground. However, ensure they aren't missing out on activities because of this.
  • Stay close to other people so the child cannot be singled out for attention.
  • Engaging other children for support can cause bullies to back off as they can see the child has backup.
  • Notify teachers as soon as any bullying occurs so it can be dealt with immediately.

The role of the child care centre

Child care centres must be proactive when it comes to bullying and need to ensure an effective policy is in place to deal with the issue immediately. Any policy should make it clear where the centre stands on the issue of bullying; list any actions they will take in the event of bullying and be readily available to all parents and carers for their information. Constant teacher development and training should also focus on how to spot the signs of bullying and how to deal with them under the terms set out in their Anti-Bullying Policy.
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