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Beat the bullies

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By Michele Elliottfounder and CEO of children’s charity Kidscape.

Bullying behaviour among young children is on the increase. Michele Elliott explains how to recognise the signs

scared girl

The caller on the end of the phone line was angry and hurt:

‘My four-year-old daughter tells me that she is stupid and ugly. I can’t believe that my confident, outgoing, lovely child is sobbing and saying she doesn’t want to go back to nursery school because she is so scared. Apparently, another child has been picking on her and some other children.

‘Imagine my astonishment when I was told by the teacher that they were aware of the situation and were trying to deal with the child who was bullying, but I had to understand that the child had problems at home. I am sorry for that child, but why should my child suffer?’

This mother is one of the thousands of parents who ring Kidscape helpline every day, so the story of bullying didn’t surprise us. What has surprised us over the past four years, is the increasing numbers of parents of very young children who ring with similar tales.

Ten top tips to help stop bullying from an early age

  1. The younger the child, the greater the chance of changing bullying behaviour into good behaviour.
  2. Send a letter home at the beginning of the term saying that you do not tolerate bullying behaviour and explain what the consequences will be.
  3. Emphasise to the children how to share and be kind to each other. Have a ‘kindness week’ or draw pictures of how to be a friend.
  4. Take note if a child says that they are no good or that no one likes them as they may be the victim of bullying.
  5. Be aware if a child is oversensitive and easily upset as they may become the target of bullies.
  6. Help the children to see the humorous side of things and learn how to tease and be teased. This will help to protect them from bullying. Explain that a ‘pet name’ (as long as it is kind) is a sort of teasing and that people often tease each other in a fun way. Teach them not to overreact to kind teasing. If the children cannot understand the concept of ‘teasing’, call it ‘fun talk’ because both of you find it fun.
  7. Be aware if a child seems upset just before or after going to their setting, but not at weekends or during holidays. It may be that they would rather be at home, but it also may be that they are being bullied at the setting.
  8. If a child is being aggressive a lot of the time, then they need to be given firmer limits. Find out how the child is being treated at home or if there is a medical problem, and, if necessary, seek counselling. Regardless, do not allow the behaviour to go unchallenged – try having star charts for good behaviour with a reward worked out with the parents, and, of course, consequences as well for bad behaviour. Work these out in advance so that if a situation arises, you have a plan.
  9. If a child is bullying, act out with them how to be nice to other children. If a child is being bullied, either cut off the relationship with the bullying child (if there is only one), or note whether the child is the victim of lots of children and may need help to build up self-esteem or guidance in how to make friends.
  10. Beware the adage that young children don’t bully, they just tease each other. Remember that once teasing deliberately hurts one child, it is no longer teasing, but bullying.

Click here to find out more about Kidscape

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