Why Preschool Bullying Is An Issue And How To Combat It

By Britta Marsh on 7 Mar 2019
Categories: Social Wellbeing / Friendship

There is ever growing awareness and discussion around the huge impact bullying can have on children. However, much of this discourse is focused on teenagers and primary school aged kids, overlooking the fact that bullying can occur in early years care such as pre-school, kindergarten and childcare.

This is interesting given that research on the development of physical aggression has identified that physical aggression in most children peaks between the ages of 24 and 42 months of age. This isn’t news to anyone who has had a toddler go through a biting or hitting phase. However, the research also shows that after this point aggression usually begins to desist. This indicates that under normal circumstances, children learn to inhibit aggressive tendencies as they grow. Therefore, while children are in this sensitive period of development, the early childhood setting is one where we would expect to see higher instances of aggression and bullying.

Findings of the research also indicate that parenting style is one of the key factors in influencing whether a child goes on to continue aggressive behaviour. Fortunately, the majority of Australian parents seem to understand this correlation, as evidenced by results of  The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) National Child Health Poll in which 70% of parents reported knowing that how they raise their child can affect their chances of being involved in bullying.

So what can parents do to proactively combat bullying behaviour in their children?

No parent wants their child to be a bully. Thankfully, there are many things parents can do to help promote healthy social development in the early years.

Healthy Attachment

Ensuring your child has a healthy attachment to you are their primary caregiver makes them feel more secure in the world. Healthy attachment has been shown to have a positive correlation with a child’s confidence, independence and social development. Attachment between parent and child is reinforced through acts such as meeting their needs, playing with them and responding to their emotional cues. Dr Vanessa Lapointe gives great breakdown of the stages of attachment in the first 6 years of life here.

Model Empathy and Emotional Regulation

Modelling behaviours is the most effective way of teaching young children what is expected on them. Parents can do this in a number of ways to teach children empathy (understanding how others are feeling) and how to regulate their own emotions

Playing games that involve sharing and turn-taking is a great way to help build these skills. You may also use playtime with teddies or dolls to role play scenarios where someone is hurt, sad, angry or happy to help children understand different emotions and how to respond to them. This is also a good opportunity to reinforce appropriate social behaviours such as no hitting, biting and how to treat our friends.

Naming emotions and using reflective listening is also a good way of helping children understand what they are feeling and how to deal with it. For example, “I see that you are frustrated that your brother took your toy. Let’s take some deep breaths together then find something else for you to play with until it is your turn to play with it again.”

Tune In To Your Child’s Behaviour

It can be hard for parents to know what truly happens when a child is in the care of others, particularly if your child isn’t old enough to communicate issues with you. Their behaviour is the best indication of what is going on for them.

Keep an eye out for any major changes in behaviour such as increased aggression, changes in sleep or appetite, complaining of tummy aches or headaches or reluctance/refusal to go to their place of care.

In these instances, it is a good idea to talk to their carers to get a clearer picture of what may be happening.

It is important for even young children to be able to identify bullying behaviour. Talk to them about what positive friendships should look like and reinforce the importance of treating people with kindness and respect. Also encourage your child to talk about any negative experiences they may be having, reassuring them that you are there for them no matter what.

Learn more about what is and what isn’t bullying on ParentTV here.