10. Problem-Solving Activities

Bullying is different from other social problems children may face. For example, while conflict may be solved through negotiation and compromise, bullying cannot because it involves a power imbalance—the bully has more power than the victim. Solving a bullying problem requires analysis of the problem by the target and/or bystanders, and sometimes intervention by the teacher. Problem-solving skills can help children analyze and solve bullying problems.

Early childhood educators can help young children understand the problem of bullying and how to apply problem-solving skills to situations involving bullying. These skills include:

  • Defining the problem
  • Thinking of solutions
  • Anticipating the likely consequences
  • Choosing the most effective responses

The following activities give young children an opportunity to develop and practice the problem-solving skills they need to help prevent and stop bullying.

Activities for Teaching Problem-Solving Skills

Activity 1: What If?

In this activity, children are presented with scenarios describing various bullying problems (physical, verbal, and relational); their task is to discuss and practice the best response to each situation. Young children are more likely to think of and use their problem-solving skills in bullying situations if they have an opportunity to practice them, with adult guidance.

Read the following scenarios:

  • Physical bullying: Whenever Javier sits on his favorite bench on the playground, David tells his friends, “Watch this.” David walks over to the bench and sits right next to Javier. Then he uses his body to push Javier off the end of the bench and onto the ground. David and his friends laugh at Javier, and Javier starts to cry.
  • Verbal bullying: Grace visited the zoo last weekend and afterward she started calling the children in her playgroup by animal names. Grace called Erin “Hippo.” Erin’s face got red, and she left the playgroup to play by herself. Now, whenever Erin tries to rejoin the playgroup, Grace and some of the other kids call out, “Erin is a hippo,” which makes Erin very unhappy.
  • Relational bullying: Shaquilla told her friends to stay away from Penny because “Penny isn’t cool.” Now, whenever Penny tries to play with Shaquilla or one of her friends, they say, “No, we’re too busy.” Penny feels left out and doesn’t know why they won’t play with her.

After reading each scenario, ask the children to think of several responses that victims and bystanders could give and the likely consequences of each response. Have children choose the best responses. Conduct role plays in which the teacher plays the role of a child who bullies, and children practice using the responses they’ve identified as effective. Make sure that children have a chance to play both victims and bystanders and that the responses include asking an adult for help.

Activity 2: Problem-Solving Team

In this activity, children use the insight and skills they gained in the What If? activity to address a variety of pre-bullying problems.

Before the activity, create “Solution Cards,” choosing from the solutions below. Write each solution on a large index card, leaving space for the children to illustrate it.

Tell children that they will work together as a problem-solving team to solve a pre-bullying problem—a hurtful behavior (verbal, physical, or relational) that, if not stopped, may turn into bullying. Give children an example of what a pre-bullying behavior might look like:

If two children want to play with the same toy, this turns into pre-bullying when one child demands the toy or takes it by force and the other child gives in.

Explain that when you’re faced with a problem, there are things you should tell yourself and there are things you should tell others. Here are some statements that everyone involved in a bullying situation can say to themselves or say to others. Read the Solution Cards aloud, and have the children illustrate each card.

Present the children with a pre-bullying problem that might occur in their classroom (without using real names). Talk about how your problem-solving team might solve this problem, and have the children select the Solution Cards that would work best to solve that problem. Remind them that different problems require different solutions.

Repeat the activity with different pre-bullying problems, and have children think of the best solutions for each role in the problem: kids who bully, kids who are targets, and kids who are bystanders.

Conclude the activity by displaying all the Solution Cards. Explain that these cards can help everyone remember the variety of solutions for solving pre-bullying problems.

Solution Cards

For kids who bully:

Tell yourself:

  • “When I’m feeling mad, take three deep breaths."
  • “Treat my friends the way I want to be treated.”

Tell others:

  • “Sorry, I didn’t know I hurt you.”
  • “No hurtful name calling.”

For kids who are targets:

Tell yourself:

  • “Stand up for myself.”
  • “Don’t fight back.”
  • “Walk away.”
  • “Ask for help.”

Tell others:

  • “Sorry, no, I’m playing with this now.”
  • “You can’t say I can’t play.”
  • “Wait, it’s my turn now.”

For kids who are bystanders:

Tell yourself:

  • “I will stand up for my friends.”
  • “I have the power to help.”

Tell others:

  • “I’ll sit with you at snack time.”
  • “I’ll play with you at recess.”
  • “I’ll be your friend.”
  • “Let’s get help together.”