Creating a bullying-free environment in early childhood settings requires everyone—adults and children—to understand that bullying is unacceptable, hurtful, and preventable and to take responsibility for stopping it. It’s important to involve everyone in creating an environment that discourages bullying behaviors and encourages positive, supportive actions.
A shared vision of bullying prevention involves three key components:
- A commitment to a bullying-free environment: Clearly state the program’s bullying prevention philosophy, goals, and policies, and engage the children in committing to a bullying-free environment.
- Rules: Develop expectations and procedures about bullying, including consequences, and involve the children in contributing to these rules.
- Common beliefs: Strive to understand and shape the children’s beliefs about bullying.
Here are some ways that early childhood educators can involve children in developing a shared vision for their early childhood setting.
Establish a Bullying-Free Environment
- Discuss your center’s philosophy and goals for a bullying-free environment with the children.
- Ask children to envision what a bullying-free environment would look like in their early childhood program. Encourage them to illustrate their vision by making posters, drawing pictures, and writing stories.
- Work with your children to set goals that everyone can agree to.
- As a group, check in regularly to determine if the group is meeting the goals that help make the classroom bullying-free. Determine what’s working, what’s not working, and what can be done to improve.
Set Rules and Follow Through
Young children need to know that their early childhood setting has rules and expectations about bullying that help all children feel safe, included, and supported. Involving children in contributing to the rules, and understanding the consequences of not following the rules, helps ensure their commitment to a bullying-free environment.
- During group meetings, make sure that all children know and understand the rules, and what happens when children don’t follow the rules.
- Involve children in talking about the rules and contributing their own ideas.
- Ask them to give examples of how a particular rule might help make their classroom a better place.
- During group meetings, reinforce the rules for acceptable behavior, encourage empathy with peers, and involve all children in taking responsibility to make sure their classroom is a safe, welcoming, and inclusive place for everyone.
Here are some examples of rules about bullying that are appropriate for early childhood settings:
- Bullying is not allowed.
- Stand up for yourself and your friends.
- Don’t fight back.
- If someone bullies you or your friends, it’s okay to walk away or ask for help.
- Include everyone in your play and activities: “You can’t say you can’t play.”
- Report bullying—telling is not tattling.
- Be a good friend.
Develop Common Beliefs About Bullying
A shared vision of beliefs about bullying is an important component of a bullying-free environment. Beliefs about bullying lead to choices about how one behaves. Children need help developing the beliefs that can prepare them to prevent rather than promote bullying.
In a group discussion, encourage children to talk about their beliefs (what they think and feel) about bullying. Discuss how their beliefs may influence the choices they make to ignore, stop, or join in a bullying situation. Ask children how what they believe might affect how they behave and the choices they make.
Use the following questions to help children talk about their beliefs and how these beliefs may affect their actions related to bullying:
- Do you think that kids and adults can help make bullying stop?
- Do you think it’s none of your business when other kids get bullied?
- Is it okay to bully if you’re having a bad day or if you’re mad at your friend?
- Do some kids deserve to be called hurtful names?
- Does anyone deserve to be bullied?
- If a bully tries to make you do something, can you say no or do something else?
- Should you stand up to someone who bullies you?
- Is it okay to fight back if someone bullies you?
- Is it okay to ask for help if you get bullied or see someone getting bullied?
Work with children to establish a shared set of beliefs that will guide how they treat their classmates and how they prevent and respond to bullying. Discuss how these beliefs, along with the classroom rules, help everyone feel safe, included, and supported in their early childhood program.