Involving parents and seeking their cooperation and support for bullying prevention initiatives in their children’s early childhood setting will help widen the reach of these initiatives and reinforce what their children are learning in the classroom. Parents can adapt and apply the bullying prevention lessons to their daily routines at home.
Talking About Bullying
Parents can build on the ways that children are learning to understand, talk about, and respond to bullying in their early childhood setting.
For example, parents can talk to their children about what bullying is, share personal stories about bullying, help children distinguish teasing from taunting and mistakes from things done “on purpose,” encourage their children to include rather than exclude playmates, and read books about bullying with their children. (For more suggestions, see 6. Talk About Bullying.)
Parents may need help from educators to understand what bullying behaviors look like in early childhood, and why it’s important to intervene.
Many parents will be upset to be told that their young child is exhibiting bullying behaviors. Others may resist intervention for their child based on the belief that bullying is a normal part of growing up. When talking with parents, it is important for educators to show understanding of and support for parents’ feelings and to avoid making parents feel defensive. Educators can also reassure parents that bullying behavior can be stopped more easily in the early years than later on.
Educators can explain that until recently, the nature and consequences of bullying were not fully understood, and the belief that bullying is just a normal part of child development was widely held in our culture. Parents can benefit from hearing educators explain that bullying behavior is learned from other children, and has a variety of harmful consequences for the victimized child, the child with bullying behavior, and bystander children who observe it.
Educators can be proactive and host parent workshops on child development and social emotional skill development. Information about the early childhood program’s stance on bullying can be shared at workshops, as well as embedded in the materials distributed to parents when they enroll their child. Educators and parents can create a school culture that values kindness, inclusion, and positive discipline approaches that support all children in their development. Parents should not hear the word bullying only when it pertains to their child.
Teaching Social Skills
Parents can help their children develop the important social skills needed to prevent bullying:
- They can help their children develop empathy by labeling feelings, modeling helping behaviors and kindness, and encouraging their children to help others and show kindness. They can help their children understand and appreciate differences among their friends and family members. (See 8. Empathy Activities for more suggestions.)
- They can help their children develop assertiveness by encouraging them to ignore minor provocations, to keep cool during confrontations, and to say no to playmates’ demands. They can encourage their children to respond to bullying by standing up, speaking up, or getting help. (See 9. Assertiveness Activities for other possibilities.)
- Parents can help their children solve problems by encouraging them to think ahead about alternative responses to bullying and to anticipate the consequences. They can prepare their children to be helpful bystanders by encouraging them to stand up and speak up when they see or hear about bullying. (See 10. Problem-Solving Activities for more ideas.)
Providing Support For Children With Social-Emotional Challenges
Educators can support parents of children with social-emotional challenges to obtain appropriate services.
In some cases, early childhood educators may find that a child’s behavioral problems go beyond bullying—representing instead a broader pattern of aggressive, antisocial, or oppositional behaviors, combined with other signs of emotional or underlying developmental issues. In such cases, educators can work with parents to have the child observed by a consultant. In some situations, young children will act out to get what they want because they lack the language skills to converse effectively or resolve conflicts. The consultant can conduct a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) which looks at the classroom environment, and what triggers an aggressive behavior. With parent consent, the consultant can also work directly with the child and suggest strategies that may help the child succeed. Depending on the results of the FBA, the early childhood educator can refer a child to be evaluated by the school district’s special education department to determine the child’s needs and potential eligibility for services such as speech/language services or emotional supports.
Based on the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (known as IDEA), early intervention services are available for children under age 3, and special education services are available for children and youth with a disability between the ages of 3 and 22. If eligible, a team, including the parents, would determine the special education services that could provide greater structure, assessment, social skills training, counseling, therapies, and family involvement to address the child’s individual needs within the educational setting. Alternatively, if the educators feel the child does not have a disability or developmental delay and is not eligible for special education, they could recommend that the family seek evaluations or services through their health care providers or community mental health clinics.
Parents need to know that the early childhood staff take bullying and its prevention seriously and that parent cooperation and support are welcome.
Regular and open communication with parents can help staff resolve bullying problems that emerge. If warranted, parents should be informed when a bullying incident occurs, if and how their child was involved, and how the incident was resolved. It is also important to let parents know when their child has stepped forward as a helpful bystander, intervening to prevent a bullying incident or asking an adult for help.
A good way to involve all parents is to share the Eyes on Bullying Toolkit and invite parents to participate in bullying prevention workshops. Parents also need to be informed about the guidelines, practices, and policies of their children’s early childhood setting.
Parents should be encouraged to contact program staff if they think a child is being bullied or is doing the bullying. If a child is involved in ongoing bullying or victimization, early childhood staff and parents need to work together to create an individualized program and/or seek special counseling.
Parents can find additional help in the brochure Bullying Prevention: When Your Child Is the Victim, the Bully, or the Bystander available at www.massmed.org/violence.