Early childhood educators play a critical role in determining whether bullying develops and escalates in early childhood settings, or whether it is stopped and prevented. Educators can prevent bullying before it starts, intervene when it happens, and follow up to make sure it doesn’t continue. They can encourage children to engage in healthy, cooperative interactions, and discourage bullying behaviors intended to hurt and exclude targeted classmates. They can also help children learn and practice the skills and strategies needed to become resilient against bullying.
Early childhood settings are where many children first observe or experience early forms of bullying behavior. If educators don’t intervene to stop bullying, children learn that bullying is an acceptable way to behave.
Children who bully will continue to bully; they won’t understand that bullying hurts, and they won’t learn how to engage in helpful, supportive, and inclusive interactions. Children who are victimized will continue to be victims; they won’t learn how to stand up for themselves, be self-confident and socially competent, and ask for help from friends and adults. Without intervention by educators, patterns of bullying and victimization may grow and persist, not only within early childhood settings, but also into later childhood, adolescence, and even adulthood.
Early childhood educators have an exceptional opportunity as well as an important responsibility. Since bullying is primarily learned, it can be “unlearned”—or conditions can be changed so that it is not learned and allowed to happen in the first place. Educators can make sure that children don’t develop patterns of behavior that lead to continuing problems with bullying and other violent behavior. They can also make sure that children in early childhood settings learn and practice the skills they need to become resilient against bullying.
How can early childhood educators prepare themselves to help young children develop resilience against bullying? A key to success lies in advance preparation to deal effectively with bullying before, during, and after it occurs.
Early childhood educators can prepare and empower young children to help stop and prevent bullying by taking the following steps:
- Understand that bullying behaviors emerge in early childhood settings and that these behaviors are preventable. (See 1. Bullying in Early Childhood.)
- Recognize the different forms of pre-bullying and bullying behaviors that may occur in early childhood settings—if you can’t see bullying when it happens, you won’t be able to do anything about it. (See 2. What Is Bullying?)
- Understand how bullying develops among young children. (See 3. How Does Early Bullying Develop?)
- Recognize when individual children begin to step into the roles of bully or victim. Identifying children who bully and children who are victimized helps educators intervene in appropriate ways. (See 4. Bullies, Victims, and Bystanders.)
- Talk with young children about bullying. Dealing with bullying directly and openly lets everyone know that bullying is an important concern, that it will not be tolerated, and that everyone needs to work together to stop and prevent it. (See 6. Talk About Bullying.)
- Teach and guide children in practicing the social skills they need to help stop and prevent bullying. (See 7. Teaching Social Skills.)
- Engage children in activities to develop the social skills they need to help stop and prevent bullying, including empathy (see 8. Empathy Activities), assertiveness (see 9. Assertiveness Activities), and problem-solving (see 10. Problem-Solving Activities).
- Work to develop and maintain a common vision of a bullying-free environment. (See 11. Shared Vision.)
- Prepare to take advantage of teachable moments, and intervene immediately and effectively whenever children engage in pre-bullying and bullying behaviors. Intervention is most effective when it includes all children: children who bully, children who are victims, and children who are bystanders to bullying. (See 12. Teachable Moments.)
- Engage parents in bullying prevention initiatives by helping them talk to their children about bullying and teach their children social skills for preventing bullying. (See 13. Involving Parents.)
- Use a variety of resources that have been specifically developed and chosen to help early childhood educators stop and prevent bullying. (See 14. Adult Resources and Children's Books.)