7. Teaching Social Skills

For young children to prevent bullying and develop friendships, they need to learn and effectively apply a variety of social skills. Early childhood settings offer a natural learning environment and a potentially safe haven in which children can learn and practice social skills. Early childhood educators can teach, model, and prepare young children to practice the skills they need to develop friendships and help stop and prevent bullying.

Social skills can be taught through presentations, modeling, discussion, storytelling, videos, role-playing, puppetry, games, and curricular activities, tailored to the age and developmental level of the children you work with. Young children are particularly eager to learn and practice social skills when they are given concrete examples they can understand and apply.

Early childhood educators can also take advantage of opportunities throughout the day to allow children to practice what they have learned and to coach them by providing them with cues, encouragement, and feedback. (See 12. Teachable Moments.) As children begin to learn new strategies in these ways, early childhood educators can reduce their level of support.

Three of the most important social skills involved in bullying prevention are empathy, assertiveness, and problem solving:

  • Empathy. Children who can empathize respond caringly to what others think and feel. They understand that bullying hurts. They are less likely to bully and more likely to help children who are bullied. Early childhood educators can protect young children from becoming bullies by helping them understand how children who are bullied might feel and how they themselves would feel if they were bullied.
  • Assertiveness. Children who are assertive can stand up for themselves and others in fair and respectful ways. They know how to respond to a bully in effective, non-aggressive ways and are less likely to be targeted by bullies in the first place. Early childhood educators can help young children use assertiveness to prevent bullying behaviors and to stand up to bullying when it occurs.
  • Problem solving. Children who are problem-solvers know how to analyze and resolve social problems in constructive ways. Early childhood educators can help young children understand the problem of bullying and how to use a variety of constructive, non-aggressive problem-solving skills to help stop and prevent bullying.

To teach and help children practice the skills of empathy, assertiveness, and problem solving, early childhood educators can engage children in a variety of interactive skill-building activities. (See 8. Empathy Activities, 9. Assertiveness Activities, and 10. Problem-Solving Activities.)