As our kids are mastering tying their shoes, counting to 20, and learning to recognize the letters of the alphabet, it’s important for us to remember that our sons and daughters may not have the social skills necessary to handle the bumps that commonly surface in their friendships. It’s common for young children to encounter big emotions when dealing with bullying or fighting among peers. Our small ones tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves and emotions run high when little friends squabble.
Whether a child is making mean faces, shoving, pinching, or having a tiff over sharing a beloved toy, one of the hardest parts of raising small children is watching them encounter or demonstrate cruel behaviors for the first time. In fact, young children often lack the necessary words to express their thoughts, emotions, and needs which can manifest in bullying situations. This is perfectly normal in young children, but it can lead to a lot of tears and misunderstandings during playdates and in classroom settings.
Ten Tips To Help Young Children Understand Bullying
As our smallest children begin learning new social skills, it is essential that we teach them about bullying before serious behaviors or aggressive patterns develop. We need to remember that when young children who differ in physical size, emotional maturity, and family backgrounds encounter group settings for the first time there is bound to be a few negative behaviors to develop.
We know children need to develop empathy and kindness, but many parents are unsure of ways to approach the topic of bullying when it comes to young children. To help parents explain bullying to small children, please consider the following suggestions to help children develop the necessary social skills to thrive:
- Help children label their feelings, needs, and wants. Teach children to use their “words” instead of hitting, biting, or yelling. In the long run this will benefit everyone.
- Begin teaching children that words can hurt. Help kids remember times they felt sad when they were picked on or someone called them a name. Use this as a foundation to help them understand that mean words are able to cause sadness or anger.
- Teach children coping methods to use when they encounter mean comments or bullying. Role play scenarios and help them come up with a plan to seek help from an adult, respond, or walk away from the situation.
- Start a discussion about social media etiquette and digital citizenship. Most children are using technology by the time they are three. Currently, 87 percent of our youth have encountered cyberbullying in some form. We have the power to stop the cycle by teaching our sons and daughters have the skills needed to navigate an increasingly digital world.
- Teach manners. It sounds like common sense, but we can’t expect them to suddenly possess these skills without being taught them first. Use read alouds to help illustrate the need for politeness and kindness.
- Empower children with self calming techniques. Teach children to count to ten, walk away, draw, or seek alone time when they feel upset.
- Be clear that you will not tolerate bullying or cruel behaviors. Have immediate consequences for negative behaviors and state exactly why they are going to time out or losing privileges.
- Provide concrete examples of what bullying looks and sounds like. This will help children understand what is acceptable and what crosses the line.
- Lead by example. Model appropriate behaviors, use kind words, avoid gossip, and label your own emotions.
- Never give up! Helping children understand bullying takes time- sometimes a lot of time. It can be overwhelming, but focus on the end result and you will get there.
Everyday our small ones are encountering new experiences, good and bad. These situations allow them to learn from the world around them. In fact, parents and caregivers are incredibly influential when it comes to helping small children develop the needed social skills to overcome bullying behaviors to thrive in the myriad types of settings they will experience as they age.
Taking proactive measures today will help our youngest family members understand their emotions, the power words have, and ways to be a good friend. These are all vital parts in stopping the bullying epidemic that is ravaging our children. With intentional choices and positive feedback, parents will be able to arm our sons and daughters with the skills necessary to be a good friend.
How do you educate small children about bullying?
Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary Smith is a free-lance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics.