Saturday, March 30, 2013
Bullying at 4? Yes it can start this early!
So I need to address a hot topic at the Pre-k level. We all know what bullying looks like in Upper Elementary, Middle and High School but did you ever stop to consider it can begin much sooner? I am fully convinced that the roots and beginnings of bullying starts much sooner than Elementary School. Up until 4 years old children are mimicing appropriate and inappropriate behaviors borrowed from those they see the most; parents, grandparents, other family and family freinds. The child sees a behavior and believes it is appropriate and copies it to gain approval. Kinda like the first time you hear your three year old repeat the curse word you just said because you cut your finger cooking dinner right? Now add the fierce need for independence that comes with becoming a Pre-K aged child. Not only is the child going to be copying behaviors at home but now adding their own personality into their behavior. Anything can contribute to the bullying mentality in a young child, we already mentioned close family but now we need to consider the peers in the Pre-K class, the attitude of the teacher, other parents, exposure to older children and most importantly television. Believe me you may be watching a TV show and think your child is playing in the next room not listening, but they are! The bullying behaviors we see in Pre-K are often shrugged off as innocence and curiosity, which may be so for a first incident or a child who truly has no harmful intentions but it is a fine line between what is meant in jest and what is meant to hurt. For example the child who calls another a baby, not just once but daily, even a few times daily, this is verbal bullying. A child who repeatedly seeks out a weaker child to hit or pinch repeatedly, this is physical bullying. The child who refuses to play with a certain child who wants to play with them, this is emotional bullying. Girls are especially good at emotional bullying playing the "I'm not your freind anymore or I don't want to play with you today" mind games. Boys can be especially sneaky with physical bullying by using physical means to bully when the teacher isn't looking. While some of our 4 year olds are still very innocent there are some very manipulative young children in the world who have caught onto how things work socially much faster than others. I find that those with older siblings have a better sense of social awareness than those who are first or only children. So what is my point in tearing apart the four year old mindset, simple, we as teachers and parents need to be looking for the signs of bullying behavior much sooner than elementary school when children are impressonable enough to correct the behavor. I believe the intervention needs to be swift and have consequences. Parents should be informed as soon as a pattern is noticed and vice versa. The teachers and parents need to work together to model proper behavior for the child who is struggling to know what is socially acceptable and what is not. Communication between the parent and teacher is vital, even if it is a simple email to say so and so had a great day or a phone call to discuss a situation that has occurred. Together the bullying mentality can be corrected and the socially appropriate behaviors can become automatic. Positive reinforcement will also help correct these behaviors. As teachers we also need to keep meticulous notes when we see a child expressing any type of bullying behavior. Administration will need documentation should a serious situation arise. As parents we need to talk to our children about acceptance, how we are all different and that is wonderful and make sure that situations the child is exposed to are showing appropriate social behavior. Recently as a parent of a 10 year old and a five year old I had to ban a neighborhood freind from coming over for playdates. This little boy is seven and everytime he would come over he would make it a point to be mean and call names at my 5 year old, trying to gain acceptance from my ten year old. It was a hard decision but when this child started talking back to me and calling my five year old curse words that I will not repeat I had to make a decision for my children not to be bullied and not be exposed to that type of behavior to follow. We want to raise strong, happy children who are leaders and not followers. We want to believe that our children will always be nice to everyone and would never bully. We need to understand that without proper modeling and an environment that does not tolerate bullying behavior that we can end up with a child who is in the office for bullying often during upper elementary, middle and hgh school. Training children in socially appropriate behavior early is key! Till next time, Christine