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Time With Your Kids
The Power of Words: Preventing Bullying

Bullying remains a significant social and emotional issue for children and youth throughout their school years. However, bullying is often perceived as an issue that affects only older children, because during preschool years it is difficult to tell the difference between normal misbehavior and emergent bullying behavior. For this reason, it’s important for parents to help young children develop skills that enable them to form healthy relationships and learn to reduce aggressive behaviors such as bullying.

Is It Misbehavior or Bullying?
Between ages 3 and 6, children are still learning to play with their peers, make friends, share toys, negotiate, and solve disagreements. Since these skills are not fully developed or mastered, children may easily get frustrated and act out with their peers or with adults during difficult situations.

When preschool-aged children get frustrated, they often react by saying or doing things that might hurt others. Children may yell, call others names, push other children, or simply exclude others from their inner circle of friends. To some degree, these actions may be normal; however, parents and caregivers need to distinguish between emerging bullying behaviors and behaviors that are the result of other developmental factors. A child may act out as the result of poor communication skills, fear, fatigue, hunger, time of day, or peer influence.  

When children use negative comments to describe their peers on a daily basis, ignore children on purpose, or deliberately plan something mean to hurt another child, it may indicate emerging bullying behaviors that need to be redirected and stopped immediately. Often times, if parents help their children understand that negative actions and words hurt others, they will stop. The key is to establish positive patterns of behavior, attitudes, and relationships from the beginning.

Nutrition Life Skills for Young Children   
Use words: For a child, learning how to communicate his or her thoughts, wishes, feelings, and needs is key. Children who can express themselves correctly can then practice positive social skills, such as taking turns, listening, and judging the effects of their words on people.

The abilities to understand the meaning of words and then to express himself or herself with words affect every aspect of a young child’s life. As children continue to understand their world through language, they learn how to control their behavior. To help children practice using their words to express their thoughts and feelings, use role-play or pretend situations that show a problem. Ask children “What if… ” discussions where a child can try different solutions to a given problem. Talk about alternative solutions to the problem and the likely consequences for those choices. Ask alternative questions, such as “What could you have done instead?” or “How could you make a better choice with words?”

Assertive Skills: An assertive child is confident, self-assured, and positive in his or her interactions with others. Assertive children know how to stand up for themselves without resorting to physical aggression. Children can practice being assertive by expressing their thoughts clearly. Assertiveness protects children from being bullied and is a skill that will last a lifetime.

Social Skills: Teach children the value of making friends, having manners, expressing empathy, and compromising. Show children how to resolve problems firmly and fairly. These skills can be learned through imaginative play while sharing the playground and playing board games. Children with these skills benefit from social acceptance, friendship, and positive social play experiences.

Self-Control: Self-control is a learned process, and young children need certain abilities before they can control their own behavior. Parents can track the following abilities to assess the readiness of preschoolers to learn and master self-control:

  • The ability to pay attention and listen;
  • An understanding of the words you use to explain what you expect from others;
  • An understanding of cause and effect;
  • An understanding of how their choices have outcomes; and
  • The ability to use words to express needs, wants, feelings, and confusion.

Teaching your children how to control their emotions may prevent outbursts and tantrums, including acting out against other children. Encourage children to work through disagreements by validating everyone’s feelings, restating the problem, and asking for possible solutions. Learning how to resolve conflicts early allows children to have positive and supportive friendships. 

Young children who master these skills increase their resilience to bullying and are more likely to have a fun, positive, rewarding, and safe school experience. Remember that all children are entitled to courteous and respectful treatment by students and staff at school. Educators have a duty to ensure that all students have a safe learning environment.

Family Activity: Preventing Bullying: Using Your Words

Educator Activity: Creating a Safe Antibullying Environment in the Classroom

Quiz for Parents: Understanding Bullying During Preschool Years

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is a website with resources, tools, and videos to educate parents, children, and community members to prevent and address bullying.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Preschoolers (3–5 years of age) provides information for parents on the different developmental milestones of children ages 3–5.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
SAMHSA provides a variety of materials on preventing bullying:

  • The SAMHSA Blog, October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, provides information about bullying and its impact, as well as strategies on how everyone can and should take action against bullying;
  • Me, You, and Wally Bear: A Building Blocks for a Healthy Future Mobile Application guides adults in building positive relationships and open lines of communication with their young children (can be downloaded for free from the SAMHSA website and Apple iTunes Store soon); and
The following online resources provide excellent tips, information, and resources for parents and caregivers:

Education Development Center , Inc.
Eyes on Bullying Toolkit: What Can You Do? provides parents and caregivers of preschool and school-age children specific insights, strategies, activities, and resources to prevent bullying in children’s lives. 

Sesame Street Workshop
Sesame Street Bullying Prevention provides videos and tips for parents to understand the signs of bullying and the role of adults when dealing with bullying. 

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Updated on 3/22/2014