Starting early

Ways parents and whānau can help before bullying happens.

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Bullying behaviour doesn't suddenly appear in children. It is a learned behaviour and it can be unlearned.

Children under the age of five are learning how to get along with each other, share and understand their feelings. These skills are learnt gradually in caring and supportive environments.

Young children will try out different ways of behaving to see what happens. For example, they may make mean faces, grab toys, push others away, refuse to play with someone, tell lies about others, or even make threats.  Although hurtful, it’s not done purpose to repeatedly hurt a less powerful child, so is not considered bullying.  However, if this type of behaviour is allowed to continue, it could turn into a pattern of bullying.

The good news is that it’s easier to stop in the early stages if they are redirected. Young children usually change their behaviour depending on the reaction of other children or adults around them. So now is a good time to help them try our better ways of behaving.

Provide real life practise

Ordinary everyday situations are great for real-life learning.  You don’t have to formally ‘teach’ social and emotional skills or use special toys or resources.

Be on the lookout for opportunities to talk to your child about feelings and encourage appropriate behaviour.

Learning social and emotional skills and how to behave needs lots of practise.  It’s a long process of guidance and support.

Be a positive role model

Parents, carers, whānau and early childhood educators are children's first teachers. They support children's development every day and model how to behave with other people.

Be a good example when you deal with other people, express your feelings, and resolve conflicts. Children are good observers and learn by watching you.  Act in the way that you want your child to behave. Children who do not see positive examples of joining in, sharing, solving problems and dealing with conflict may have difficulty getting on with other children.

Responding appropriately if you see aggressive behaviour

Aggressive behaviour is a normal part of a child’s development.  Your role is to respond in ways that help your child learn more appropriate ways to behave.

When you see aggressive behaviour:

  • Reassure the child who has been hurt.
  • Find out why it happened.
  • Show other more appropriate ways to act.
  • Teach children other ways to solve problems.
  • Comfort other children if necessary.

The goal is to teach your child that non-aggressive ways of sorting out problems are better for everyone.

Tips for teaching your child social and emotional skills

  • Be a positive role model of what you would like your child to do.
  • Talk about things other people do and how they might feel.
  • Build up positive behaviour by talking about taking turns, sharing, helping, and looking after others.
  • Practise listening, sharing, cooperating and taking turns.  Playing games that involve taking turns or passing a toy (such as a ball) help kids develop these important social skills – while having fun!
  • Praise your child when you notice them making an effort to get on with other children. Help boost their positive behaviour by telling them when you notice them being kind, sharing or looking after someone.
  • Point out stories of positive behaviour, as well as bad behaviour, from personal experience, current events, movies, books and technology.
  • Talk about how everyone is different and how that’s great, since our differences make us special.  Interactions with other children are best when they understand, appreciate and respect one another.

Books for younger children

For younger children, there are a number of books on bullying you can get from your local library that you can read together.

Check out:

  • Te Taniwha i te Kura by Tim Tipene
  • Taming the Taniwha by Tim Tipene
  • Back Off Bully by Mark Dobson
  • Marvin and the Mean Words by Suzy Kline
  • Words are Not for Hurting by Elizabeth Verdick
  • Oat the Goat — online story that helps children learn the power of kindness