We’ve been bombarded with news about public schools filing their anti-bullying plans with the state, all while trying to get the plans implemented in classrooms to head off the behavioral crisis that has emotionally gripped the state. In the wake of the teenage suicide of Phoebe Prince, lawmakers, teachers and education professionals in Massachusetts have all been asking-what else can we do to prevent this from happening again? Rolling out curriculum within schools to help raise awareness of what bullying means and what students can do about it is a step in the right direction, but as parents, we are also asking-what can we do at home?

Some Key Points:

Bullying in early childhood (younger than age 5) is not a highly studied or fully understood topic. Some important initial studies show that children as young as 12 months can show aggressive behaviors towards other children in trying to obtain toys, food or the attention of caregivers. Drawing conclusions from species survival techniques (think survival of the fittest) these behaviors have been exhibited in humans as we evolved and became the dominate species that we are today. As our civilization changed from basic daily survival to our modern-day social and collaborative environment, aggressive or dominate behaviors are no longer rewarded and can be destructive in group settings-like schools.

The important point to remember about children at a young age displaying any of these typical behaviors is that it needs to be kept in perspective. Children at these young ages are just starting to learn their way around the world and how to navigate our social expectations in conjunction with their instinctive abilities. That’s different from what happens in elementary school or beyond when children should know what society deems as acceptable or not. A young child saying or doing something to another child that is wrong whether it is biting, pushing or saying something mean they don’t necessarily know that it is in fact, wrong or hurtful. It’s what we at Next Generation view as a teaching moment. Different forms of conflict and aggression happen in every classroom and are addressed by our curriculum and teachers in compliance with ECE regulations.

What does Next Generation do in our classrooms to address aggressive behaviors?

  • Starting in our Toddler program we use books and use circle time to begin discussions on how we use parts of our body, like mouth, hands and feet, in a positive way. The books include Teeth are not for biting? Hands are not for hitting? and Feet are not for kicking?. This series is a jumping-off point for circle time talk about how to better express our needs with friends, how to take turns and what feelings are (mad, sad, happy, scared etc.) to develop emotional intelligence.
  • Moving into the Preschool area is where our mascots continue to reinforce positive behaviors when making decisions. Tucker teaches Preschool 3 children to stop, tuck and think before they act to help develop self-control skills and foster smart decision making. Role-playing and further discussions on how to be a friend continue their emotional intelligence development.
  • Children in older programs are encouraged to verbalize their feelings and explain what happened when conflict arises between friends. From there, Teachers ask children probing, open-ended questions about what could have been done differently, or examine how a child could better advocate for themselves in a positive way and to always go to a trusted adult (teacher) for help.

What you can do at home?

Continue the curriculum that starts at Next Generation. The key to helping your child process a situation at school means doing it in a calm, open-ended way that is age appropriate for the child. Also, please keep in mind the follow things:

  • Children do not have fully-developed senses of time, so if they recount a situation they experienced at school, it could be from several days, weeks or even months prior. Part of their processing of an event may take a period of time or a triggered memory to bring it back for them to discuss.
  • Sometimes children also seek attention (even negative attention) and will elaborate on a small incident to peak a parent’s interest. Remaining calm and asking open-ended questions such as- What were you and the other child doing before this happened? Did you tell your teacher what happened? Has this happened before? If your child is unable to give details, simply explain that you will speak with the teacher to try to find out more and keep it at that. Finding out more from teachers is an important next step as there are always two sides to every story.
  • If your child has been exhibiting aggressive behaviors at school, one of the first questions that a teacher may need to know is if anything is going on at home? Changes in living arrangements or weekly schedules, late bedtimes, illness and problems with siblings can all contribute to a child’s frustration in a group setting. If you notice significant shifts in your child’s behavior, examine what has been going on at home and see if something as simple as an earlier bedtime, minimized TV, additional family time or reduced outside scheduled activities help change their overall well-being.

Suggested reading and resources for parents and their children:

  • Words Are Not for Hurting (Best Behavior Series) by Elizabeth Verdick. This series has lots of books and is for the toddler set.
  • Making Friends by Fred Rogers. This is for the preschool age and up. Fred Rogers books are used extensively in our preschool curriculum.
  • Talk and Work it Out by Cheri Meiners. Cheri has a series of 15 books about manners, behavior and feelings. For older preschool and up.
  • How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & How to Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. For parents.
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