October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and is a great time for looking at what can be done to address this important issue. While many people focus on older children, it is believed that the younger the children are when bullying prevention is taught, the better. Teaching younger children about bullying prevention, as well as about the social/emotional skills is crucial to the development of “emotional intelligence,” which lays a foundation that promotes the capability for empathy, which can grow throughout their school years.
“Many children experience the beginnings of bullying behavior for the first time while in daycare, preschool, or kindergarten,” explains Karen Goldberg, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in working with parents and children, including adolescents. “The groundwork for how to deal with and prevent bullying behavior is laid early on. The sooner children are given tools for preventing bullying, the more effective they will be.”
Peter J. Goodman, an author, has been working with Goldberg toward creating tools to teach young children, typically between preschool to around the third grade. He has created a book, “We’re All Different But We’re All Kitty Cats” (dreamBIG Press, 2012), that aims to help to teach children about accepting differences, bullying awareness and prevention and empathy. The book has been read at preschools and elementary schools, as well as used by students for book reports around the nation.
Here are some tips from Goodman and Goldberg for teaching children about bullying:
· In order for children to grow, thrive and learn, they must be provided with safe and secure environments in their homes, schools, on the playground, in aftercare programs and at extra-curricular activities.
· Peter Goodman’s book offers plentiful examples of applied wisdom for children and adults, such as parents and teachers, to identify with and use to create these trustworthy environments.
· In addition, adults must help children avoid falling into a “blaming the victim” mentality, which implies that the child is doing something to bring on the unwanted attention from the bully. The child should also not be made to feel as though they failed to effectively protect themselves from the bully.
· Through the book’s characters, children can come to understand in an experiential manner that the bully is responsible for the bullying behavior. The book offers examples of mother, peers, and teacher separating responsibility, self-protection and protecting others.
· From the experiences of the characters in the book, parents and teachers can talk to children about feelings that commonly occur in reaction to bullying, as well as about building positive ways the children can talk to themselves about the bullying experience, including their ability to learn through practicing new skills and opportunities to rehearse strategies that will help keep themselves and others safe.
· Actual strategies exemplified in the book include: telling adults, reframing the situation, staying in the company of other children, finding words to express feelings, showing empathy, pointing out strengths, asserting that the bullying behavior is unacceptable and providing opportunities to demonstrate capabilities.
· Teaching children to become upstanders, rather than remain bystanders when they see classmates being bullied, is an important aspect of bullying prevention. In the book, there are several instances where the kitty cats stand up for their classmate who is being bullied by another.
“The research shows that bullying can begin as early as three years old,” added Peter Goodman. “If it’s not addressed at that age, it will likely worsen in terms of intensity and effects as children grow up. The sooner we address the issue, the better off everyone will be, even the children who may do the bullying.”
The book has been written for children in pre-kindergarten through the third grade. Earlier intervention means better prevention. To learn more about the book series or to purchase the volume that addresses bullying, visit www.kittycatsbook.com or their YouTube channel www.youtube.com/kittycatsbook.
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