Learning to Play Together: A Parents’ Guide to Bully Prevention in Preschool and Beyond

In addition to their ABCs and 123s, preschool children are learning and developing life skills that will shape who they grow into as adults.  One of these building blocks is learning to play well with others and accept each other¹s differences.  Learning this at such a young age is critical, especially since, according to some research, bullying has become more common among two to six year olds.

Preschool-age children will often engage in unfriendly interactions with other children.  It’s the nature of growing up and it’s important to be able to identify the difference between this type of exchange and bullying.

According to Sue Adair, Director of Education at The Goddard School, “Usually, in a bullying situation, the child doing the bullying is intentionally trying to hurt or upset the other child.  A minor social spat is a normal occurrence in childhood play – ­one child grabs a toy from another and the other child cries.  This behavior is not intentional and situations like this actually help children learn to forgive and share.”

“At The Goddard School, we use The Goddard Guide to Getting Along to help instill the importance of courtesy and respect in our Preschoolers through activities, songs and guided dramatic play,” states Adair. “Since children at this age are still learning how to play together, is it an important time to teach them about friendship, compassion, cooperation and kindness.  Along with these traits, we believe the best way to prevent bullying is to build children¹s confidence.  Confident children tend to avoid being bullied and also avoid becoming bullies themselves.”

Tips for Developing Healthy Confidence in Children

  • Set the example. Ron Shuali, Founder of Shua Life Skills and author of Building the 21st Century Child: An Instruction Manual, stresses, “Teachers, parents and childcare providers should be aware of their own behavior all of the time.  Adults serve as ‘models’ for children who respect them and may wish to emulate them.”  Your child will pick up on whatever feelings you convey about yourself ­ whether good or bad.  Try to always speak positively about yourself and your child will follow.
  • Praise and encourage. No matter what your little one does, whether it’s a scribbled mess or a perfect reproduction of the Mona Lisa, be sure to praise them for their effort.  Every bit of praise and encouragement you can give is another boost to their self-confidence.
  • Develop a skill. If your child expresses interest in a particular hobby, help them master it by signing them up for classes or lessons.  As they develop this skill on their own, they will become more enthusiastic about learning and trying new things and feel better about themselves overall.
  • Trust. As your child grows, try entrusting them with age-appropriate responsibilities around the house.  Allowing your child to take on their own responsibilities will help foster their independence and allow your child to feel more confident in making their own choices and decisions.
  • Listen. What your child has to say is just as important to them as what you have to say is to you.  Remember this when your little one is trying to express their thoughts, dreams and fears.  Listen attentively and offer your own advice or guidance should they need it.