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Bullying in Kindergarten (page 2)

By — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Apr 30, 2014

Children Who Are Passive Victims

  • Our studies also indicate that about 6% of kindergarten children can be categorized as passive victims, children who are victimized by the bully and some other peers (the bully’s assistants) on a regular basis and who do not retaliate when attacked. Teachers often tell us that these young victims are very kind children. In our research, we find that these kindergarteners usually share belongings, help and console their peers, even if although they do it less often than children who are never involved in bullying or victimized. These passive victims also seem to have difficulties asserting themselves, saying “No, I don’t want this!” Furthermore, they play alone more often than other children and seem to have difficulties making friends, approaching other children, asking peers to play, etc. Not surprisingly, we also find that these children have fewer friends and are less liked by peers than bullies or children who are not involved in bullying at all. It would be of great help for these children to gain more self-confidence in social relationships. For example, they may benefit from in training in assertiveness with non-aggressive peers. Also, every experience of that enhance their self-competence would be helpful to these children in order to minimize their vulnerability in the peer group.

Children Who Are Aggressive Victims

  • There are also children who themselves behave highly aggressively in the peer group and who become victimized. We call them aggressive victims, and our studies indicate that this characterizes about (around 8% in our studies) of kindergarteners. These children are very impulsive and use physical aggression much more often than bullies do. They seem to lack self-control and to react all too quickly and aggressively to provocations or to what they perceive as such. And even if they defend themselves vehemently, they cannot stop the bullying. Their impulsiveness is also “used” and manipulated by the bullies, who know how to provoke their outbursts. These children also seem to lack skills that are helpful in finding friends, they actually have few friends and are not well liked by peers.

Children Who Are Assistants to Bullies

  • There are also children in the group who do not initiate bullying, but sometimes assist the bullies, and other children who sometimes are bullied, but not as regularly as the victims described above.

Children Who Are Witnesses to Bullying

  • Finally, about half of the children in a kindergarten group never bully peers and are never attacked by peers. Our studies show that these children often feel angry or sad when they witness bullying and sometimes try to help the victim. Importantly, results from our prevention studies show that these children can learn to help victims. This, however, has to be combined with clearly defined behavior rules in the class. Then, children can very well learn to tell bullies to stop to bullies (indicating that the behavior is “against the rules they have agreed upon”) and to get help from the teacher, when the bully does not stop.

What are the Consequences of Bullying at this Young Age?

  • Psychosomatic symptoms - Kindergarten children who are harassed by their peers have been reported by parents and teachers to be stressed, to show different psychosomatic symptoms (for example, headaches), to be afraid of going to kindergarten and to show depressive symptoms.
  • Peer rejection - In our studies, we find that bullying among younger children is very similar to bullying among school children; it is a problem that concerns the whole group of children in the class as well as the adults (teachers and parents). Kindergarten children like victims much less than non-involved peers and even bullies. Also, victims lack friends who could protect them. We know that peer rejection remains stable for years and has long-lasting negative consequences for children’s well-being and social adjustment (5) and also may lead to further victimization (6). Given such evidence, it is clear that children who lack friends, who are not well accepted in the group and who even are victimized need special attention and adult’s help to come out of such vicious circles.

Consequently, even if we see that many children in the peer group are upset about bullying, research findings are very consistent with observations from teachers, showing that victims and their peers cannot bring the situation to an end and that bullies do not stop by themselves. All findings indicate that the situation is highly reinforcing for bullies and that they themselves, like the victims, are confined in their role. This means that adults have to become directly involved and stop this harmful situation.

Our experience with the prevention of bullying in kindergarten shows that teachers need to do the following:

  • First, they need to learn to differentiate between bullying and more typical interpersonal conflicts between young children, and and to recognize early and the sometimes ambiguous signals of bullying and to do so early on.
  • Secondly, teachers need to understand that early interventions are necessary to stop bullying and that it is necessary to talk with the whole class and discuss acceptable and non-acceptable behavior. Clear and early communication about bullying helps children who are victimized (they feel supported and protected) and it helps bullies and their assistants who get a clear picture of what is allowed and not. It also contributes to a feeling of security in the whole group, as children perceive that they are not left alone in awkward situations.

Also, parents should be aware of their role as educators and models and communicate the same attitudes as teachers do.

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