Bullying is often in the news, in our streets, in our schools. Is it in our early years settings too? Sadly, the answer is probably yes. This is where it begins, if we don’t teach the children the right personal social and emotional skills to stand up to bullying, and avoid becoming a bully.
Bullying has touched most peoples lives at some time. Having needed glasses since three years old I was inevitably four eyes at school. Add to that the fact I enjoy learning, and I was soon teachers pet as well. Funny, I didn’t notice the football and netball champs getting teased, but liking English lessons was seriously uncool.
I don’t blame the children. They didn’t know any better, and having done it through primary school it continued in High school. The teachers weren’t that concerned. I mean it wasn’t racist, or sexist, just cruel. One particularly helpful head of year suggested I practised a ‘hard’ face in the mirror.
I hoped it would be different for my sons. The school had a zero tolerance policy and everything!
My son came home after a few weeks and said, “Mum. Why’s it okay to tease someone for the colour of their hair, but not their skin?”
“It isn’t okay to tease anyone about anything if it upsets them.” I said. “If anyone says something you don’t like. Tell them. If they keep on doing it and deliberately try and hurt you, that’s bullying.”
He looked from under his auburn curls, with his big brown eyes and said, “well, a boy got excluded today for making a racist remark to someone, but the kids tease me for being ginger all the time, and the teachers aren’t bothered.”
It makes me sad. No one should have to feel ashamed of their hair or skin colour, or for wearing glasses. All bullying should be taken seriously. Full stop.
My son coped by laughing at himself. He came in one day and held his hands in the air. “look, what am I?”
“I’ve no idea, I said confused.”
“A baked bean on a fork,” he said, and laughed.
I laughed too, but I think we were both hurting inside.
Early years professionals are in a unique position, where they can stop bullying before it starts. We can notice children’s feelings and help them to label them. We can support children to understand how others feel and give praise when they want to help others.
In a school I volunteer in, I recently saw a rather disruptive young man, being buddied with a young man who struggled with writing. Both children benefited from the experience. One was pleased to be able to help the other with his writing and both received praise for working together well. Given the chance, the normally disruptive child was very empathic and patient with his peer. He positively shined with pride when he was praised for his help
If you have ever turned a blind eye to bullying, or been afraid to make it worse, act now. The children are looking to you for guidance. Look at the behaviour again and ask:
- Is it deliberate?
- Is it persistent?
- Is it an abuse of power?
If the answer is yes, then you might want to look at the following guidance for support.
If I could talk to my year head today, I’d tell her, “I don’t practice my hard face, I practice my smile. Because I’m one of the lucky ones. I had enough resilience to get through. Not all children are so lucky.”
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