playground swings

Fight or Flight? Coping with playground bullying

Bruce Park Playground

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This looks like the perfect scene for some pretty amazing social interactions and a provocateur for imaginations to run wild. The only thing is that this can also be a scene for playground bullying and can cause young children, and their parents, distress.

The reason I bring it up is because a preschool student of mine has been bullied on family outings to the park, and it has been so distressing to the child’s mother that she no longer takes her daughter to the park. I can only imagine how I would feel if my child was the target of playground bullying. I would probably do something silly, like tell the bully off how dare they torment my baby!! But, drawing on my Early Childhood training, I actually encouraged the mother to get right back on that horse and take her daughter back to the park.

Of course, this was not the response she thought she’d hear. Of course I’m empathetic, I am a mum after all, but I am also advising on the best interests of the child because a child who learns to run from adversity or fear or a tough situation (when involved in a conflict with peers) is likely to repeat this cycle of victimization and not build resilience. Instead, by providing them with the tools to address such situations as they occur, children are more likely to develop a stronger sense of confidence, which will serve them well throughout their lives.

Tools for developing prosocial behavior and addressing conflict

  • OBSERVE how your child interacts with others when in social situations. Do they interact at all?
  • If they are reluctant to interact, perhaps they aren’t feeling confident enough to approach others, or they simply don’t know how to go about it. MODELLING IS KEY! You can model how to do this through the social interactions you have with adults. Your children WATCH and LISTEN to everything you do and say. You can also say, I can see you are interested in playing that game, why don’t we go over and say hello together so we can play too?
  • ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR FEELINGS: A lot of the time, children just want to be acknowledged. If you see your child get pushed, or their toy gets taken, comfort your child and say, I can see that has made you very upset, I am sorry that boy/girl did not know how to play/share with you and give lots of cuddles. I know it sounds ridiculous to apologize to your child on behalf of another person, but isn’t it more ridiculous to make another child apologize when they aren’t sorry? I find this helps the upset child move on because their feelings have been acknowledged.
  • PROVIDE THEM WITH THE LANGUAGE to deal with the problem next time. E.g. Maybe that boy/girl did not remember to use gentle hands/share. If they forget again, we could remind them. We could say, Please stop. I don’t like it when you push me or Wait! I haven’t finished my turn. You can have it when I’m finished. Unfortunately, we cannot control the outcome when dealing with other people’s children, but how amazing it is for your child’s confidence if they speak up for themselves and do not allow others to intimidate them into doing what they want? Very amazing, that’s what! Plus, they are working towards breaking the cycle of victimization another plus!
  • REMOVE IF PHYSICAL: Sometimes children have a lot going on in their lives.¬†We cannot assume that they are just being difficult or they are the result of bad parenting. In saying that, we do not have to put up with, or subject our children to, dangerous behavior. If the situation gets out of hand, remove your child, comfort them and explain that they cannot play at the moment because it is UNSAFE to do so. I always use the words SAFE and UNSAFE whilst at preschool. The children are very receptive to it and seem to appreciate and adult acting in the interest of safety.

I hope these pointers help out in future situations (hopefully there won’t be any), and please give your children the chance to develop resilience and a voice!

Kids Smiling

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