Bullying of younger children

We are receiving more and more calls from parents and carers concerned about bullying of children at a younger age. Many of the behaviours previously experienced at secondary school are now being seen in primary school. The reasons for this are many but could be influenced by the earlier onset of puberty and use of social media at a younger age.

Bullying in early years

With very young children in Key Stage 1 or early years, it is unlikely that they are intending to bully in quite the same way as older children.

Younger children can be very hands on, and will take time to read social situations and always behave appropriately with others. Some children may also have underlying developmental and/or health needs that mean they can be physically aggressive with other children (e.g. pushing, pinching, kicking and biting).

While it is very difficult if your child has been on the receiving end of this or if you are told that your child is hurting others, it’s important to stay calm and ask the staff for help. While you may be angry or upset we don’t advise talking to the parents of the other child unless you are friends and it feels possible to talk it through calmly.

Practical ways you can help younger children

Role play

Role play saying (or communicating) ‘No, stop that’, or ‘No, I don’t like that’ in a clear voice.

Physical boundaries

Help them understand about physical boundaries and that it is okay not to want someone else to touch you. Also teach them to respect the physical boundaries of others (e.g. to always ask if someone wants a hug and to be gentle in their play).

Encourage them to talk to their teacher

Encourage them to always let you know if something or someone has upset them, or if they are in school, to find a quiet moment to talk to the teacher. If they don’t get the help they need from the first teacher, encourage them to find another adult in the school they trust.

Teach the best response

Let them know that children might say things that upset them or make them sad, but the best way to respond is to shrug it off and say something like ‘Okay, if that’s what you think.’ Children are looking for a reaction so the less you can give them one the more likely they are to stop. They can always talk the situation through with an adult later if it has upset them or made them scared.

Talk about friendships

Talk through what makes a good friend, and what to look for in a friend. Remind them that real friends won’t make you sad or force you to do something you don’t want to do. Suggest they have lots of friends rather than one best friend. This will help protect them from any friendship fall-outs. See our “Choose Respect” guide for some ideas and activities to explore developing respectful friendships.

Encourage them to be kind

Encourage them to be kind to other children, looking out for others who may be feeling left out and never joining in if other children are being unkind.

Embrace uniqueness

If your child is worried they stand out for being different in some way, remind them that we are all unique and that their difference is a strength. Let them know that no one has the right to put them down for who they are and that they do not need to change.

Model kind behaviour

Model calm and kind behaviour in your own home. Set boundaries between siblings and make sure you always discourse physical aggression and behaviour that hurts others.

The importance of saying sorry

Teach your child the importance of saying sorry. We all say or do things that upset other people but the younger we can learn to say sorry if we hurt someone, the better. It’s also important to help your child learn to forgive others who have hurt them (children are usually much quicker to forgive and forget than adults).

Age appropriate games and online safety

Make sure they are only playing games online or interacting with others through apps or networks that are appropriate for their age group. Make sure they understand the importance of privacy settings and not sharing private details, and that they only make friends with people they know. Encourage them to talk to you if they see anything online that upsets or scares them, and to be as kind to other people online, as they are face to face. See our online safety guide for ways you can explore this as a family.

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