Guest Rant from Gay Macdonald at UCLA – ON BULLYING

Shared with permission from Gay Macdonald at UCLA.  Gay is one of the great advocates in the Los Angeles area for play, for men in child care, and for early education.  She is a wonderful mentor – which has resulted in her staff presenting workshops at conferences – and even publishing a book on their Science Curriculum available through NAEYC!

I have received a question about how ECE might share information and resources about bullying after seeing the movie “Bullying.”  This is an important topic and the question deserves a thoughtful response.  What resources can we provide to our parents without suggesting that “bullying” is a concern for us in the same way that it may be a concern among older children?  Maybe a way to start is sharing more directly what we find is appropriate for young children and how we work with that at ECE.  I’m interested in hearing your thoughts  –  here  are some of my ideas.  This is a clarifying conversation that we can have amongst ourselves and with our families.

I don’t like the term “bullying” to be associated with early education, and especially not with ECE centers since I don’t believe that preschool children have the same other-centered focus and motivation as older children have  who adopt bullying behavior.  However, the beginnings of this behavior and the feelings underlying it are seen in young children and they can be addressed directly but without using this label that I find inappropriate when applied to very young children, even though their behavior at times may be thoughtless and the effect on other children might be painful.

At ECE we talk about our “3 rules” – take care of yourself, take care of others and take care of our school.  Part of “taking care of yourself” is learning how to notice, identify and deal with your own feelings.  Another part of “taking care of yourself” is learning how to stand up for yourself, to stand your ground, rather than adopt victim-like behavior that may invite others to take advantage of a perceived weakness.

Taking care of others includes noticing, identifying and dealing with their feelings.  We can talk about teasing and how hurting feelings is of as much concern as hurting bodies.   We begin to teach about empathy by asking children to look at another person’s face and say how they might be feeling, directing children to attend to the feelings of others and developing skill in understanding how you might determine what someone else is feeling.  This starts with the littlest babies who have not yet begun to talk and develops as the children grow and develop.  For example, we talk to babies about how they and others may be feeling.  We put up posters showing faces of children demonstrating various feeling states and very young children will go to the poster any point to a sad, mad, joyful or fearful face to let us know how they feel at that time.  We teach verbal children to ask others how they want to be treated, including asking, “Can I give you a hug?”  An important part of respecting someone’s feelings is understanding that well-intentioned behavior must still be welcomed by the other person.

Goals for preschool children include caring about and actively beginning to take care of self, others and the environment.  This includes learning about feelings, beginning to notice, name and deal with them.  We want to be positive rather than negative in what we teach.  For example, our Panda classroom teachers insightfully thought about helping four year old children to go from “don’t” to “do.”  How do you take care of your friends – “don’t hurt them, don’t tease them,” and so on, goes to “help them, let them play.”   Good pedagogy in this, just as in other subjects, involves learning what is and what isn’t.  Preschool teachers can model understanding and consideration rather than judgment and punishment.

We teach the  “ABC’s of Mindful Awareness Practices,” which are Attention, Balance and Compassion.   MAPs includes sending “friendly wishes” to ourselves, our friends, our families, our country and the whole world:  “May you be healthy, may you be safe, may you be at peace.”

We try to remember that all of this is a gentle introduction to things that take a lifetime to learn.


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