Why do children turn to bullying? You might think that there is going to be some profound answer here. However, the underlying cause of bullying is quite basic: Children who bully others do it because it’s often the simplest way to solve their social problems. It’s much easier to bully a fellow classmate than to manage their emotions, work things out, or use effective problem-solving skills.
So, how do we help children who have the tendency to bully? We teach them ways to increase their emotional intelligence (EQ) and support their social and emotional development. If a child can identify their feelings and recognize ways to manage them, we can teach them healthy strategies to use when disagreements break out on the schoolyard, in the classroom, or even at home.
Bullying has become a serious problem around the globe. Many experts have even started considering bullying as a public health issue. It’s been linked to health conditions like headaches, stomach aches, and even depression in both those bullied and those who display bullying behaviors.
To prevent bullying in early childhood, you must have a thorough understanding of the definition. Bullying is emotional or physical abuse that has three defining characteristics:
- Bullying is deliberate. A child who is bullying is intent on hurting the feelings of another child.
- Bullying is repeated. Bullies usually target the same victim multiple times.
- Bullying has an imbalance of power. Bullies choose victims whom they think are more vulnerable or weaker than themselves.
It’s critical to note that some young children might not even be aware that they are hurting someone’s feelings or bullying others. To truly identify if a behavior is bullying, it must meet the three defining characteristics. This means that if a one-time fight breaks on the playground between two friends who were fighting over a ball, you shouldn’t label the aggressor as a bully. However, if the same child uses this one incident as a launchpad to start deliberate and repeated behaviors toward someone they feel is emotionally or physically weaker than themselves — you might have a case of bullying on your hands.
What is Emotional Intelligence and Can it Help?
As parents and teachers, we teach our children many things. But we don’t often place enough emphasis on teaching young children how to recognize and communicate how they feel. We must remember that early childhood is the ideal setting for learning about rights and respect. We might not talk openly to children about their feelings because we worry that talking about things will be scary or too complex. However, we must realize that rapid brain growth in the early years of life have children noticing, adapting, and forming ideas based on emotional experiences.
EQ does not refer to your child’s brain power. It’s their ability to recognize how they’re feeling, understand where the feelings are coming from, and then how to deal with them. When we teach children how to use their emotional intelligence to deal with situations, we’re giving them essential skills that they can take with them throughout life.
How to Teach EQ to Prevent Bullying
Psychological theories and tips for helping children manage emotions are excellent tools for educators and parents. However, you must know how to put them into practice to get optimal benefits for your classroom or home. Here are a few strategies you can use to increase your child’s EQ and limit bullying behaviors.
Allow Them To Express Themselves
When we disapprove of a child’s emotions, we are teaching them that feeling a certain way is wrong or bad. Instead, we want children to learn and use the language of emotion. For example, let’s consider a classroom situation. You’re spending time with Isabella, and she becomes angry with William for breaking her favorite toy. You can see her starting to fume and ultimately turns to William and says, “You’re so stupid,” as she strikes him across the face. How should you respond?
First, take a few deep breaths and consider your words before you speak. You don’t want Isabella to learn that she should repress feelings of anger. When strong emotions are trapped inside, they tend to come out with even more severity. Instead, acknowledge her feelings and let her know that you understand how she is feeling, even if the way she expressed herself might not be the best. Sit down with Isabella and say something like, “I understand that you’re mad at William for breaking your favorite classroom toy, but it’s never okay to hit someone, even when you’re mad. Can you tell me in your words how you’re feeling?” This shows her that you’re accepting how she’s feeling so that she can recognize her emotions too. You’re also encouraging her to communicate openly.
Listen to Their Feelings
Anger, sadness, and other strong emotions don’t just go away. Encourage the young children in your life to talk about their feelings. Be sure that you’re fully engaged in the conversation. You might be surprised just how specific they can be about how they feel. If you’re working with a child who has difficulty expressing themselves or is too young to have a good grasp of verbal communication, consider using puppets to teach empathy, re-enact situations, or to remove the emotion from the child and place it onto the puppet. Listening to children talk about how they feel helps them to get feelings out so that they aren’t projected onto another person later.
Teach Problem Solving
Understanding and dealing with emotions as a child is difficult, but not impossible. Teach mindfulness as a way to decrease the charge of negative feelings. When you see a child struggling with strong emotions, have them take a few deep breaths, acknowledge how they’re feeling and then talk it out. At first, they might need you to intervene each time and remind them how to do this exercise. However, over time, you might notice they start using this strategy on their own.
Choosing to Empower
Being a parent or educator in today’s complex culture is challenging. Children are growing up faster than ever before and facing social situations that didn’t exist a mere 25 or 30 years ago. Supporting the children in your life to understand their feelings and teaching them strategies to increase their EQ is the first step to building a brighter future on playgrounds, in classrooms, and in homes across the country.