This November, the anti-bullying charity Kidscape is joining forces with Elmer the Patchwork Elephant to encourage early years settings to celebrate Friendship Friday and Anti-Bullying Week. We believe that you are never too young to start talking about friendship and inclusivity. Kat Fuller, the charity’s Parent Support Adviser explains what Friendship Friday is all about and shares some tips for creating a kind, caring community all year around.
Pushing, kicking, hurting their peers - these are all behaviours we may see in young children who do not have fully developed impulse control and empathy skills. They may also misunderstand another child’s words or behaviour. It is very unlikely that children of this age and understanding will intentionally wish to cause hurt, in the same way as older children may do. However this should not prevent us from responding appropriately and supporting children to develop caring, empathetic relationships.
But how can we do this?
Clearly communicated policies and values
Think about ways to promote values such as kindness, empathy, co-operation and respect in your setting, perhaps through visual displays or circle time activities.
Ensure any setting policies you may have (eg. behaviour, anti-bullying, inclusion) communicate your values and how they will be upheld. Consider how best to communicate these to children, parents/carers and staff members so that they are aware of how to raise any concerns. Kidscape’s “Top tips for schools” gives some ideas as to how to manage concerns around bullying and is relevant for early years as well.
Help children to understand about physical boundaries and that it is okay not to want someone else to touch them. 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). You could watch Kidscape’s Feeling Happy, Feeling Safe video on Touch to reinforce this message. Communicate a clear position on touch that promotes consent and supports individual boundaries.
Model language and practice through role play
As adults we can role model being calm, kind and respectful.
We can also help children through role play to use assertive language, for example, “no, stop that” or “take your hands off my body”. Practicing sharing these statements while standing or sitting will help children understand how they can be confident in telling someone else to stop what they are doing, in a calm but assertive manner.
Develop empathy skills
Learning to guess how others may be feeling is an important skill which will help the quality of future relationships. Children will need adult guidance to develop this. Use phrases such as “Look, that girl is crying. I wonder why?” and model empathy when you are speaking to those around you. Reading stories together is a great way to boost empathy skills. Whilst reading you can discuss what the children think the characters are feeling.
Coach through conflict
Children will need support to manage negotiation and compromise when interactions become difficult. To do this, help children practice expressing their own wants and needs assertively, without being hurtful to others, such as "It is my turn right now. Can I give this to you when I'm done?”
If a falling-out has happened, offer support to all involved and discuss the issues through play, stories and circle time activities. Help children to “put things right” with the other person, rather than just a trite “sorry”. For example, by taking practical action to help them (fetching a wet cloth to soothe a wound) or thinking carefully and making a promise to do things differently next time “I won’t push him again. I will ask him to move”.
Encourage asking for help
Explain to children that if they are upset, scared or worried there are grown-ups around who can be trusted to listen and to help them. Reinforce this message often.
Celebrate diversity, highlight sameness
Celebrate difference and diversity in your setting and role model inclusive language. Ensure that activities and resources reflect this. Examples include:
- Creating a display about different kinds of families (eg. single parents; foster families; step-families; those with two dads or two mums).
- Celebrating different festivals from around the world - including any special dress or food.
- Having dolls and small world play that represent different ethnicities and abilities.
- Read books that challenge gender stereotypes.
Remind children that we are all unique and have different things that we like and dislike. Practice phrases that they can use if someone is teasing them, for example, “I like being different” or “I get to choose my own likes”.
Alongside this talk about the things that make us the same and that we have in common with others, eg. “Jack is a boy and I am a girl. We both like playing with trains.”
Join in with Friendship Friday!
Friendship Friday is a perfect opportunity to discuss friendships and inclusivity in your setting. Activities for children include spreading love and happiness, making someone smile, laughing with (not at) others, helping one another, celebrating differences and making sure everyone is included.
Friendship Friday is celebrated on 8th November 2019, with Anti-Bullying Week, coordinated by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, celebrated from the 11th-15th November. The focus of Friendship Friday and Anti-Bullying Week this year is ‘Change Starts With Us’, encouraging everyone to see they have a role to play in creating a world that is friendlier and kinder.
The Elmer books are a wonderful way to introduce stories of friendship, kindness and respect with young children. Our school resource pack includes ideas and resources using Elmer to bring Friendship Friday and Anti-Bullying week to life. The pack shares practical ideas to help build communities of support that will pay long term dividends and make our world better for everyone.
About the author
Kat Fuller is the Parent Support Adviser for Kidscape, the anti-bullying charity that helps. Founded in 1985, Kidscape are the flagship provider of direct support to children and families impacted by bullying, giving hope to thousands of children each year. This is delivered through their Parent Advice Line and ZAP assertiveness workshops in schools and the community. They are also a leading provider of safeguarding, bullying awareness, peer mentoring and online safety training to early years settings, schools, sports clubs and organisations that have contact with children and families.