Verbal Aggression Is A Pre-bullying Behavior: What Harm Does It Do and What Can We Do About It?

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1 Verbal Aggression Is A Pre-bullying Behavior: What Harm Does It Do and What Can We Do About It? Betsy Evans, M.Ed, Conflict Resolution Specialist, Author of You Can t Come to My Birthday Party! Conflict Resolution with Young Children and You re Not My Friend Anymore! Illustrated Answers to Questions About Young Children s Challenging Behaviors, HighScope Press 1. What We Know About Bullying In our kindergarten studies, combining teacher ratings and peer nominations, we find around 10% of kindergarteners are bullies. These children are very well aware of social norms and rules, but they have to learn to respect them. Francoise Alsaker, Bullying in Kindergarten, education.com, 2014 From Bullying: What You Need to Know 22% OF STUDENTS AGES WERE BULLIED AT SCHOOL DURING THE SCHOOL YEAR Data from the U.S. Department of Education (2015) - Kids Who Are Bullied Are More Likely to Develop: Depression Anxiety Panic disorder Low self-esteem Psychosomatic problems such as headaches, stomach aches, sleep problems, and poor appetite School avoidance and lower school achievement Later problems with alcohol and other drugs Buhs et al. (2010); Copeland et al. (2013); Fairs & Felmlee (2011); Gini & Pozzoli (2013); Institute of Medicine and National Research Council (2014); Ttofi et al. (2011a); Lereya, Copeland, Costello, & Wolke (2015) Kids Who Bully Others Are More Likely To: Become involved in later antisocial behavior Sexually harass others Espelage et al. (2012); Sourander et al. (2007); Ttofi et al. (2011b) 2. A Pattern of Bullying Can Start Out As Normal Young Child Behavior.toddlers average one act of physical aggression for every four social interactions Aggression actually peaks at about thirty months of age and declines thereafter. (James Garbarino, Ph.D, See Jane Hit) As child development researcher Beverly Fagot and her colleagues report, by two years of age children are becoming aware of the key gender stereotypes that males and females are

2 expected to behave differently. With that recognition, overt aggression drops off more sharply for girls than for boys. (Garbarino ) Early childhood behaviors may set developmental trends in motion, but it is later experiences that either redirect and weaken or reinforce and strengthen these patterns. Conflicts provide teachable moments with respect to aggression and where adults stand on the issue of hitting. (Garbarino) Girls by nature are different. They are usually not the ones to throw a punch when they are mad. Girls for the most part have a different form of violence. Because girls are said to be more emotional and more likely to express their feelings through words, they usually lash out with words when they are mad. According to Garbarino, though this is traditional, more and more often girls behaviors are physically aggressive, due to the encouragement girls receive to be more assertive and to speak up, as well as an increase in the number of real models of this behavior, and more female role models of physical aggression in TV and movies. (Garbarino) As physical aggression declines, face-to-face verbal aggression increases, followed by social and relational aggression around 4-5 years of age. ( Aggression, in Encyclopedia of Early Childhood, Reitman and Villa, 2004). Verbal aggression, such as you re not my friend and other exclusion statements, are often downplayed by adults and not perceived as a real problem. (Reitman & Villa, 2004). Regarding indirect aggression, it should be recognized that social and relational aggression are seriously harmful behaviors perpetrated by both boys and girls. Intervention could start in preschool and preferably involve parents and teachers. The goals would be to teach how to deal with relational aggression, as well as strategies for relationship building and problem solving (Tremblay, PhD, 2012) Types of Verbal Aggression Direct verbal aggression is obvious verbal insult, such as name-calling or statements like we don t like you, get out you smell, ha, ha, you don t get any, you re in big trouble you re going to be arrested! Relational verbal aggression excludes a person and/or manipulates a relationship for power and control, such as saying hurtful things behind a child s back ( let s not play with him he s stupid ), or directly to someone: I won t be your friend if you don t. You can t come to my birthday party! You re never going to come to my house if you won t be the baby.

3 3. Examples of verbal and relational aggression in preschool and pre-k We re all friends here give me the swing! Recently overheard: a young 3 year old went up to a child on a swing and said, Get off! I want that. The child on the swing said, no! The little girl said, we re all friends here, we share! Turning to wave her small hand at the whole playground she said, see, we re all friends - we share everything. Give me the swing. To this little girl, the word friend meant she had leverage of some kind the power to make a demand. She likely was repeating words from an adult who had said, We re all friends here so share the blocks. Telling a child to share is not actually true sharing- true sharing requires a desire to share. Anything else is an adult directive, a form of bullying. (Betsy Evans, You Can t Come to My Birthday Party! Conflict Resolution with Young Children, 2016) Mike Wants to Play Mike would very much like to play with Sarah, Andrew, and Simon. He sometimes asks but usually gets the same answer: they don t want him. They habitually ignore him or tell him that he is good for nothing. However, sometimes they ask him to join. That s when they want to play family and need a dog. Dogs do not speak and they have to do everything they are told. After 5 minutes, Mike usually gets very sad and runs away. (Alsaker, 2014) I don t want to be the baby! DVD clip from I Want All the Turns! Supporting Young Children in Solving Problems, HighScope Press, Recommended Strategies for Responding to Aggressive Actions and Words *An emotionally-healthy environment, where thoughts and feelings are fully supported, promotes the social-emotional balance that makes cognitive learning possible Intervene immediately during aggressive verbal and nonverbal exchanges between children. Describe the emotions that you see, building self-awareness of emotion and the ability to see the feelings of others. Set limits clearly and name feelings: Hitting needs to stop. You look so angry. Model alternative strategies immediately so that children learn and experience success with problem-solving strategies: talk about the problem and agree on a solution

4 Model kindness and patience every day and provide proactive experiences (with puppets, stories, and discussion) that reinforce the real conflict strategies that they are experiencing. The 6 HighScope Problem-solving Steps Approach calmly, stopping any hurtful action. Acknowledge children s feelings: you re so mad, and set limits, Hitting needs to stop. Gather information: what s the problem? Restate the problem: So the problem is Ask for ideas for solutions and choose one together: What can we do to solve this problem? (Avoid use your words ) Be prepared to give follow-up support: You thought of solutions and solved the problem! The pre-bullying behavior is a red flag that the child needs limit-setting, followed immediately by problem-solving help, not punishment. If parents and educators don t respond, the issues associated with the perpetrators and victims may escalate during the elementary and high school years: Verbal aggression may be an ignored and under-reported problem. Perpetrators don t volunteer information, victims don t usually report the verbal aggression, and adults generally don t perceive it as a problem. Other students may refuse to speak out for fear of becoming targets themselves. The shame associated with being victimized is so strong that many children will refuse to admit it, even to their parents and siblings. Because such a large number of children will experience bullying and verbal aggression, and because these problems are often not reported, teachers and parents need to take an active role in prevention and intervention when it occurs. ( Verbal Aggression: Coping Strategies for Young Children, By David Reitman, PhD, & Manuela Villa, 2004, Nova Southeastern University) The emotional brain [ is] an integral part of the circuitry that activates and directs messages to the cortex, and the crux of the attention system. It can either facilitate learning or, quite literally, shut down the thinking systems (Jane Healy, 1994)

5 From You re Not My Friend Anymore! Illustrated Answers to Questions About Young Children s Challenging Behaviors HighScope Press, Betsy Evans, 2009

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