One in five children aged between three and five years old engage in bullying, according to UOW academic Dr Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett.
Childhood development expert Dr Neilsen-Hewett, Convener of University of Wollongong’s Bachelor of Education – The Early Years, said research shows children as young as three are engaging in bullying behaviours, deliberate acts of aggression directed toward their peers.
Dr Neilsen-Hewett gave a special talk for early childhood education and care centre staff on the causes of bullying and the emergence of bullying behaviours in the early years.
Dr Neilsen-Hewett said early childhood educators could be extremely influential in helping to reshape bullying behaviours in children through identification and early intervention.
“Given bullying behaviors are primarily learned, early childhood educators have an important responsibility in stopping the trajectory of bullying before it escalates,” she said.
Dr Neilsen-Hewett highlighted the need for researchers and educators to develop a better understanding of the emergence of bullying among young children, and the significant risks of bullying to children’s socio-emotional wellbeing and mental health.
“When it comes to aggressive behaviour we know there is a strong continuity in aggression amongst the most aggressive children – that is children who are highly aggressive at age four are much more likely to be aggressive and engage in delinquent behaviour at 16.”
While there is now a requirement for all schools to have a comprehensive bullying policy, which outlines what it is and how the school will respond to such acts, no such policy exists for preschools.
“Unfortunately the same level of commitment has not extended to the prior to school educational context,” Dr Neilsen-Hewett said
Her recent research conducted with early childhood teachers has shown that teachers who have a university qualification have a better understanding of bullying compared to those who hold diplomas or certificates.
“What was most significant was the fact that experience did not make any difference – it is education not experience that best equips early childhood teachers to identify and manage incidences of bullying,” she said.
(Source: University of Wollongong)