During the first few weeks of a new school year, children may experience a wide range of emotions. While some may be eager to get back into their routines, engage in extracurricular activities, and see their friends, others may be a little nervous about starting at a new school altogether.
“While children are expected to adjust well in the first few months, maybe occasionally prompting teachers and parents to confront big feelings along the way, sometimes they can experience “shock” from adjusting to new routines and surroundings, which can cause unpleasant behavioural changes in them throughout the academic year”, explains Mari Payne, Senior Director Education and Deputy Managing Director at Sesame Workshop South Africa.
She notes that the process of expressing emotions in a productive manner is still under development in young children. Consequently, big feelings can be overwhelming for a little one and can cause him or her to act out or behave aggressively, which leads to bullying if not dealt with at the earliest opportunity.
“If you experienced bullying as a child, you most likely recall feeling alone, insecure, scared, and helpless. Research indicates that the bullying endured as a child might have been so horrific that its consequences may still be felt today as an adult. This lack of healing and closure is especially true if the bullying was never resolved or addressed when you were younger”, Payne adds.
As we enter the start of the new school year, Payne offers some tips for parents and caregivers to intervene if “aggressive behaviour” from children becomes bullying.
- Stop bullying before it starts: It is important to teach kids about bullying. It’s likely that a young child is misinterpreting social cues and is unaware that what they are doing could be harmful. Remind them that playing and learning from a position of kindness is crucial and that bullying others can have serious consequences.
- When bullying occurs, an adult must intervene immediately: Bullying could indicate that a child is experiencing deep emotions that require assessment and discussion in order to address their behaviour.
- Make speaking-up normal by teaching kids that reporting bullying to an adult and asking for help is the appropriate course of action in any situation. Let the child who is being bullied know it is not their fault.
Additionally, Payne offers guidance on how to utilise acceptable language to encourage positive behaviour and attitude in kids by following these suggestions.
- Know the difference between aggression and bullying: For example – consider carefully what labels you give kids that play aggressively. Labelling kids frequently results in missed opportunities to help them and build on their talents. Consider a child as “energetic” as opposed to “wild” when planning more structured physical activity programs.
- Instead of “bossy,” try thinking of him or her as “determined” or “a leader.” You might wish to approach them by saying, “I see you have an idea about how to get things done,” if they are acting in a way that could be described as “bossy” at this point in time. Could you briefly elaborate on your thoughts? What type of approach works the best right now to get people to take note of your ideas?
- Instead of “shy,” try thinking of them as “peaceful” or “thoughtful.” In a new social situation, you might say, “Oh, look, you can make some new friends. I’ll help you find a way to play together.”
Payne also adds that children’s difficult behaviours are often the consequence of frustration, which they can easily turn into aggression and, ultimately, bullying. It is normal for young children to experience frustration and teaching them new coping mechanisms for big emotions will be helpful. Takalani Sesame’s Season 14 offers children and their caregivers’ functional ways of helping them recognise and regulate their feelings. Throughout the season, you can explore how big feelings affect us all, especially children. For more tips on Big Feelings, watch Takalani Sesame season 14, which airs weekdays at 07.00am on SABC1. Episodes are broadcast in English on Mondays, in isiZulu on Tuesdays, in Sesotho on Wednesdays, in Ndebele on Thursdays and in Afrikaans on Fridays.