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What are some strategies to reinforce messages of kindness, acceptance, and inclusion at a young age?

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Positive adult role modeling, mentoring, and age-appropriate approaches to kindness, acceptance, and inclusion can make a big impact on how children treat each other in the classroom, on the playground, at home, and in the community. Young children are just learning what it means to get along, how to share toys, discovering ways to work together, and understand how their feelings and behavior affect others. Practice role-playing activities, play games, create art, explore feelings, and establish a clear set of behavioral rules. These strategies reinforce positive relationships and behaviors, and is one of the keys to helping kids get along, which ultimately can help prevent bullying.

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Adults in the community have an important role to play in modeling and teaching kindness, acceptance, and inclusion. How people interact with each other in the classroom, at home, and in the community has an effect on children from an early age.

When working with young children, the best way to reinforce messages of kindness, acceptance, and inclusion is to talk about, reinforce, and focus on positive, supportive behavior and help them understand what negative, hurtful behavior is.

Preschool-age children may be mean, act aggressively, or whine when they are angry or when they do not get what they want, but this is age-appropriate and not considered bullying. As children reach kindergarten and elementary school, behaviors may involve bullying if there is an imbalance of power and the situation continues even with the help of an adult.

Strategies for promoting kindness, acceptance, and inclusion

  • Get children involved in friendship activities and practice role-playing to encourage cooperation such as sharing, taking turns, and including others.
  • Play games in which kids lose a turn and gain an extra turn to practice appropriately expressing excitement and disappointment.
  • Read stories about diversity. These could feature children or animals, who look different from one another, who have nontraditional roles, or who are from different cultures.
  • Use art, music, and dance to show how people who are different from one another engage and create together. Share art from the Mayan culture, play Calypso music and talk about African musical traditions, and show belly dancing from the Middle East or Flamenco dancing from Spain. Use these lessons to create your own art project, concert, or dance performance.
  • Help children reflect on their behavior and think about how a classmate might feel.
  • Encourage children to share how they feel and help them speak up if they have been hurt. Adults should listen kindly and openly, and encourage the childís peers to do the same.
  • If a child hurts another child, help them find the words to say “I am sorry” and “thatís ok, I forgive you.” If a child upsets another child, help them find the action that can improve the situation, such as rebuilding the blocks or putting the game piece back where it is meant to be.
  • If a child witnesses bullying behavior, encourage them to share how they feel about that and how they would choose to help the situation. This can be done privately with an adult or, with guidance, with other children or the class as a whole.
  • Use a clear set of rules to talk about behavior. Do not label any child as a bully or a target because these labels are harmful to their development. It is much easier for a child to change their behavior for the better than it is to shed a label given to him or her.

Incorporate useful strategies for helping children to understand their behavior and develop skills to get along better in any situation. By creating this healthy community, we promote healthy and emotionally connected kids!

Additional actions

Encourage children to take the “Be A Kid Against Bullying” pledge by speaking up, reaching out, and being a friend when they see another child needing support. Start the conversation with your students or your child by taking a look at PACERíS Kids Against Bullying website together. If you are an early education or child care provider looking for more information, visit stopbullying.gov.

Posted April, 2017

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