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Managing children’s challenging behaviour in child care - bullying

Children’s wellbeing can be challenged if they experience bullying by another child or a group of children. It’s important for families and educators to work in partnership to prevent bullying and work together to manage it when it occurs.

Learning to be a group member

When children attend education and care, they become members of a new group with other children and adults.

They may take some time to settle in and require some help from adults:

  • modelling social skills to show them how to engage respectfully and inclusively
  • guiding them to understand that strong feelings are acceptable and there are ways to regulate those feelings.

For example, by using words to describe angry feelings such as “it makes me cross when you take my toys,” rather than using actions such as hitting or pushing when angry.

  • providing them with daily opportunities to be a helpful group member and be acknowledged for that behaviour.

For example, “I really liked the way you helped your little brother to find his hat before we went outside”.

Bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm. It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power, or perceived power, over one or more persons who feel unable to stop it from happening. Bullying of any form or for any reason can have immediate, medium and long-term effects on those involved, including bystanders. Single incidents and conflict or fights between equals, whether in person or online, are not defined as bullying, as mentioned on the Bullying No Way website.

Types of behaviours identified as bullying include:

  • Physical: hitting, pushing or punching, which tends to be more common in younger children.
  • Verbal: name calling, teasing, spreading negative rumours about a child, or using racist or sexist insults.
  • Social isolation: excluding individuals or groups of children from play or social situations.
  • Cyber: using technologies such as texting or e-mailing to taunt, insult, intimidate or harass another child.

Signs of bullying in children

  • Physical: bruises or scratches, or if a child starts bed wetting, having nightmares or shows a loss of appetite.
  • Social: if a child complains about not having friends, or is very reluctant to go to their education and care service.
  • Emotional: if a child is uncharacteristically unhappy, fearful, upset, anxious, or displaying mood swings at home.
  • Cognitive: if a child’s ability to concentrate at activities has changed or they seem to have regressed in their learning.

Strategies used by educators

Educators use a range of strategies to prevent bullying and manage it when it occurs, including:

  • adopting a policy of zero tolerance for bullying
  • modelling respectful ways of interacting with colleagues, children and families in order to show socially and culturally appropriate ways of getting along with others
  • ensuring children are supervised adequately at all times so that they can manage bullying if it occurs and step in to ensure everyone feels safe
  • teaching children strategies to challenge bullying-type behaviours before they become entrenched. For example, expressing their disapproval of verbal insults: “I don’t like it when you call me by that name”.

It is the educators’ responsibility to communicate openly and sensitively with the families of children who bully or are bullied, and to work in partnership with them to find appropriate solutions and strategies for supporting the children involved, both at home and at the service.

Strategies for families

Adults need to take action when they suspect or are aware that a child is being bullied, as children often don’t have the capacity or capability to solve the problem themselves. There are several strategies you can adopt to support your child if you believe they are being bullied:

  • Encourage your child to talk about what is happening. Affirm their feelings and make it clear that you believe them, and will help them to deal with the situation.
  • Continue to listen to or talk with your child. Support them to contribute to discussions on actions to take to challenge or stop the bullying behaviours.
  • Help your child to regain confidence and wellbeing by affirming positive behaviours and focusing on the things that they do well.

If your child has been identified as bullying others, some of the above strategies will be helpful. In addition, there are other strategies worth considering:

  • Monitor the amount of competition that occurs at home, as highly competitive environments can make it difficult for your child to learn how to work cooperatively with others.
  • Listen carefully to your child when you talk about the bullying cycle so that you can help them to find appropriate ways to respond in the future.
  • Help your child to understand the impact of their actions on the other child/ren by asking questions such as: “How do you think that child felt when you teased them every day?” or “How would you feel if no one would let you play in their team?”

A partnership between you and educators at your education and care service is important to support your child’s behaviour. Discuss your concerns with the educators at your education and care service and work with them to find ways to address the issue. Solutions may involve actions by families, educators and the child themselves.