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Editorial: Bullying should be addressed at very young age

Here's a new approach to the age-old problem of bullying: Start addressing it when children are young. Very young, like when they are 3 years old.

Typically, the focus has been on older children because their bullying is generally more severe but new research is finding that teaching children about bullies when they are very young can avoid big problems down the road.

"Many children experience the beginnings of bullying behavior for the first time while in daycare, preschool, or kindergarten," said Karen Goldberg, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in working with parents and children, including adolescents. "The groundwork for how to deal with and prevent bullying behavior is laid early on. The sooner children are given tools for preventing bullying, the more effective they will be."

Author Peter J. Goodman has been working with Goldberg toward creating tools to teach young children, typically between preschool to around 3rd grade. His book, We're All Different But We're All Kitty Cats, aims to help teach children about accepting differences, bullying awareness and prevention and empathy.

Here are some tips from Goodman and Goldberg for teaching children about bullying:

n In order for children to grow, thrive and learn, they must be provided with safe and secure environments in their homes, schools, on the playground, in aftercare programs and at extra-curricular activities.

n Adults must help children avoid falling into a "blaming the victim" mentality, which implies that the child is doing something to bring on the unwanted attention from the bully. The child should also not be made to feel as though they failed to effectively protect themselves from the bully.

n Parents and teachers should talk to children about feelings that commonly occur in reaction to bullying, as well as about building positive ways the children can talk to themselves about the bullying experience, including their ability to learn through practicing new skills and opportunities to rehearse strategies that will help keep themselves and others safe. Those strategies include telling adults, reframing the situation, staying in the company of other children, finding words to express feelings, showing empathy, pointing out strengths, asserting that the bullying behavior is unacceptable and providing opportunities to demonstrate capabilities.

n Teaching children to become "upstanders" rather than remain bystanders when they see classmates being bullied is an important aspect of bullying prevention. In the book, there are several instances where the kitty cats stand up for their classmate who is being bullied by another.