Why I Do Not Use The Word “Bully” and Will Never Teach an “Anti-Bullying” Unit

As teachers we are expected to focus on the positive. Begin parent teacher conferences on a positive note. State class rules in positive sentences: say Walk instead of Don’t Run, say Keep Your Hands to Yourself instead of Don’t Hit. 
If we focus on the positive, the kids will focus on the positive. If we teach them the right way to do things, they won’t learn the wrong thing to do.  

So why are we told to teach “No Bullying” instead of Be Kind to Others and Stand Up For Your Friends?

In my classroom, I choose to focus on kindness, feelings and language development. At this age I hope to prevent bullying–instead of creating it–by building character, strengthening self esteem and teaching appropriate ways to handle disagreements. 

I recognize that bullying is a real problem, and it’s a very serious problem. However, this is a site dedicated to 4, 5, and 6 year olds. Children who are still learning how to make friends, how to be a friend, and how to handle anger. What can seem like “bullying” is often a small child who is frustrated or upset and doesn’t know the appropriate way to communicate those feelings. 

The annual Anti-Bullying Week that over took our school every spring filled me with horrible dread because every year it created more problems than solutions. 

When I taught the Anti-Bullying curriculum the first thing I had to do was teach my class what the word “bully” meant. It broke my heart because it stabbed away at their innocence. Instead of teaching them how to be kind and be a good friend, I had to teach them about mean children and what name we called them.

Once they learned that term, for the rest of the year if they had a argument, if they didn’t get their way or got their feelings hurt they called each other bullies.  
And so did their parents. 

When adults are calling 5 year olds bullies, it’s time to re-evaluate what’s going on the schools and the media. I have had parents call a child they’ve never met a bully because that child got in a disagreement with their child over what game they wanted to play at recess. I’ve had parents report a kindergartner to the principal for being a bully because they took a book away from another child without asking. What child hasn’t done that? Now bad manners makes children bullies? How is that fair to the kindergartner who doesn’t have the language skills to ask for the book? Or the second language learner who doesn’t have the vocabulary to express his frustration?

Labeling a 5 or 6 year old, who do not always understand their emotions and are still learning the right ways to express themselves, with such a derogatory, inflammatory name is not only unfair, but a type of bullying itself. 

Kids need to be given the language and vocabulary to express how and what they feel. Simply saying “Think about what you’ve done,” “Say you’re sorry” or “You know better” does nothing without the child having a clear understanding of what they’re feeling and why. It is our job as teachers and parents to teach help them understand what they feel, teach them the words to express those feelings–especially to their friends–and validate those feelings. 

Those are the lessons I teach my students. Not, ‘this is a bully and this is what a bully does,’ because all that does is give them permission to call another child a name. 

So, a few years ago I stopped participating in Anti-Bullying Week. Instead, I did a week on friendship, acceptance, diversity and understanding. And as always, we read books and did mini-lessons on feelings and appropriate ways to express those feelings. I taught the kids to accept one another, respect others and stand up for each other. And I never once used the term “bully.” They learned much more from a unit focused on positive behaviors than one that taught negative language.

All of this being said, I have had to deal with a couple of kindergartners and 1st graders who did “bully” other children. I have had classes who already knew the word “bully” and I have had kids in my class bullied by older children in the hallways or bathrooms. These were fortunately rare situations which were dealt with as they came up.

While I don’t condone involving small children in “Anti-Bullying weeks” or teaching No Bullying units, I do believe we need to teach them to stand up for themselves and for their friends. We need to teach them to accept differences and to deal with their emotions without hurting others. Using open discussions, role-playing, reading and writing activities and giving children the right words to say to express their anger or frustration all help with these lessons. 

Kids will deal with bullies their whole lives. They will learn and use that term, they will get teased, they will see their friends get teased. But we have to consider the age and emotional maturity of these kids. Why introduce them to something negative before they experience it? Why not give them the tools and confidence to deal with situations in a positive, productive manner before they need it, and without the name calling. 


Our role-playing, discussions and mini-lessons on feelings, manners and expressing ourselves appropriately came from a school adopted program called R-Time. Used school-wide it was a great at promoting healthy, positive relationships and it gave them the vocabulary to talk out problems and feelings–which is exactly what the little ones need! Check out their site (and sample activities): http://www.rtime.info/usa/

Books to Help Teach Friendship, Acceptance, Getting Along, 
Diversity and Communicating Feelings:

The Crayon Box That Talked by Shane Derolf and Michael Letzig (diversity)
Pig in a Wig by Alan McDonald (teasing and acceptance)
The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill
Enemy Pie by Derek Munson (read aloud on storylineonline.com) (making new friends)
Let’s Be Enemies by Janice May Udry (arguing with friends)
The Berenstain Bears Get in A Fight by Stan and Jan Berenstain (arguing with loved ones)
Ruby the Copycat by Margaret Ruthann
Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfizer (sharing)
The Rag Coat by Lauren A. Mills (teasing)
The Way I Act by Steve Metzger (positive behaviors such as compassion and responsibility)
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox (acceptance and diversity)
Words Are Not For Hurting by Elizabeth Verdick
The Meanest Thing to Say by Bill Cosby (standing up for yourself)
It’s Hard to be Five: Learning How to Work My Control Panel by Jamie Lee Curtis

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