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Children’s Bullying Behaviour Impacts Teacher And Parent Wellbeing


parents are not coping with their young children’s
challenging behaviour, and even experienced teachers are
struggling, according to Dr
Cara Swit
from the University of Canterbury’s (UC) School
of Health Sciences

Dr Swit was to be the keynote
speaker at the New Zealand
Bullying Prevention Conference
at UC this month; the
conference was cancelled due to Covid-19 level 2
restrictions. She intended to share her research on
teachers’ and parents’ perceptions of bullying behaviour
and ask whether young children’s behaviour is
‘aggressive’ or ‘bullying’, which she defines as
repetitive behaviour with a power imbalance and the
intention to harm.

Surprisingly, given the awareness
of bullying in schools, Dr Swit is one of the few
researchers in Aotearoa New Zealand focusing on young
children’s bullying behaviour and effective early
intervention strategies. She is also the only New Zealand
representative on an international consortium of 15
countries on parental burnout.

She has been spending
time with parents and teachers as part of the pilot for a
new three-year longitudinal study to gather evidence on how
young children’s behaviour impacts on the health and
wellbeing of parents and teachers. The study was sparked by
some worrying trends Dr Swit observed in

“Anecdotally what we hear is that young
children’s challenging behaviours are causing stress and
burnout to teachers and parents, but we are just starting
the research that may link children’s challenging
behaviour to teacher and parent health and wellbeing,” she

“It seems that parents are really stressed.
They’re saying, ‘the strategies that worked before
don’t work anymore and I’m at a loss – what do I
do?’ I work in the early intervention space and most of
the educators I work with are very experienced and they are
just not coping. They are at a loss.”

While parents
need to model pro-social behaviour for their children,
parents also need to practice greater self-compassion, Dr
Swit says.

“Let’s be realistic, we are trying to
juggle a lot; full- or part-time work, parenting,
extra-curricular activities, social events, day-to-day
chores, while being the best parents we can be. We need to
have conversations about the challenges that come with these

“What is really interesting and sad is
how many parents are going to sleep at night feeling guilty;
feeling like they could have done more that day as a parent.
I have the pleasure of watching them interacting with their
kids and they are great parents.”

Part of the
problem, she says, is that parents compare themselves and
their children to others, a tendency that doesn’t lessen
as children get older – and may even get

“Parents tend to put on a brave face. But if
you sit down and speak to them, they are very open about
their feelings. We need to start talking about the
challenges of parenting, normalising it and recognising that
parenting is hard.”

The good news, however, is that
when parents use the interventions recommended by Dr Swit,
they see positive change. “They have a sense of efficacy,
they think, ‘I can do this’.”

What can parents
do about bullying towards their child, or by their child? Dr
Swit recommends resources she has created for the Education
Hub such as What
is bullying?

“Parents need to be clear on what
bullying is, what the signs are, and take the time to dispel
any myths they have learnt about bullying,” she says.
“Bullying can be physical, verbal, social or

“Parents need to take action in an
appropriate way by talking with their child, reporting
bullying behaviour if necessary and following up to ensure
that interventions have been effective.

“Bullying is
a serious problem, and potentially very harmful. All
children deserve to feel safe and protected in their
learning environments and communities.”


childhood educators’ and parents’ perceptions of
bullying in preschool
by Dr Cara Swit, in the New
Zealand Journal of Psychology.

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