201 – Understanding peer relationships and bullying in early schooling: Using the PMSSW to explore children’s experiences

Presentation - ECV2022-201

Understanding peer relationships and bullying in early schooling: Using the PMSSW to explore children’s experiences

Elizabeth Murray, Charles Sturt University, Australia (emurray@csu.edu.au)
Linda Harrison, Macquarie University, Australia (linda.j.harrison@mq.edu.au)

Background: The first year of school is a significant period of transition in children’s lives, bringing new challenges and expectations for managing difficult feelings, and difficult peer relationships (Dockett & Perry, 2005; Einarsdóttir, 2003; Loizou, 2011). Researchers have shown that the role of resilience (Moore & Woodcock, 2017), the role of teacher care and support (Lam et al., 2015), and the role of the bystander (Twemlow et al., 2006), all play an important part in children’s response to and coping with bullying. Children themselves are the best source of evidence about their early school experiences, but how children’s diverse perceptions can be best assessed is less apparent.

Aims: To examine young children’s views and experiences of difficult social situations in early schooling and understand the different strategies they draw on to cope with or manage their feelings about bullying.

Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted across the first year of school with 101 Australian kindergarten children. The Pictorial Measure of School Stress and Wellbeing (PMSSW; Harrison et al., 2015) was used to tap three broad domains; personal challenges, interpersonal challenges, and institutional challenges. Thematic analyses were used to explore children’s responses to being a hypothetical victim, perpetrator, and bystander, in a bullying scenario.

Results: Children gave constructive/personal, school/rule reliance, and avoidance responses. Initial analyses indicate that children would tell the teacher how they were feeling at the beginning of the year because they wanted them to know their feelings, but at the end of the year, children shared their feelings with the teacher as they showed a stronger reliance on the teacher for help and support. Children’s strategies for coping with bullying over the kindergarten year moved from a reliance on the school rules or avoidant behaviour, to more constructive solutions, especially for bystanders and victims.

Conclusions: The PMSSW is a useful measure to capture children’s feelings and strategies for coping with bullying across the first year of school. Researchers (e.g., Law, 2018) have found that the prevalence of bullying increases as children age, so ascertaining children’s perspectives on bullying early on, will help researchers, teachers and parents work towards understanding and preventing bullying behaviours.

Implications for children and families: Understanding how children cope with negative school scenarios, especially in the early years of school, is important in helping improve their transition and adjustment to school and in providing them with support.

Implications for practitioners: For practitioners, understanding how children respond to and process negative social scenarios supports them to be resilient and empathetic. It is important for children to become more constructive in their responses to bullying scenarios, rather than having an over-reliance on the school rules or displaying avoidant behaviours.

Key words: children’s voices, peer relationships, starting school, bullyingThis presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

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