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Take Action Today: Preventing Bullying from the Very Beginning

Apr 2, 2015|By: Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, Senior Vice President, Content and Research, Sesame Workshop, and Erin Reiney, MPH, CHES, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and former StopBullying.gov Ed Board member
Posted In: Prevention

Big Bird changes himself to try to become a member of the “Good Birds Club” in a Sesame Street episode developed specifically to address bullying. © 2015 Sesame Workshop. “Sesame Street” and its logo are trademarks of Sesame Workshop. All rights reserved.

Sesame Street has always been a destination for children and parents to laugh, learn, and grow. Over the past 45 years, the show has focused on the whole child by addressing academic skills, social, emotional, health and societal issues. Many difficult topics have been addressed through the seasons, and Sesame Street has always been there to provide concrete information to children and the caregivers in their lives. This includes the topic of bullying behaviors in preschool-aged children.

Statistics have shown that many children will encounter bullying as they grow up - as one who bullies, one who is bullied, or as an observer. Bullying can look different, among different age groups. For children under the age of five, bullying can take the form of physical aggression (hitting, pushing, taking something), relational behaviors (exclusion) and verbal aggression (talk of hitting or pushing).

In the longstanding tradition of Sesame Street addressing sensitive topics, Sesame Workshop consulted with early childhood experts to develop an age-appropriate story to address the topic of bullying. Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit education organization behind Sesame Street. Sesame Workshop projects teach critical lessons that focus on literacy, numeracy, health and wellness, and respect and understanding that help all kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder.

In "The Good Birds Club," Big Bird is bullied by another bird in the neighborhood. He wants to join the club, but he is excluded based on his appearance -- his feet are too big, he is too tall and his feathers are too yellow.  Big Bird is experiencing relational bullying, as he is being excluded for his appearance.  He feels sad and confused and tries to change how he looks so he can fit in.  Elmo, Abby, and the rest of the Sesame Street gang help young viewers understand that Big Bird is being bullied, that it isn’t right, and that nobody should change who they are to try to fit in.  The episode encourages children to seek the help of an adult they trust when faced with challenging situations and provides safe strategies for empowering young children to help their peers in need.  In the end, Big Bird realizes that he likes himself just the way he is, so Abby, Elmo and Chris start their own club, the “Happy to Be Me Club,” which will be open to everyone.

Sesame Workshop assembled a panel of experts to create additional resource materials for parents, teachers, and early childhood caregivers.  The five-part video series, “Happy to Be Me: An Anti-Bullying Discussion,” addresses bullying and the steps parents, educators and children can take to prevent and stop the behavior in preschoolers. “Happy to Be Me” ensures that parents understand their role, as most ask, “What can I do to stop bullying?” and “How can I prevent it from happening in the first place?” 

We at Sesame Workshop strive to help parents and teachers address the issue of bullying from the very beginning.  Research shows that the first years of a child’s life are crucial for cognitive and emotional development. The quality of care that a child experiences, both in the home and classroom, has a direct impact on cognitive growth, problem-solving skills, and growing insight into the world around them.

Stopbullying.gov has developed a User Guide specifically for early childhood educators and care providers entitled Understanding the Roles of Early Child Care Providers in Community-Wide Bullying Prevention Efforts - PDF. Sesame Workshop also provides excellent resources through the “Happy to Be Me” series.

Advisors for “Happy to be Me” include: Catherine Bradshaw, PhD; Mia Doces; Trudy Ludwig; Jamie Ostrov, PhD; and Joseph Wright, MD, MPH.

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