The intervention programme called Early Childhood Friendship Project (ECFP) helps reduce bullying, according to a study in the journal Psychology Review. It is a short 10-minute puppet show that presents developmental problems and the solutions to these problems to children ages three to five years over a period of eight weeks that concludes with a graduation.

Previous studies have already shown that implementing ECFP in the classroom decreased aggression and bullying.  This new study investigated the bullying behaviours in an age group where bullying was not thought to exist. This also looked at relational bullying or the intention of manipulating and damaging relationships.

The Early Childhood Friendship Project at the University at Buffalo is an eight-week intervention program using puppets, stories and activities appropriate for preschoolers that can lead to significant reduction in relational bullying. Infographic by University at Buffalo

The Early Childhood Friendship Project at the University at Buffalo is an eight-week intervention program using puppets, stories and activities appropriate for preschoolers that can lead to significant reduction in relational bullying. Infographic by University at Buffalo

“This is a form of social exclusion that uses the threat of the removal of the relationship as a means of harm,” explains Jamie Ostrov, an associate professor in the UB Department of Psychology. “It’s occurs when a child might say to another, ‘you can’t play with us’ or ‘you’re not my friend anymore.'”

“We needed to show that the programme worked to change the individual child’s behaviour,” says Ostrov. “We also expanded the study at the request of teachers, adding two weeks that addressed additional social skills and emphasized sharing, helping and including other children.”

The researchers added ECFP to a preschool class and stayed in the classroom for three hours weekly. They also instructed the children to look out for bullying behaviours in their peers and report them to the interventionists.

The program and monitoring significantly reduced bullying and aggressive behaviours among the preschoolers in the classroom. Because of this, they included ECFP in another group that did not have the intervention programme and saw the same results.

However, Ostrov admit that more studies are still needed to replicate this on a larger scale with more participants. Nevertheless, this small study proved that this relatively short and simple programme works.