Bullying has become a very hot topic within the education community as well as the general population within the last decade or so. Many individuals think that bullying only occurs in environments where children are grade school age or older. This is sadly not the case. Such behavior can be seen in children who are as young as three years old in daycare, preschool, play groups or even home settings. The good news, however, is that if handled appropriately such behavior can be nipped in the bud at this early age with the right adult support and encouragement.
Too often caregivers do not address bullying at all or even quickly enough, instead they chalk up the actions of an overly aggressive child to simple childlike behavior. It is normal for young children to get frustrated and act out verbally and even physically with their peers. The definition of bullying, though, is intentionally aggressive, on-going behavior that often involves a power play with one child dominating another verbally, physically or emotionally. Often, the bully’s show signs of pleasure during such conflict. When a child is smiling as they are harming another child, this can be the work of a bully in action.
How do you know if your young child is being bullied?
It can be hard to identify if, in fact, your child is being bullied. If you hear your toddler saying that a child is being mean to them or hear them describe the actions of a specific child as repeatedly aggressive, this should be a red flag to you. Ask your child questions such as, “Did someone hurt you?” or “Can you tell me exactly what happened in school?” Sometimes, children may not speak out against their aggressor, but you may see changes in their behavior. For example, perhaps they suddenly do not want to go to daycare or a play group. Children who are bullied may fake sickness or become withdrawn or depressed. Be sure to talk to your child and try to find out what is behind their change in attitude.
How do you protect your child if you suspect they are being bullied?
If you believe your child is being bullied, there are a few steps you can take to get a handle on the situation and work to change it.
- Talk to Teachers: Even if you are not positive that your child is being bullied, talk to the appropriate teacher or caregiver that is overseeing the situation. Tell them what you have heard or seen and ask for their guidance and help. Teachers can be excellent sources of information, plus they have the power to make significant environmental changes that can have immediate results. A teacher may remove a child from playing with another child or pay extra close attention to the interactions of a particular child.
- Provide Child with Response Tactics: Children who are being bullied cannot be expected to handle the situation on their own. If you think your child is being bullied, you may want to encourage them to do the following: Loudly tell the bully to stop bothering them– Ignore the bully-Encourage them to stick with their friends-Have them talk to a teacher immediately when a conflict occursBe sure to praise your child for any and all positive progress combatting aggressive children. This will help to promote their self-esteem and strengthened their ability to protect themselves going forward.
- Connect with the Bully’s Parents: Depending on the situation, a caregiver may feel comfortable reaching out to the aggressive child’s parents to discuss their behavior. It is always best not to be accusatory, but try to create an open dialogue to have a better understanding of the actions taking place. Some parents have found success inviting an aggressive child over for a playdate to monitor interactions and provide support and direct guidance for their child.
How do you keep your child from becoming a bully?
No parent or caregiver wants their child to bully other children. Setting a good example when it comes to behavior is imperative to help children, especially young children, know the right ways to interact with their peers and adults. Many children take their behavioral cues from adults and imitate how they treat others. Be sure to reprimand aggressive behavior and praise good interactions. Set rules for playtime and remind children to be gentle and kind to others. Discuss right and wrong forms of behavior and have specific consequences if a child behaves inappropriately. Young children, no matter how independent they may be, need to be closely monitored to ensure that bullying behavior of any sort is quickly identified and corrected.
If a parent has serious concerns that their child may be a bully and is having difficulty curbing such behavior, speak with a health care professional. The child may need additional support and tools to cope with their feelings.
About the Author:
Gladys Ruiz is the Director of Little Children Schoolhouse in Brookline, MA. After more than ten years working in Early Childhood Education, Gladys opened the Little Children Schoolhouse to provide a nurturing, loving environment—an extension of her student’s home and family life—in Brookline. Pre-K, Preschool and Daycare programs for toddlers and infants include extra activities, such as weekly music, yoga, cooking, science activities, and field trips. Both full day and part-time enrollment are available.