Bullying in Preschool

School bullying is a hot topic these days. It has become a serious problem and many learning establishments have taken on a no-tolerance policy. But what about when it comes to the smallest and most vulnerable students, the preschool and toddler group? Don’t be fooled into thinking this bunch is too young to know anything about tormenting each other. Preschool bullying isn’t always noticed as much as the behaviors are in older kids. It is often dismissed because adults believe they are too young to know better or that is just what young kids do.

Is preschool bullying possible?
However, the negative behavior shouldn’t be looked at that way. Prior to the age of three, children have not yet developed empathy. A kid might be hurtful either physically or emotionally to a playmate, but not really grasp how that makes the other feel. The brain grows and cognitive ability starts to flourish after three years. At that point a child has more understanding of other people’s feelings, can form premeditated thought and has the ability to put forth purposeful aggression. By preschool age children know when they are being mean.

How does bullying start?
Child bullying is often learned behavior. Kids imitate what they have witnessed, or perhaps they have been the receiver of such treatment from a sibling, parent or a friend. Other times bullies are just trying to get attention from either their peers or from adults. Some more troubling and complex situations involve a bully who enjoys bringing others down. This type of perpetrator feels good seeing the victim injured, in fear or just plain miserable. This is the toughest child bully to get under control.

When should parents or teachers step in?
It is common for teachers and parents to simply wait and see what happens during a confrontation. This doesn’t help the victim or the bully because nothing gets addressed until someone gets hurt. Many times a child will have mentioned repeatedly that someone has been bothering him or her, but the issue gets dismissed.

Here are some ways to determine if children are having a simple disagreement, or if you need to step in and stop a bullying situation:

  • Is the aggressive behavior intentional?
  • Does it involve an imbalance of power?
  • Is the negative behavior repeated over an extended amount of time?
    1. Does the bully use verbal put-downs, taunting, name-calling?
    2. Has the bullied child been physically abused, such as pushing, kicking, or punching?
    3. Has the bully started rumors about the child or encouraged social rejection or exclusion?

Not all childhood confrontations should be considered bullying. Kids are going to say and do impulsive things, some spats will get out of hand. Certain conflicts will help them develop stronger people skills, as they learn how to negotiate, compromise and most importantly, how to forgive and remain friends.

But, if you think your child is being bullied in preschool, ask him or her specific questions. Kids this young may have trouble expressing exactly what has been happening. Then, help them figure out an effective way to respond, such as stay with packs of friends, tell a teacher, ignore the bully, or if the child can, bravely command the bully to stop. By being proactive, the child will gain more control of the situation and it will be a confidence booster. If none of these tactics work, arrange a meeting with the teacher or caregiver and take action yourself.