Dealing With a Preschool Bully

preschool bully
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We want to believe that all little kids are complete angels, incapable of inflicting harm on each other, but the unhappy reality is, they are. While it's unlikely that you'll find a 3-year-old stuffing his classmate into a cubby, sadly, preschool bullies are very real and have lots of methods of inflicting emotional and physical harm on their pint-sized classmates.

Teasing, taunting, exclusion and even hitting, kicking and other forms of bodily injury, while seemingly unlikely in a preschool classroom filled with young children, can certainly exist. And if your little one is the victim of a preschool bully, it's hard to stay calm and focused while offering your child support. But you need to. Here's how.

Know the Signs

While some children will come right out and say that someone is teasing or hurting them, others may say nothing at all, especially if it is a chronic problem. Possible signs that your child is being bullied include not wanting to go to school after always loving it, complaining of feeling sick or having a stomach ache before going to school, not answering questions about how school was or a sudden change in her demeanor – maybe she's sad or even angry. She may even give you some clues – telling you that a certain child bothers her or that she doesn't like someone in the class.

If you suspect your child is the target of a bully, talk to her. Ask specific questions about what is happening like, "Did Sally hit you?" "What did Bobby do that is making you upset?"

It's important to suss out whether the behavior is bullying (that is, happening repeatedly) or an isolated incident, such as a tussle over a toy or a turn on the playground.

Talk About It to Other Adults

If you think your child is being bullied, first you need to talk to the classroom teacher or daycare provider. Find out if she is aware of the situation. If she isn't (which isn't uncommon; many bullies do their best work in secret), express your concerns and talk to her about what you think has been happening. See what kind of insight and advice she offers. Simply alerting to her what has been going on may take care of the issue as she will be giving the situation more attention. If after talking to the teacher you feel that nothing has been resolved, keep at it, talking to the school's or day care's administrator.

If you think you can remain calm, consider talking to the other child's parent. This could be a minefield, so you must tread carefully. Don't accuse the other child of anything, just mention that your child has said that she doesn't get along with little Sally and you are wondering why. See what she says and take it from there. Do not turn the conversation into a confrontation and don't get upset if she doesn't acknowledge the situation.

Offer Your Child Your Support

Step number one in helping your child deal with a bully? Give her a hug and assure her that you are there to help. Letting your child know that this isn't something she has to handle all by herself will do wonders for her demeanor and esteem.

Teach Her How to Handle It

While the preschool teacher is going to be your child's strongest ally in the classroom, the reality is that your little one isn't going to be bullied while grownups are around, so you need to help her work out what to do right then and there if another child bothers her. If it isn't too upsetting to your child, you could even role play different scenarios, coaching her through what to do every time.

Some suggestions include:

  • Ignoring it If your child is being verbally teased, sometimes the best course of action is no action at all and to simply walk away. Most bullies bully because they are looking for attention. However, if the bully is hitting or otherwise physically hurting your child, instruct her to tell the teacher immediately.
  • Be brave When the bully starts to pick on your child, advise her to stand up for herself (but not fight back). A loud "Leave me alone!" can do wonders.
  • Tell the teacher If your child is uncomfortable, then by all means, have her tell the teacher. Some children are worried they will be labeled a tattletale, but assure her that this is an instance where they need to enlist the help of a grown up.

The goal is to build your child's confidence while giving her a lesson in socialization. Even as adults, we often have to deal with people who aren't nice to us. By giving her these skills now, you will be helping her throughout her life.

Ultimately, if the situation is bad enough and you feel that not enough is being done you may decide that you need to switch schools or classrooms. Hopefully, it won't come to that. But as parents, we are our children's best advocates. The answer is doing what is best for our child.

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  1. KidsHealth from Nemours. Helping kids deal with bullies. Updated July 2013.

  2. American Psychological Association. Resilience Guide for Parents & Teachers.

  3. American Psychological Association. How parents, teachers and kids can take action to prevent bullying.