Common Signs of Kindergarten Bullying That Parents Should Recognize

bullying boys elementary school age kids

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Parents today certainly know that bullying is a problem, and we have it on our radar. But many may not realize that bullying can happen as early as kindergarten. When we prepare kids for the first day of kindergarten and help them overcome kindergarten jitters, bullying isn't likely to be on most parents' lists of things to do before the big day. But the fact is that bullying can happen in kindergarten and first and second grade and, according to bullying experts, even as early as preschool.

And while bullying is more common in the upper grades, parents of young children do need to be aware of the signs of bullying in young children and what to do if their child witnesses or is the victim of bullying.​

What Bullying Looks Like In Kindergarten and First Grade

Because young children are still developing the emotional, cognitive, and social skills necessary to handle conflicts using words and calm, problem-solving strategies, aggressive behavior—such as taking a toy away from someone or pushing or name-calling—can be more common at this age.

Bullying, which is marked by an intent to harm, imbalance of power, and repetition, is different from general aggression.​

At this age, kids may be imitating something they saw an older sibling or parents say or do or something they watched on TV.

There are also two types of bullying: physical, which includes hitting, kicking, taking something away, and so on, and relational/social, which includes excluding someone, spreading gossip about them or making fun of them. 

Common Signs of Being Bullied

If your child is being targeted by bullies, he may exhibit the following:

  • Sadness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Trouble with siblings (uncharacteristic fighting, aggression)
  • Change in behavior
  • Lost possessions or torn clothing
  • Stomachaches
  • Sleep problems, nightmares
  • Regression (such as bedwetting)
  • Separation anxiety

What Adults Can Do to Help a Child Who's Being Bullied

Try these strategies if your child is being bullied or if you are worried that your child may be the target of bullying:

  • Talk to your child's teacher: Given how visible the bullying behaviors are in young children, parents can talk to the teachers.
  • Ask about their day, every day: Find time to connect with your child every day, whether during family dinner or at bedtime and ask about her day. Ask specific questions that will give you more than a "yes" or "no" answer, like, "Who did you play with at recess today?" or "What was your least favorite part of your day today?"
  • Roleplay: Ask your child to think about how they might react if something happened, like if someone keeps saying or doing mean things to them that hurt their feelings. Remind your child of situations you might have read about in a book or seen in a movie together in which characters were nice or not nice to each other and talk about what was and was not good behavior.
  • Be aware of your own behavior: Take a look at how you handle conflict or resolve problems at home and elsewhere. Do you treat others with respect and kindness? Have you ever made fun of someone in front of your child? Your behavior is the model upon which your child will learn to treat others.
  • Don't minimize what your child is saying: If someone is repeatedly making your child feel hurt or afraid, listen to what he's telling you.
  • Work on self-advocacy skills: Give your child some tools to use if someone bullies them.
  • Ask your child's school to include bullying prevention in their curriculum: Even in kindergarten, teachers can talk about what bullying is, what it looks like, and what kids can do if they see it or if it happens to them.

What to Do If Your Child Witnesses Bullying

If your child is not a target of bullying but has witnessed bullying—which is the group that most kids fall into when there is a bullying situation at school—explain the difference between tattling and reporting.

By setting the tone and encouraging kids to look out for each other and be kind and have empathy for others, parents and teachers can cultivate a positive anti-bullying pattern that can carry on into the later years of school and life.

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Article Sources

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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Understanding the Roles of Early Education and Child Care Providers in Community-Wide Bullying Prevention Efforts.


  2. Shetgiri R. Bullying and victimization among childrenAdv Pediatr. 2013;60(1):33–51. doi:10.1016/j.yapd.2013.04.004


  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Warning Signs for Bullying. Updated February 7, 2018.


  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. What You Can Do. Updated September 29, 2017.


  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Bystanders to Bullying. Updated October 23, 2018.