Common Signs of Kindergarten Bullying

Two boys bullying another boy

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Parents today certainly know that bullying is a problem. 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

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 they are being targeted by bullies, your child may exhibit:

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

What Adults Can Do

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

  • Ask your child about their day, every day: Find time to connect with your child every day, whether during family dinner or at bedtime, and ask about their 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?"
  • 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.
  • 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 they are telling you.
  • Role-play: 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 in which characters were nice or not nice to each other. Talk about what was and was not good behavior.
  • Talk to your child's teacher: Given how visible the bullying behaviors are in young children, teachers should be aware of what is happening.
  • Work on self-advocacy skills: Give your child some tools to use if someone bullies them.

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.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  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.

  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, StopBullying.Gov. What you can do.

  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bystanders are essential to bullying prevention and intervention.

By Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee is a parenting writer and a former editor at Parenting and Working Mother magazines.