Preschool Play vs. Bullying? 4 Things for Parents Should Look For

Earlier this week I was interviewed by a Michigan morning radio show about cyberbullying and in my conversation with the hosts about bullying behaviors, I discussed how both result in hurt feelings. The hosts asked me what age we need to teach our kids about cyberbullying. I responded by saying that we need to teach our kids about what it means to be a good friend from the time they’re very young.

The concept of being a good friend is one that kids understand as toddlers and certainly as preschoolers. Being nice by sharing one’s toys, inviting others to play, and displaying empathy are core concepts that even the youngest kids can understand. They know what it’s like to have their feelings hurt by others who tease, exclude others through their play, and are aggressive. If we teach our kids about what it means to be a good friend to others, they’re more likely to stand up for each other and less likely to engage in bullying behaviors.

I used to think that bullying was something that our family would have to deal with as our children got older and was shocked a couple years ago when our then 7 year old daughter shared that her little brother was being bullied by preschoolers in his class.

“Mommy,” she said very softly, as we settled in to read our bedtime story.  “Brother told me I could tell you that two boys at school are calling him names like baby.”

Bullying beginning in preschool?  It’s not unheard of and it’s good to nip it in the bud in the early years before it can get worse as kids grow older.

While name calling and taunting may have been part of our playground experience as kids, there’s a heightened awareness about any behavior that might be considered an act of aggression towards. Kids are being empowered to take a stand against bullying even if they are part of those developmental childhood impulses that come with age.

While kids may be kids, an article in says “in some cases, the behavior is a precursor to more serious forms of bullying that crop up during the school-aged year.”  It May Come as a Shock to Many Parents to Learn that Bullying Happens in Preschool also reminds parents that:

“Remember that there is a difference between play, which builds imagination, develops coordination, and teaches children about rules and responsibility, and bullying, which is chronic, frequent behavior that has, at its core, the intention to harm and intimidate.”

With kids getting ready to head back to school, here’s what you need to be aware of in terms of bullying along with the resources that can help if you find yourself in the same situation as I was in with my preschool-aged son.

How do you know when play turns into bullying?’s Teasing and Bullying No Laughing Matter encourages parents to look physical and emotional signs of stress.  The article contains a comprehensive list of warning signs.

Now that you know your child is being bullied, what do you do?‘s article called Bullying in Preschool: What Parents Need to Know provide signs that relate to preschool ages and a step-by-step guide to handling it. Besides being knowledgeable parents, we also need to know these 5 Ways to Empower Children Against Bullying.

What if the bullying continues?  Raising Children Network encourages parents to talk to your child’s preschool and involve the teacher but also says that involving the bully, or their parents, can often aggravate the situation.  Instead, Bullying at Preschool: Helping Your Child encourages supporting your child at home and teaching coping strategies for bullying.

Does your child know someone being bullied and is wondering how to help?  Eyes on Bullying has a list of things for bystanders to do including standing up for the person being bullied and helping the victim walk away but my favorite is “Your involvement makes a difference.  Don’t just stand by and watch quietly.”

Sad child with a brick wall via Shutterstock

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