Bully-Proof Your Child: How to Deal with Bullies

Mean kids aren't just a middle-school problem. The trouble has trickled to the youngest grades. Learn how to spot it -- and how to protect your child.
child getting bullied at school

Not long ago, the idea that a preschooler could be a bully seemed crazy to me. But my outlook changed when my son Nicky was 4. A bruiser of a boy in his class would chase girls around the classroom and pinch them for fun. He frequently punched and smacked kids, and I once saw him kick a child who was playing with a wagon he wanted. The teachers spent a lot of time reprimanding this boy and explaining what "okay" behavior was, but his menacing acts continued and Nicky learned to steer clear of him.

That was just the beginning. In kindergarten, Nicky encountered a handful of kids who bothered everyone during recess. Last winter, a classmate told a girl he wanted to cut off her hair with a knife. The vice principal set up meetings with each class during which the teachers explained that every child has the right to feel safe at school.

These examples may sound extreme, but they aren't. Bullying, the act of willfully causing harm to others through verbal harassment (teasing and name-calling), physical assault (hitting, kicking, and biting), or social exclusion (intentionally rejecting a child from a group), used to be something parents didn't need to worry about until their child was a tween. Now it has trickled down to the youngest students. In fact, some research shows that tormenting has become even more common among 2- to 6-year-olds than among tweens and teens. "Young kids are mimicking the aggressive behavior they see on TV shows, in video games, and from older siblings," explains Susan Swearer, Ph.D., coauthor of Bullying Prevention & Intervention.

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