A two-year-old needs no help in figuring out how to lay claim to their possessions. The emphatic ‘MINE!’ is among the first things they learn when it comes to social interaction. But that’s not a sure sign of becoming a preschool bully.
However, having said that, all too often we see this mindset turn to something else. Something much more volatile and socially unacceptable. We call it bullying.
Bullying is the act of intimidating or harassing, mistreating or oppressing someone. And sadly, we are finding increased incidents of bullying in children as young as preschool age.
Preschool bully: A real thing
What, you ask? Is there such a thing as a preschool bully? Aren’t children who hit or boss someone around during this age just “being preschoolers”? No, not necessarily.
You are right in thinking there isn’t a preschool child on the face of the earth that hasn’t hit someone or yanked a toy out of another child’s hand. Every preschooler has their bossy moments and the occasional unkind remarks to another child.
But when that behaviour is the norm rather than the exception i.e. your child has been labelled as a “preschool bully”, there needs to be intentional and consistent intervention. These behavioural patterns must be changed while the child is still moldable and changeable.
The ‘victim’ and the ‘perpetrator’
There are two sides of the proverbial fence when it comes to preschool bullies: the ‘victim’ side and the ‘perpetrator’ side.
If your child is the perpetrator, the first and sometimes most difficult task is to admit to yourself that your child needs behaviour modification. Once you realise this, you need to determine the source or reason for their behaviour.
You can start by answering these questions:
1. Has your child been through a traumatic situation such as divorce, abuse (or witnessed spousal abuse), a natural disaster or death of a close family member?
2. Is there a physical or medical reason for their behaviour such as a chemical imbalance or food allergies?
3. Is your child mirroring an atmosphere of aggression?
4. Is your child experiencing extreme fear or anxiety in social settings?
Once you have determined the reason behind your child’s behaviour, the next step is to make changes in their lifestyle so that they will in turn exchange their bully behaviour for kindness and positive social interaction.
Changes you can make for your child’s lifestyle:
1. If your child is a victim of bullying or abuse, or is witnessing the same, remove them from the situation and seek emotional counselling and support for your child. No child deserves to be subjected to a lifestyle of abuse and anger.
2. If you are going through a divorce, you and your ex need to put all issues aside for the sake of your child. Present a united front in parenting and in assuring your child that the end of your marriage is not their fault and will never affect your love for them. Do whatever you need to do to keep your anger and hurt over the breakup of your marriage out of their world.
3. Physical reasons or chemical imbalances can be rectified by changes in their diet, or by increasing the amount of exercise they get each day. In some cases, medication may be necessary.
4. In the event of a serious illness or death of a close family member, you need to keep the lines of communication open. Assure them that just because someone else passed on, it does not mean the same thing will happen to you, your spouse or even your child.
5. Is your home an aggressive home? Is the atmosphere angry? Stressful? Step back, take an honest assessment of what is happening and strive to resolve the situation.
Stop your child from becoming a preschool bully
Once you have addressed the reasons behind the behaviour, you need to talk to your child. You need to let him/her know that their actions are not acceptable and will not be tolerated under any circumstance.
If your child is considered a preschool bully, you also need to assure them that their actions will not and have not altered your love for them, i.e. that you will love them forever and always.
Once you have established the boundaries of their actions, you need to outline the consequences of their bullying AND follow through on said consequences.
NOTE: When setting the consequences of your child’s bullying, you need to gear them toward making positive corrections for the cause of the misbehaviour.
For instance: Spanking or other forms of physical punishment are counter-productive when you are trying to change a child’s view of aggression. Instead, whenever your child mistreats another, require them to do something kind in retribution, which is decidedly more productive.
You also need to work closely with your child’s preschool teachers. Inform them as to the reasons for your child’s behavior and the steps you are taking to change it.
You need to be confident that they will carry through your ‘behaviour plan’ during the day. You need to be comfortable with their disciplinary actions for misbehaviour.
If you are not, you need to:
- Let them know what your disciplinary expectations are;
- Ask that they cooperate with you in this area; or
- Change preschools
Last but not least, don’t give up. A preschool bully does have the potential to be a teenage juvenile delinquent… if they are allowed to stay on that course.
With perseverance, patience and consistent discipline, you can change your child’s attitude and actions. You can convert him from being a bully to a loving, caring and thoughtful child.
Also read: Bullying really happens in our schools