How Do You Handle Preschool Bullying?

What does bullying look like? Is it a punch? A shove? Is it name-calling or just a snarky comment online? The reality is that bullying takes many forms. It is difficult to be the victim of bullying, but it is equally painful to know someone you love—your own child, even—is being bullied.

The stats are quite shocking: more than 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year, 17% of American students report being bullied two to three times a month or more within a school semester, and 90% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying. What can you do to handle preschool bullying? There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution, but there are some strategies you can use to help when your preschooler is getting bullied.

How Do You Know Your Child Is Getting Bullied?

Bullying comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be physical (e.g. pushing), verbal (name-calling), or social (exclusion or spreading rumors). As your child grows up and starts to interact with the web, it can even take place online (cyber-bullying).

If you think your child is being bullied, but he hasn’t said anything, there are some signs you can look for, including:

  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Developing headaches, stomachaches or other signs of distress
  • Acting sullen or wanting to be left alone
  • Having unexplained bruises or injuries

Preschool Problems

There are several complicating factors with preschool bullying, as opposed to bullying among older children. In preschool, children are still learning how to interact within social groups. Behavior considered aggressive or mean might be a child learning what is socially appropriate.

Furthermore, it may be difficult for your child to distinguish between a real bullying situation and accidental aggression (such as a dispute over a book or a small ruffle during recess). She might over-emphasize a harmless situation, but she may also under-emphasize, or be unable to verbalize, when she is being bullied. If you’re unsure, check out some of the signs above or speak with your child’s teacher.

Much of this changes after the age of three, according to Brenda Nixon, author of The Birth to Five Book, told After three, “the brain has the ability to understand another point of view, so that’s the age that premeditated and purposeful aggression could begin.”

What You Can Do to Help

Step 1. Figure Out What’s Going On

If you think your child is being bullied, start by speaking with her. Ask about her day at school and ask follow up questions if she brings up bullying behaviors. Try neutral questions asking her to describe how specific actions made her feel, or to describe what happened in more detail. This might also be a good time to speak with your child’s teacher to see if she has noticed your child being bullied or picked on.

Step 2. Give Your Child Peaceful Solutions

If you discover your child is being bullied, work on non-violent reactions and responses she can use. For example, give her a strong statement she can say when faced with behavior she doesn’t like (“Cut it out!”). Direct her to talk to her teacher or another adult when bullying takes place, or to avoid situations that place her in one-on-one situations with her bully.

Step 3: Get Involved and Stay Calm

If you want to get involved, it’s important to stick up for your child without becoming a bully yourself. Screaming at a preschooler will only create more problems. Instead, find peaceful ways to resolve the situation, such as speaking with her teacher and asking for help, speaking with the parent of the bully about your concerns, or simply finding new activities for your child that don’t involve the bully.