Many parents and administrators do not realize that bullying can start as early as preschool and should therefore be addressed in young children. The capacity for empathy forms at age three, meaning preschoolers are capable of caring for others as well as intentionally hurting others. With that in mind, here are the things preschool parents and administrators should be aware of in case the children in their care are subject to or are engaging in acts of preschool bullying:
Common Types of Bullying Among Preschoolers
Physical bullying is easily recognizable and can include hitting, pushing and spitting. A child may also steal or break another child’s toys. Some bullying is verbal, such as teasing and name-calling. Children may also engage in social bullying by ignoring or excluding other students and spreading nasty rumors. The latter behavior, while one of the hardest indicators of bullying to pinpoint, is often less refined among young children and is thus easier to spot in their early, preschool years.
Differences Between Play and Bullying
Play among preschoolers sometimes leads to conflict, but an ordinary conflict lacks the power dynamics of a bullying situation. In a conflict, both children become upset. In a bullying situation, only one child becomes upset while the bully will often demonstrate satisfaction with the other child’s discomfort.
Warning Signs of Bullying for Parents
A bullied child may express fear and anxiety related to going to school or riding the bus. Performance in school may decline in areas where the student previously excelled. Loss of appetite and complaints of physical ailments such as headaches and stomachaches are also signs of stress. Bruises, scratches and torn clothing are red flags for physical bullying and should be taken very seriously.
How Parents Can Help Their Bullied Child
Bullies often target a child who is alone or perceived as so—parents should encourage children to form friendships and have play dates with students in class. Friends also provide emotional support and help lessen the damage inflicted by bullying. If parents see signs of bullying, they should bring the situation to the teacher’s attention.
What Parents Should Do if Their Child Is the Bully
Preschoolers may bully others because they feel insecure, and bullying makes them feel powerful and in control. Some children respond to feelings of anxiety and fear with aggression. Parents should remind their children that they are loved and help them express their frustration and anger in healthy activities such as exercise. Parents can also encourage empathy in their children by talking to them about how their actions affect the feelings of others and modeling behaviors like sharing. Preschool is the best time to correct bullying, as the child is still in their early stages of emotional and psychological development and is less likely to be set in their ways.
What Administrators Should Do About Preschool Bullying
A preschool teacher who notices bullying should contact the parents of the students involved. Bullies as well as victims of bullying should visit the school guidance counselor. A specialist with Irvine Montessori School Services suggests that, when a teacher sees a child becoming frustrated in class, they should try to redirect the child’s energy to a more positive outlet than aggression, like playing with a favorite toy. This demonstrates to a frustrated preschooler, from early on, that other people are not outlets for destructive emotions and impulses.
Preschool Bullying Can Be Prevented
Bullying damages children’s self-esteem, compromises their sense of security and can have life-long repercussions, so prevention and management are vital. With a little understanding of how to handle bullying in young children, parents and administrators can work to extinguish patterns of bullying before they get out of hand.