Preschool Bullying: It Can Happen
~By Vinita Bhojwani-Patel, Ph.D.
Bullying seems to be the hot issue invading our playgrounds, schools, and other parts of our community. Sad but true, any gender, ethnicity, social class, and age group is considered a fair target. Let’s recall what happened last week… who wasn’t sympathizing with the poor Grandma victimized by middle school students on the school bus while chaperoning a field trip in upstate New York? The tweens’ verbal attacks about her physical appearance brought the 68 year old to tears. When most of us consider the term “bully”, we think of the physical and verbal aggression that begins in elementary school, peaks in middle school and continues throughout high school.
Make no mistake, however, that bullying does, indeed, occur as early as preschool and more often than we would like think. Because most of us associate bullying with older children, this issue is often overlooked during the younger preschool stage, when it is difficult to decipher between typical social exploration and emerging bullying behavior. A colleague of mine who is a preschool teacher to three and four year olds recently shared that almost half of the boys in her class were punching and kicking each other when they thought she was not looking. The girls in her class, on the other hand, engaged in social rejection, often refusing to allow another child in their social groups during open play and intentionally leaving out targeted children for birthday party invitation.
A little hitting and generally being “mean” is somewhat normal in young children. However, when our youngsters enjoy seeing their peers hurt, as opposed to just asserting themselves socially, they may be purposefully trying to harm their victims. Thus, hurtful preschool behavior becomes bullying when it is repeated, targeted, and intense.
So, why do kids bully? What purpose does hurting others serve? There are a number of reasons why kids bully. Some do it because they have learned that this is the way to solve a social problem (i.e. you want something someone else has, then just take it at any cost!). After all, it is easier to bully someone than to work things out. Many bullies have been bullied themselves. Others believe bullying will elevate their social status, or give them a sense of control and power. Bullying is also a way of gaining the attention needed due to an underlying need.
How do I know if my child is being bullied? Bullying is likely to cause stress, fear, and anxiety in young kids. As well, the behavior not only affects the victims. Studies show that childhood bullies are more likely to do drugs and alcohol and have negative peer relationships.
Your young child may be being bullied if he/she:
* talks about one particular child doing mean things to him/her
* avoids eye contact when you ask about school
* is suddenly scared to go to school
* is noticeably more clingy and whiny
* begins to act aggressively towards a younger sibling
* seems depressed or withdrawn
* displays difficulty concentrating
Now that we have identified the problem, what can we do about it? What should we do as parents if we feel our child is the victim of bullying?
* Bully-Proof Your Child – Provide your child the strategies he/she needs to deal with the bully and feel safe; tell an adult, look the bully in the eye, walk away if feeling scared or uncomfortable, pair up with a good friend during unstructured play times. You can also empower your child by role- playing various scenarios of what he/she can say when approached by a bully. Most importantly, build your child’s self esteem. Confident, self-assured children are less likely to be the victim of bullying. Build on his strengths and let him “show it off” at school and playgrounds.
* Communicate, Communicate, Communicate – Assure your child that you can help him with the situation if she tells you what is happening. Avoid judging and try staying calm (even if you are fuming). Let her know how brave she is for opening up about what’s bother her and encourage her to keep the lines of communication open. Letting your child know that she can trust you with whatever she is going though will only foster future discussions.
* Collaborate with the Teacher and/or School – It may be quite possible that your child’s teacher does not know that your child is being bullied. Find out if the school has an “Anti-Bullying” program (as most school districts do). Perhaps the teacher can prepare a lesson on bullying. Or better yet, the school may decide to weave lessons on “how to be a good friend” in to their school-wide curriculum for a month or so. Ask if you are able to come in and observe the class for a while. Bringing this issue to your child’s teacher will keep everyone on their toes.
About Vinita Bhojwani-Patel, Ph.D.
Dr. Vinita Bhojwani-Patel is a certified School Psychologist who has a private practice in the northern suburbs. With over 15 years of experience in the field of education, Dr. Patel offers a variety of services including comprehensive educational evaluations, academic remediation and consultation. She is a married mom of twin toddler boys who enjoys splashing at the city water parks, dining at new eateries, and walking all over our magnificent city!