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Big Bullies

Q  Our 4-year-old is being bullied at preschool. Should we teach him to stand up for himself?

A Many of us encounter a bully at some point in life. I met mine when I was 6. For weeks I tried my mother's passive-resistance techniques (ignore her, play with someone else, tell the teacher), but they didn't work. Finally, I took my father up on his offer to teach me to box. The next day, when the mean girl started in, I punched her. She never bullied me again and, in fact, became something of a friend.

But before you sign your child up for boxing lessons, talk to his teacher to find out whether the pushing was perhaps an isolated incident and not a case of ongoing bullying. You might also want to make a clandestine visit to the preschool to observe the behavior firsthand. "At this young age, the situation might actually be rough-and-tumble playing that leads to the smaller kid's getting pushed around more," says Ken Bernstein, a psychotherapist and children's karate instructor in Amherst, MA. Your son may just need some new playmates.

However, if your son's adversary is the genuine article, then you need to act. If the teacher isn't able to resolve the situation to your satisfaction, talk to the director of the preschool  -- every kid there has the right to feel safe. She may need to speak to the bully's parents or even remove him from the program.

Whatever happens, karate or some other martial-arts lessons might be a good idea for your child. "People dominate those who are most easily dominated," says Bernstein. "Martial-arts classes teach a kid to have good posture and to have the confidence to look a bully in the eye, and to say strongly and clearly, 'Do not touch me.'" If that doesn't do the trick, your son will also know how to defend himself in another more primitive, but effective, language.

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