How to Handle Preschool Bullies
Protect your child from bullying at daycare or preschool
How to protect your child
Delilah Mason, a Hudson, NH, mom of two girls, was angry and upset when she discovered one of her daughters was repeatedly being bullied (bossed around and shoved). "I felt that I had failed her as a parent by not being able to protect her and by not preparing her for this situation," she says. Here's what a parent can do:
STEP ONE: Find out what's going on. If you suspect it (see "Is Your Kid Being Bullied?" above), ask your child pointed questions, like "Did someone hurt you?" or "Can you tell me exactly what he did?" Kids this age may know that what's happening makes them feel bad, but they may not have a label for it or know how to talk about it. But remember: No matter what your child tells you, even if it makes your blood boil, keep that mama bear under control and remain calm and reassuring for your kid. The more supportive you are of his feelings, the more details you'll get about what happened, how he feels about it, and how serious the situation is. The message you want to send him is "I love you. I'm here for you. Together, we'll work on a solution."
STEP TWO: Help her figure out how to respond. Children shouldn't be expected to deal with bullies on their own, but usually, bullying happens under the radar. So role-play with her, says Joel D. Haber, Ph.D., author of Bullyproof Your Child for Life. It's a great way to help a little kid learn, and it'll boost your child's confidence. Tactics she can try:
Stand tall and act brave. Sometimes just acting as if the bully doesn't bother you can stop him. Tell the bully "Knock it off!" or "Stop that!" in a loud voice and walk away.
Ignore the bully. Some experts believe that if you don't give him attention, he'll eventually stop.
Stick with friends. Bullies try to isolate certain kids so they can pick on them. As the saying goes, there's safety in numbers. If your child doesn't have many friends, try to help her make some through new playdates or activities.
Tell an adult. The best way to stay safe is to tell a grown-up what's happening. If you're not there, she should go to the teacher.
STEP THREE: Take action yourself. If your child attends daycare, nursery school, or preschool, set up a meeting with the teacher or caregiver. She may be unaware of the situation -- and that's not necessarily a sign of a bad teacher, just of a good bully. But if you don't get help, don't give up. Apply pressure until a solution can be found (even if it means moving the bully or your child to a different classroom or, in some extreme cases, a different school). If the bullying is going on at a playground or playdate and you know the parent fairly well, you could try talking to her. Say, "Our kids aren't getting along very well. Have you noticed?" Don't be surprised if she seems unconcerned about it. Often, parents are in denial or don't see their child's behavior as problematic (as the proverb goes, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree"). Sometimes the best solution may be to avoid that child or find a new playground.
What did I do about Kevin's bully? Believe it or not, we invited him over. I told Kevin that deep down most bullies were just regular kids who wanted to be liked and have friends, just like he did (which, at this young age, is true). I asked Kevin how the kids at school treated the bully, and he said, "Everyone runs away from him." Then I asked what he thought about inviting the boy over. I told him I would be there the entire time (to be honest, I couldn't wait to see this kid in action), and that if he still acted like a bully at the playdate, at least we'd both know that we'd tried to be kind and forgiving. That one-on-one playdate changed the dynamic between them. The boys didn't wind up best buddies (sorry, no Hallmark ending here), but the bullying did stop. And while I might not recommend this course of action for older kids, with little ones it can be effective (even if the only positive outcome is that you gain better insight into the problem).
Don't get me wrong; the time when Kevin was being bullied was heart-wrenching, but in hindsight I'm not sorry we had to deal with it. Most kids will face bullying at some point, and now Kevin's ready to deal with it again if he has to. Plus, the experience made him a stronger little kid -- and me a wiser mama bear.