Bullying and Young Children: How to Spot the Signs and What to Do
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at least 10 percent of kids are bullied regularly, and approximately 50 percent are the target of bullying at some point during their school years. However, when most people think of bullying and kids, they usually don’t consider that this can occur at the daycare and preschool level. Although they may look angelic, some children in this age group already engage in bullying behaviors. If your child is the bully or the recipient of bullying, it’s important that you recognize the signs and know what to do about it.
Unfortunately, bullying in this age can have serious consequences down the road. If your child is an ongoing target, it can lead to serious problems later on, including alcohol and drug abuse, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, and even suicide. Also, kids involved in school shootings were often the recipients of bullying. Kids that bully at an early age may engage in more serious aggression as they get older. Addressing the issue now – regardless of which side of the coin your child falls – is absolutely imperative.
Signs your child is being bullied
When children are being bullied, they may not say anything. However, there will almost always be signs that something is wrong. The following is a list of several potential signs:
- Bruises, scrapes, marks, or other unexplained injuries
- Refusal or reluctance to go to daycare or preschool
- Complaints of stomach aches, headaches, or saying they’re sick
- Problems with eating or sleeping
- Clothing and / or other belongings that are often missing, torn, or broken
- Statements that they “hate” daycare or preschool
- Indicators or statements that they don’t have any friends or that no one likes them
- Sudden changes in behavior or mood
- Regressed behavior (e.g. bedwetting)
What to do to help
There are several things you can do to help your child and decrease or stop the bullying. These include:
- Talk to your child about it. Ask if someone at school is hitting him, teasing him, or hurting him in any way.
- Reassure your child that you are always there for him, will help him with the problem, and love him very much.
- Talk to someone in authority at the daycare or preschool regarding the bullying. Follow up with them to ensure the situation is not continuing.
- Keep your cool. No matter how angry or upset you are, remain calm in front of your child and don’t make threats or other angry statements about the bullying child, or his parents.
- Teach your child what to do. This may include:
- Ignoring it and walking away. If the bullying is physical, instruct your child to tell an adult or teacher right away.
- Stand up for himself and loudly, but firmly say “stop it now” or “leave me alone.”
- Encourage your child to stick with other kids as much as possible in places where the bullying occurs (e.g. the playground). Bullies are more inclined to pick on kids that are by themselves.
- Ask teachers or other adults for help.
Signs your child is bullying others
It’s important to recognize signs of bullying in your child, including:
- Is bossy or controlling when interacting with other children his age or younger
- Easily gets upset or angry if he doesn’t get his way
- Prefers to play with younger or smaller children
- Frequent aggressive behavior towards other young children or animals
- Doesn’t care about the feelings of others
- Frequently engages in hurtful name-calling
- Blames other kids for his bad behavior (e.g. “she made me do it”)
- Frequent anger or defiance
What you can do to help
- Talk to your child. Ask him why he feels the need to pick on other kids. Understanding things from his perspective may help you find the underlying source of the problem.
- Don’t ignore the issue – this can give the unintentional message that his bullying behavior is acceptable. Also, don’t assume he’ll just “grow out of it”.
- Monitor the computer games, video games, and TV shows (including cartoons!) that your child watches. Studies have shown a connection between viewing violent shows and the development of antisocial behavior.
- Be aware of your own behavior. Children mimic their parents, so be careful with regards to your own language and reactions. Model empathy for your child and teach her how her behaviors affect others.
- Immediately address any behavior that is mean-spirited or overly aggressive. The sooner you teach your child what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, the better.
- Give your child plenty of positive attention and love.
Bullying can start very early in life. As a parent, you are the best person to help and teach your child, whether he’s the one being bullied or the one doing the bullying. Don’t ever assume that it’s a problem that he will outgrow or that will simply go away in time.