Bullying in Kindergarten
Does bullying really exist among kindergarten children? The answer is a clear yes. Some teachers and parents may still question this evidence, thinking that young children are not capable of so much meanness. Based on our research and research from colleagues during the past 15 years, we can say that children do not need to be mean to bully peers. They just have to learn that their behavior is rewarding and they will keep on with their attacks.
Research on bullying in kindergarten is still new. Nevertheless, all studies conducted in different countries have demonstrated that bullying occurs at approximately the same rate in kindergarten as in elementary school (1, 2, 3). What may differ are the forms of harassment, but the general features are similar. An example:
Mike would very much like to play with Sarah, Andrew, and Simon. He sometimes asks but usually gets the same answer: they dont want him. They habitually ignore him or they tell him he is good for nothing. However, sometimes they ask him to join. Thats when they want to play family and need a dog. Dogs do not speak and they have to do everything they are told to. After some 5 minutes Mike usually gets very sad and runs away.
This is neither a conflict nor a playful situation among equal peers. This is a typical case of bullying and it occurred in a kindergarten and was repeatedly observed by the teacher. It has all elements of bullying that we know from older school children: A child who is repeatedly the target of negative acts, several children who stay together to bully their victim, a situation in which the victim has no chance to defend him/herself and an adult who does not really know if she/he should intervene.
Bullying is a Social Problem
There is agreement among researchers that bullying is a social problem and we can observe that children take over or are forced into the same kind of roles in kindergarten as those found among older school children. Furthermore, children in the group can influence the process by helping the victim, supporting the bully, or choosing to ignore what they witness (4). The main roles can be described as follows:
Children Who Are Bullies
We can observe children, whom we call bullies. They have fun in pestering a specific peer using a broad range of negative behaviors. These may range from hiding shoes, destroying a picture, saying nasty things, refusing to sit beside the targeted child, to beating, throwing stones and the like. Bullies do not often use physical means to aggress their victim and seem to be rather manipulative knowing very well whom they can aggress against without retaliation, where they can do it unobserved, and even how to get peers to assist them. They feel powerful, like Eric, 6 years old, who used to say: Im the boss here. Although percentages in kindergarten vary depending on the assessment methods that were used, . In our kindergarten studies, combining teacher ratings and peer nominations, we find around 10% of kindergarteners are bullies. These children are very well aware of social norms and rules, but they have to learn to respect them.
Children Who Are Passive Victims
Our studies also indicate that about 6% of kindergarten children can be categorized as passive victims, children who are victimized by the bully and some other peers (the bullys assistants) on a regular basis and who do not retaliate when attacked. Teachers often tell us that these young victims are very kind children. In our research, we find that these kindergarteners usually share belongings, help and console their peers, even if although they do it less often than children who are never involved in bullying or victimized. These passive victims also seem to have difficulties asserting themselves, saying No, I dont want this! Furthermore, they play alone more often than other children and seem to have difficulties making friends, approaching other children, asking peers to play, etc. Not surprisingly, we also find that these children have fewer friends and are less liked by peers than bullies or children who are not involved in bullying at all. It would be of great help for these children to gain more self-confidence in social relationships. For example, they may benefit from in training in assertiveness with non-aggressive peers. Also, every experience of that enhance their self-competence would be helpful to these children in order to minimize their vulnerability in the peer group.
Children Who Are Aggressive Victims
There are also children who themselves behave highly aggressively in the peer group and who become victimized. We call them aggressive victims, and our studies indicate that this characterizes about (around 8% in our studies) of kindergarteners. These children are very impulsive and use physical aggression much more often than bullies do. They seem to lack self-control and to react all too quickly and aggressively to provocations or to what they perceive as such. And even if they defend themselves vehemently, they cannot stop the bullying. Their impulsiveness is also used and manipulated by the bullies, who know how to provoke their outbursts. These children also seem to lack skills that are helpful in finding friends, they actually have few friends and are not well liked by peers.
Children Who Are Assistants to Bullies
There are also children in the group who do not initiate bullying, but sometimes assist the bullies, and other children who sometimes are bullied, but not as regularly as the victims described above.
Children Who Are Witnesses to Bullying (Bystnnders)
Finally, about half of the children in a kindergarten group never bully peers and are never attacked by peers. Our studies show that these children often feel angry or sad when they witness bullying and sometimes try to help the victim. Importantly, results from our prevention studies show that these children can learn to help victims. This, however, has to be combined with clearly defined behavior rules in the class. Then, children can very well learn to tell bullies to stop to bullies (indicating that the behavior is against the rules they have agreed upon) and to get help from the teacher, when the bully does not stop.
What are the Consequences of Bullying at this Young Age?
Psychosomatic symptoms - Kindergarten children who are harassed by their peers have been reported by parents and teachers to be stressed, to show different psychosomatic symptoms (for example, headaches), to be afraid of going to kindergarten and to show depressive symptoms.
Peer rejection - In our studies, we find that bullying among younger children is very similar to bullying among school children; it is a problem that concerns the whole group of children in the class as well as the adults (teachers and parents). Kindergarten children like victims much less than non-involved peers and even bullies. Also, victims lack friends who could protect them. We know that peer rejection remains stable for years and has long-lasting negative consequences for childrens well-being and social adjustment (5) and also may lead to further victimization (6). Given such evidence, it is clear that children who lack friends, who are not well accepted in the group and who even are victimized need special attention and adults help to come out of such vicious circles.
Consequently, even if we see that many children in the peer group are upset about bullying, research findings are very consistent with observations from teachers, showing that victims and their peers cannot bring the situation to an end and that bullies do not stop by themselves. All findings indicate that the situation is highly reinforcing for bullies and that they themselves, like the victims, are confined in their role. This means that adults have to become directly involved and stop this harmful situation.
Teachers Need to do the Following:
Our experience with the prevention of bullying in kindergarten shows that teachers need to do the following:
Also, parents should be aware of their role as educators and models and communicate the same attitudes as teachers do.
Some Implications of our Knowledge about Bullying in Kindergarten:
1.Alsaker, F. D., & Nägele, C (in press, 2008). Bullying in kindergarten and prevention. In W. Craig, & D. Pepler (Eds.), An International Perspective on Understanding and Addressing Bullying. PREVNet Series, Volume I. PREVNet: Kingston, Canada.
2.Alsaker, F. D., & Nägele, C (submitted, July 2008). Vulnerability to victimization in kindergarten: Need for a differentiation between passive and aggressive victims. Merril-Palmer Quarterly.
3.Stassen Berger, K. (2007). Update on bullying at school: Science forgotten? Developmental Review, 27,90 126.
4.Salmivalli, C., Lagerspetz, K., Björkqvist, K., Österman, K., & Kaukiainen, A. (1996). Bullying as a group process: participant roles and their relations to social status. Aggressive Behavior, 22, 1-15.
5.McDougall, P., Hymel, S., Vaillancourt, T., & Mercer, L. (2001). The consequences of early childhood rejection. In M. Leary (Ed.) Interpersonal Rejection (pp. 213-247). New York: Oxford University Press.
6.Ladd, G. W. & Troop-Gordon, W. (2003). The role of chronic peer difficulties in the development of children's psychological adjustment problems. Child Development, 74, 1344-67.
7.Alsaker, F. D. (2004). The Bernese program against victimization
in kindergarten and elementary school (Be-Prox). In P. K. Smith, D.
Pepler, & K. Rigby (Eds.), Bullying in schools: How successful
can interventions be? (pp.289-306). Cambridge: Cambridge University
Bullies and Bullying in Preschool and Kindergarten
Parenting Articles on Bullying
Parents understandably feel upset when hearing that their kids are being targeted by bullies, or when finding out that their child is showing bullying behavior. Get parenting tips to minimize and prevent this behavior, and how to look for signs of kindergarten or preschool bullying in children. Preschool and kindergarten are some of the first places that children interact in large groups, so thats often where bullies start their behavior. In addition, as kids first get online cyber bullying can become a factor as well. Our parenting articles on bullying will give you step by step tips and feedback.
Bullying as Early as Preschool
Preschool bullying may not be a term that you are familiar with. However, preschoolers and kindergartners exhibit signs of bullying all the time; kicking, hitting, pushing, difficulty sharing. These are all typical behaviors of young children, however they are also behaviors that should be immediately corrected so they are not used in the future.
Bullying Prevention in Preschool or Kindergarten
Most kids have experienced some form of childhood teasing. But, when teasing becomes hurtful, abrasive, and constant, its bullying. As parents, we dont even want to imagine our children becoming the target of a bully, but unfortunately it happensand it happens a lot more often than you think. Normal routines can be more easily disrupted than you think. When a Bully Disrupts Normal Routines
Bullying Stories in Preschool or Kindergarten
Many preschoolers and kindergartners face the harsh treatment of bullies, despite the fact that such bullying behavior exists in preschool and kindergarten is a bit surprising to many parents. Because bullying has the potential to become an issue in any social situation, parents should prepare their kids for dealing with bullies and cruel treatment when they first enter school.
What To Do When Your Child Is The Bully
It's hard to imagine your pride and joy- your child, bullying other children. You may not believe it at first but it's important to acknowledge because a parent plays a major role, if not the most important role, in ensuring their child stops bullying. Your child may not be bullying just to be mean, there is usually an underlying reason why a child chooses to pick on others.
Preschoolers, like all other children, are often faced with
bullies. Although it seems a rather young age for such cruel
behavior, the fact remains that anyone involved in a social
environment, such as school, will deal with bullies in one way or
another. If your child is being bullied, or is a bully, there are
several things you can do to stop inappropriate behavior and teach
your child to act in a caring manner.
Dealing with Child Bullying in Kindergarten
Boy, was I ever wrong.
A couple of weeks ago, a boy moved into the area and was placed in my son Jace's kindergarten classroom. Usually this isn't any big deal. Kids move and come and go all the time it seems. But when this particular child started coming to school, I noticed a real change in Jace. But, it wasn't until yesterday that I discovered the change was due to a child bullying him.
All of a sudden, Jace didn't want to go to school any more. He kept saying how much he hated it and that he didn't ever want to go back. I didn't understand it, because Jace has *loved* school all year. He adores his teacher, and he woke up with a smile on his face every day before this.
I kept asking Jace what was wrong, and he kept insisting that there wasn't anything. I just let it go, thinking that it was just end of the school year blues or something. After all, it is May, and that means we're really close to the end of the school year.
But, yesterday, something made me realize that there was a problem. Jace confessed that there was a child bullying him at school. No matter how hard Jace tried to stay away from this boy, this boy just wouldn't leave Jace alone. Yesterday, Jace was in tears, begging me not to send him to school. It absolutely broke my heart to put him on the school bus, and as soon as 7:30am rolled around, I called Jace's teacher at school to discuss dealing with bullying.
The teacher informed me that they know there's a problem and that they're really trying to resolve it, but the little boy doesn't care. They've called his mother, and she doesn't care either, saying that "Boys will be boys" and that because he's a boy, it's ok for him to act like
Ha. Not in my house.
I've never had to worry about how to deal with bullies in all my years of parenting. I've been really lucky up until this point. But now that I have a child bullying Jace every day at school, I am angry. I feel like calling the mom and doing some bullying myself.
Have you had to deal with bullying at such a young age? I'd love
to get your opinion on how to deal with bullies.
How to Handle Preschool Bullies
Your first clue that something is up might be when your preschooler says, "Kids are mean to me." Or "I hate so-and-so, and I don't want to play with him anymore." In my case, the eye-opener was when my son, Kevin, brought home his preschool class picture. As he pointed from one smiling child to the next, he told me, "That's Thomas, that's Riley, that's Jenny, that's..." (ominous drumroll, please) "my bully, that's..."
Whoa there, little fella, back up. Back way up. A bully? In a preschool class of 3- and 4-year-olds? Don't bullies have to be olderor at least capable of opening their own milk at snack time? I scrutinized the image of the brown-haired, blue-eyed boy standing in the back row in the photograph. He wasn't scowling, and he didn't have Bluto-like muscles bulging underneath his ordinary little T-shirt. The "bully" didn't look like a bully at all; he looked like a little kid.
Still, the mama bear in me wanted to march right over to the school, grab that pup by the scruff of his neck and tell him that if he kept harassing my kid, he wouldn't live to see his fifth birthday. Rest assured, I did no such thing. But my protective impulse was fueled by Kevin's stories of being banned from the playground pirate fort and pinched during circle time. Maybe not life-threatening things, but definitely not nice either. And as it turns out, my son is not alone.
Not too young to be a bully
With school bullying consistently in the media spotlight, most parents are aware that it's a serious problem. That's encouragingbut we're forgetting about our youngest and most vulnerable age group, the toddler and preschool crowd.
We once thought these kids were too young for the kind of tormenting we associate with bullying. But sadly, that's just not trueand because little-kid bullying is so surprising to many parents, it's not noticed as readily as in older kids, says Henry D. Schlinger, Ph.D., director of the applied behavior analysis program at California State University at Los Angeles. Adults dismiss it as "kids being kids."
It doesn't have to be that way, and that kind of attitude ignores the very real developmental leaps kids make in late toddlerhood. Before age 3, kids don't have the cognitive ability to feel empathy, says Brenda Nixon, a mom, former preschool teacher, and author of The Birth to Five Book. So a child might hurt another kid emotionally or physically, but he doesn't really get how that feels to his playmate. You can't really say that he's being mean. After 3, that changes: "The brain has the ability to understand another point of view, so that's the age that premeditated and purposeful aggression could begin," says Nixon. In other words, these little troublemakers should know better.
The reasons kids bully vary, says Schlinger. "Often kids this age are imitating behavior they've seen before" from a parent, sibling or friend, he says. Other kids turn to bullying to get attention, either from adults or peers. Still others bully for more complex reasons. "It's much more concerning when a child bullies because it makes him feel good to see signs of injury, fear or misery in his victim," says Schlinger. "That type of bully can be hard to stop."
Too often, parents and even teachers take a wait-and-see approach with preschoolers. That's not helping anyonethe bullied kid or the bully. "The problem with ignoring smaller incidents is that intervention doesn't happen until it reaches a crisis point or someone gets hurt," says Schlinger. Ouch! I was guilty of this. Before showing me his school picture, my son had told me time and time again that a boy was "bothering" him, and I'd dismissed it.
But when is it just a fight?
Here's how experts define bullying: It's intentionally aggressive behavior, usually involving an imbalance of power and repeated over time. It can be:
Not all confrontational behavior can or should be defined as bullying, though. Kids are active and impulsive, and they're going to have spur-of-the-moment scuffles, friendship spats and wrestling matches that occasionally get out of hand. Everyday play-related conflict can make kids stronger because they learn through experience how to compromise, negotiate, and forgive.
Bullying, on the other hand, does the exact opposite. It systematically undermines kids' self-esteem; whether it's physical or emotional, it can cause hurt feelings, fear, and anxietyeven beginner bullying between little kids. Being picked on, pushed around, and shunned is not acceptable at any age.
And bullying can have consequences for bullies, too. They may have a hard time forming real friendships, which can lead to problematic relationships in all parts of their lives.
One way to tell the difference between conflict and bullying is to look at intent. A playmate might accidentally cause harm during a "That's mine!" "No! I saw it first!" tug-of-war over a shovel in the sandbox. A bully, on the other hand, might snatch the shovel away and tell the other child that she'll throw sand in her face if she tries to get the shovel back. One possible sign of a bully? He's smiling during a dispute, says Barbara Coloroso, author of The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High SchoolHow Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence. If two boys are fighting over a book and both boys are upset, that's conflict. If a child bashes your son over the head with a book and grins as your son cries, that's bullying, explains Coloroso. Not all bullies act this way, but most kids who do are bullies.
Another sign to watch for is sneakiness or secretive behavior: A bully doesn't want grown-ups to catch him in the act, so he'll carry out his bullying covertly; he knows what he's doing isn't right. Also, a bully will act as a ringleader and recruit others to join her, not just at school but at playdates or on the playground, too. When 3-year-old Dayna Donovan tried to join another group of girls running around the playground equipment, they deliberately ran away from her, says her mom, Suzanne, of Bedford, MA. To Suzanne's dismay, Dayna kept running after the girls. They taunted Dayna and told her she wasn't allowed to go down the slide, and threw wood chips on it when she attempted to slide down. "My heart broke when I could see from the look on her face that she understood what was going on," says Donovan. "Those little girls were being downright mean."
Bullying can be hard to identify because it can spark bad behavior from the "good" kid, too. Brisja Riggins's 3-year-old son, Brown, was taunted mercilessly by a boy in his nursery-school class. The boy would chant "Browny towny, Browny towny, Browny towny" over and over, until finally Brown got so angry and frustrated that he struck back and got in trouble. "There's only so much taunting a little boy can take before he's pressed beyond his ability to behave," says the Fredericksburg, VA, mom. That's where you come in.
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:
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 situationand 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 kidand me a wiser mama bear.
Is your kid being bullied?
There were signs that my son was being bulliedI just didn't recognize them. Here's what to watch for:
Is your kid the problem?
Don't panic if you answered yes to any of these questions. It doesn't necessarily mean your child is a bully. But a child with these traits can turn into a bully, so pay close attention. The biggest red flag is if your child seems to enjoy insulting, shaming or attacking other kids. If so, ask your pediatrician if there's a therapist you can see. It's worrisome behavior, but it can be dealt with. For any kid who gets close to or crosses the line:
Bullying at preschool: helping your child
Bullying at preschool
Bullying can be devastating for childrens confidence and self-esteem, especially in the preschool years. Children need lots of love and support, both at home and wherever the bullying is happening. They also need to know that you will take action to prevent any further bullying.
If you suspect your child is being bullied, you could start with our overview of bullying and how to spot it. Or your child might be the one doing the bullying. Read our article on what to do if your child is bullying others.
Talking to your childs preschool
If your child is being bullied, get help as quickly as you can. Your childs teachers will be trained in spotting and handling bullying. They will work with you to try to prevent further bullying.
How to involve the preschool teacher
Contacting the bully or the bullys parents directly is likely to make the situation worse. Its always safer to work with your childs teacher rather than to try to solve bullying on your own.
If the bullying doesnt stop
It takes time to change behaviour, so you might not see overnight results. But if your child is still being bullied and you dont think the preschool is doing enough to stop it, you might consider looking for another preschool with a better record of addressing bullying.
Supporting your child at home
Give your child as much support and love as you can at home.
You can give support by listening and talking with your child. Keep supporting your child at home while you, the teacher and your child come up with a plan for fixing the bullying.
Also let your child know that the situation is not his fault, and it can be fixed. You can give your child ideas for coping with the bullying too.
Sometimes it might be helpful to get professional support to help your child deal with bullying. Talk to your GP or preschool teacher for information on professional help.
If your child is being bullied, you should always step in. But it can also be helpful to give your child some skills to handle any future bullying or negative social behaviour to stop it getting worse. These skills can help your childs social development.
Ideas for coping with preschool bullying
Talk to your child about some of the different ways of dealing with bullying behaviour and why these work.
You and your child could pick one or two ideas that she feels comfortable using and encourage her to put them into action. This will help your child feel more confident and less powerless about being bullied.
Here are some ideas, along with suggestions for explaining them to your child:
Talking with your child about bullying
It might also help your child to know why some children bully. The following suggestions for things to tell your child come from research on why children bully: