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Bullying, Excluding, & Teasing in Preschoolers
Dear BPN, we are hoping for advice about our 4 yo daughter's school situation. We moved her to a new (Montessori) school this Sept. after having her in a play-based program last year. Even though we really liked the teachers from the previous program, there were problems that we felt were not adequately addressed (chronic unkind behavior from children that went unchecked, etc.) There was a mass exodus from that program due to this. We are now dealing with a similar situation. My daughter has mostly enjoyed school this year, but for the past couple of months she has been coming home upset, saying that she has been excluded or that so-and-so was mean. During my class observation and drop off/pick up I've observed it. In particular, a favorite friend of hers who was historically very sweet has been experimenting with her power & started purposely excluding my daughter or another friend from play daily. She then draws the excluded friend back in. The school teaches them to say ''I'll find you later'' if they aren't interested in playing, but it seems to manifest as license to behave exclusively. I've heard kids say the words in the most cruel & snotty way imaginable. I've talked to her teachers & director of the school multiple times about this dynamic & they normalize the behavior and have said they address it if they see it but they can't always see everything. It is a school of 35 children and 4 teachers. I get that they can't catch it all, but it seems that they are allowing exclusive & unkind behavior to persist. I feel that these kids are young for such behavior! I know that it can start at this age, but shouldn't the school be nipping it in the bud? Is this really normal? Also, the school seems completely unaware that there is a clear ringleader. A few parents saw it in a matter of minutes at a bday party! By no means do I want to pathologize the child and I know she can be very kind too, but denial that she is directing this behavior seems unhelpful to all. I've been working with my daughte! r on how to respond but she is very slow to warm to the idea of walking away. She is drawn to this girl like a moth to flame, which just fuels the power dynamic. I feel we are doing our part at home, but shouldn't the teachers be a little more proactive? We'd planned on having her continue there before this all started. We have another option at a small, progressive school that touts inclusion and kindness as primary tenets. We're torn because we know our daughter needs to work through this, but feel she is awfully young for such unkindness. How to know if the teachers are helping enough? Do we go with giving her continuity (and working through) or a new program and hope that they really do practice what they preach? Current school has mostly been the ''good enough'' school, but certainly not what was promised. Our daughter is incredibly sweet & friendly and completely befuddled by the meanness. TIA for any advice! Anonymous
Our school policy is twofold: 1) the child who doesn't want to play with another kid (the one doing the excluding) has to ''move away'' and this does help a bit (but often inevitably they just ''move away'' with the other child they wanted to play with, so the end result is still exclusion) and 2) the child being excluded is told to find someone else to play with ''since so-and-so isn't feeling friendly''.
While I agree we should all be teaching children not to be exclusive, in the end it is much more useful to teach your child how to handle being excluded. The subtle message you are giving her right now is that she should want to play with someone who doesn't want to play with her, and that that person must be forced against their will to play with her. Don't you think it would be much better to teach your child resilience? To teach her to walk away from someone who isn't treating her well and find someone nicer to play with? This ultimately will serve her for years to come and will be a life lesson far more valuable. anon
My five year old son has always been very sweet and sensitive to other's feelings. In the past year he's befriended some boys in his pre-k who aren't really rule-followers and don't have the greatest self-control. My son has started to say that he likes these friends because they do mean things. For example, they like to scare other kids (especially girls). Since his induction into this posse, my son refuses to play with his once beloved friend in the class who is a girl. He will play with her on playdates though. He has taken to shamelessly excluding this girl at school despite the ''no exclusive play'' policy. He has said some very unkind things about his girl friend in the presence of the girl and her mom such as ''oh good, she won't be at school tomorrow.'' I'm just mortified and don't know how to tame my little beast. who is this child?
You say he says he is attracted to them because they are ''mean.'' Have you talked through with him what ''mean'' really is? Empathy needs teaching. What you have here is an important teaching moment. He still wants to play with this girl outside of school. Have you explained that his behavior pains her, and that this friendship will go away if he continues to behave badly.
Does he see these nasty kids outside of school? If so, why? You need to communicate, clearly and with no wiggle room, your rejection of them and their behavior. Yes, I know you can't control what he does at school. You can, however, control what he does, and where he goes, at other times.
Most likely, what he is enjoying with these boys is the pack mentality: the warm feeling of being in a group and the shared strength of the band. But if you don't want a mean thoughtless follower you need to work at showing him the results of his behavior. (Oh, and if they are already playing mean pack kids, you can count on them turning on him eventually too.) lw
I have only been able to find info for parents of the kids who are the victims of bullying. Our son, who is not quite 5, has been showing more and more agressive behaviors aimed at other kids. He focuses on another kid at preschool and targets him/her with physical violence and teasing, even goads other kids into same behaviors. His preschool teachers are very concerned and try to monitor him every second.
My partner and I are totally non-violent people. We don't hit, we don't threaten, we don't yell. We've always stopped any aggressive behavior immediately and said that this is never acceptable. We don't understand where this is coming from, and are starting to feel that we've done something awful as parents or that our child is just ''bad'' at the core.
Please don't diagnose our child - we will be seeing behavioral specialists asap for that. We would appreciate any info on support, parenting books or other resources, or personal stories about coping with similar situations. Freaking Out Parent
Outside of Kaiser we are sending our kid to Quest camp (a bpn recommendation - significant expense and drive for us.) A woman in our carpool describes her son similarly - ''very nice at first and then gets too agressive.'' They work with kids with ''mild to moderate ADD, ADHD, Aspergers, and other behavioral issues''.
Looking at my son through the lens of sensory integration has been helpful - he loves pillowfights, big hugs and wrestling, and we may seek professional help from San Leandro specialist in this area named Bledsoe.
Concerned about my son's moral development, cub scouts and church youth group were obvious choices. Cub Scouts is full of kids with ADD and my son often behaves better in this boy- friendly environment.
Many of our friends and family think we have caused this problem by being too lenient, too inconsistent, and letting our son be the Alpha male in our household. I'm sure that to some extent that is true and we are trying to clean up our act. We are lower energy older parents who waited a long time for this kid, Type B personalities who don't even notice, much less sweat, the small stuff. I'm probably ADD, so it's hard for me to be as consistent as I would like to be, plus I'm routine-resistent and authority questioning. I believe that regular beatings used to be the way that children like my son were handled in the olden days, and in some cases, the kids turned out okay - My dad may have been one of these. He died at 30 (a doctor) so I don't know his whole story. I notice that some people tell their children that they will burn in hell forever if they don't behave better, but we haven't stooped to that yet. I would like to form a support group but am embarassed to publicize my name. a worried mom
My child went from being a 'victim' to an 'aggressor,' and I learned quite a bit being the parent on that journey. Here is some of what worked for us.
I apologized to anyone and everyone for everything: the parents, teachers, school, etc... I took full responsibility for my child's behavior, because ultimately - I am responsible. (these were some hard phone calls to parents. and sometimes it was hard to get names from teachers of who my kid had hurt) I informed them of my/our plans of action. (pediatrician, behavioralist, teacher and/or director meetings, etc...) The school and I agreed on a list of behaviors I needed to review with my child before returning to school. The day of bad behavior, I have child 'write' (or dictate) a letter of apology to the children hurt. And then I maintained constant and ongoing communication about what steps have been taken, what steps are ahead, what daily role plays (or lessons or etc.....) we are working on at home, with all parties involved, how and what seems to be working, what else we could be doing, etc...
It was a lot of work. But I am really proud of us for how we worked through it. And many of the parties involved thanked us. And I/we truly felt we were building a circle of strength and support around our kid. Who has come through great.
Best of luck to your family. Been there
The Parenting Clinic http://www.son.washington.edu/centers/parenting-clinic/
Carolyn Webster-Stratton Professor of Family and Child Nursing, Director of the School of Nursing Parenting Clinic University of Washington http://www.son.washington.edu/faculty/faculty_bio.asp?id=112
I hesitate to include this video because the presentation's focus is research data on the long-term effects of untreated childhood aggression. My point in sharing this video is much the same as any research done by a parent that helps to define and exclude the behaviors, symptoms, etc in their own child (similar to researching diaper rashes: ''this photo shows a blotchy, raised and red rash - our little guy's looks more like small red dots, that itch'' etc). The presentation includes great examples of the techniques used by the clinic staff members as they work with children who have behavior and social integration problems. ''Helping Young Aggressive Children Beat the Odds: Parents, Children, Teachers and Dinosaurs'' http://www.uwtv.org/programs/displayevent.aspx?rID=2675 If you have trouble viewing UWTV website's streaming video, you might try calling the clinic to ask if they have any additional DVD copies of the video.
From your post, it is obvious that you are thoughtful, nurturing parents. I wish you success and joy as you continue to be strong advocates for the health and well- being of your WONDERFUL (yes, wonderful) child. A member of the village
My son is a total bully. He does all the standard stuff, grabbing toys, hitting a kid who grabs his toys. But it's the random episodes that are totally distressing, the stuff that comes out of nowhere. For example, this morning, he suddenly ran over to another kid at daycare and pushed him right into a tree with significant force, apparently with no provocation. I also just found out that he pushed another boy off of a play structure a few weeks back. Luckily that kid landed okay, with no apparent damage. Another thing he'll do is just reach out and scratch at or hit a child as they walk by.
He's also the kid who always takes the high energy play too far. For example, he and a friend were playing well (play date) and jumping on the bed. My boy's the one who ends up jumping into the other boy and knocking him off onto the floor. No permanent damage, again, but alot of crying and an angry parent.
We are constantly working on gentle and what is okay and not okay behavior. We also talk to him about the right way to get someone attention. I'm starting to get worried and don't know where this behavior is coming from. All I know is that I grit my teeth every time I have to pick him up, waiting to hear what he did that day.
Any advice for strategies that stop the behavior are appreciated. Is this a phase he'll grow out of? If so, what's the best way to handle these things when they come up? I don' want to always be forcing him to control himself and not get excited or physical, but he's not doing a good job of keeping it from going too far and, like I said, the randomness of his flash agressiveness often keeps the adults from reacting fast enough to avoid problems. Any advice or stories of your own experience is greatly appreciated. Mama in distress
That being said, I had the same issues starting about age 4.5 with my son, although his older sister called him ''rough and tough'' at 18 months. He was the sweetest guy at home, but came out swinging if someone was unfair or said something mean, and wanted to play rougher than his friends. For him, a full-body tackle is fun even if his knee gets skinned.
What my son is, and maybe your is too, is impulsive. He is physically oriented and does the physical act before he can think it through. This is something that yours will likely outgrow. Our son, however, did not...and in 2nd grade we started him on meds for ADHD. We tried everything before that- punishments, rewards, empathy- teachers suggested organized sports and social skills classes, parents of the other kids talked behind our backs and avoided play dates, our son was miserable that he was always in trouble. Now on medication, his latest report card actually states ''model student'', ''a leader in citizenship''. Our boy is using the drive and energy he has in positive ways and is way happier. Other parents have expressed amazement at the sea change and say their girls all love his boyish charm, when they used to complain he was too rough. But...he still longs for the day he is old enough to play tackle football and he prefers friends who also like to bash into each other for fun. He is just able to control the impulse to do it at inappropriate times. He needs meds to do this, but we hope this is not forever, and we also know that this is not for everyone.
Your son will be a world-shaker someday, instead of just a little handful. He knows what he wants (and tries to get it). He's not afraid to throw himself into his work (which in the case is play with other kids- he's just literally is throwing himself at them for now:). I bet he's a fierce hugger, too. Keep your chin up, be firm with limits, let other parents know you're doing your best, and see his qualities in the best light possible. Best wishes- Rough-n-tough's Mom
I thought that I was 'always on my kids' to behave. I said/did everything that I was supposed to do, but nothing seemed to work. I chalked it up to my children to being far more exuberant and energetic than most kids -- something that I love. I finally realized, when my younger daughter tackled an sweet, mildly autistic kid that it wasn't enthusiasm that made my children do this, but my inconsistent and 'without bite' discipline.
Last month, we implemented 'operation sledge hammer.' Every time one of our girls broke the 'no hit/bite/kick/push' rule or one of our other rules...there are more for the older one, she immediately went to time out -- the older one for 15 minutes on a chair facing nothing interesting and the younger one in a high chair facing nothing interesting. When she was placed in time out she told the rule that they broke, she went to time out and afterwards we 'modeled' and discussed kind behavior. If the older daughter made noise or talked during time-out the timer started again (using a timer is important as it keeps things impartial). On the first day of operation sledgehammer, the girls spent a lot of time staring into space. My older daughter once spent 45 minutes at a sitting.
It felt initially like 'a lot of work,' because it wasn't always 'convenient.' If the older one smacked the younger one when walking out the door, all momentum had to stop, my daughter would sit in time out for 15 minutes to a half hour and then we'd invariably end up late wherever we were going. If the younger one smacked a kid at the playground, we'd have to both leave. After a few days I realized that I could put my child in time out three or four times a day or I could spend all day threatening time out with the occasional follow-through of a few minutes for the older one which had no impact, breaking up sisterly scuffles and apologizing to other parents.
After a week of this, I found myself with two wonderfully well behaved daughters (still high energy and exuberant). My younger daughter who could easily hit five or six kids in one short outing to the playground has only hit once in the past month -- after another older boy grabbed her toy and pushed her down (we are now working on the words 'help me' for frustrating situations like that...) My older one has become a much better listener, hasn't hit her sister once and shows much better self control. -anon
So, I say do what you can to lock it down at home. Also, talk to his teachers. See if you can take off a day or two and just go in and observe your child without interfering. It might help you to see for yourself what's going on rather than just hearing the aftermath. Perhaps if you can see his behavior with other children it will help you to figure out his choices at home.
I don't mean this to sound blaming, but rather to suggest that seeing him in action at school might help you decide how to help him while you're at home. anon
Hi, I recently found that my three yo was bullied at preschool by two other kids. They are younger and close playmates. The thing is that my son looks kinda smaller than his same age. And he doesn't know or dares not to confront them other than crying. Anyone had similar situation or advice? I already talked to the teacher. But it will take some time to teach my son how to defense. What else can I do now? Jin
My 3 1/2 year old daughter is a very lively, sociable child, extremely articulate and full of fantasy life. She sometimes captivates the other kids at school with her stories, and the teachers love her. She has an eclectic sense of style and is very earnest, kind and enthusiastic. The problem is the kids who say debilitating things to her. She is such a forthright kid, she never stops trying to connect; her enthusiasm is always tendered with a desire to be liked. Unfortunately, there are certain kids who *always* respond negatively to her overtures. She tells me that one of the kids at school tells her she is stupid every day. I have seen this kid turn the opinions of others against her, teaching them to follow his example. Worse yet, there are kids who are friends with her most of the time, who turn around suddenly out of the blue and say terrible things, with this incredible look of glee and delight on their face when she crumples. This kind of cruelty is worse because she is not expecting it, and the children are ones she considers friends so she really believes what they say. I do my best to handle it when I see it happen. Usually, I try to gently call them on it, saying things like, ''Do you think that made her feel good? Then why say something that makes someone feel bad?'' etc. I don't want to interfere inappropriately, but I don't want them to think it's okay, either. I understand that the worst ones are insecure, but that doesn't help my daughter. The teachers work with the kids as best they can, but they cannot overhear every remark made, and much slips by. This is an issue I have struggled with all through my life; I have trouble knowing what to tell her because I never really learned to deal with it either. I know I should teach her to ''toughen up'', but I don't want to squash the essential exhuberance of this child, and besides, I'm not sure I have the skills. What can I say to her? How can I help her to handle these children who want to ruin her self-esteem? We fill our home life with as much love and support as we can, but I'm not sure it's enough. Heather
I would suggest role-playing with your daughter, pretending that you (or dad, or a stuffed animal, or whoever) are another kid in class. When the pretend classmate makes a ''comment'', help her to respond in an appropriate way - perhaps you would prefer that she ignores the comment, or just smiles, or changes the subject (obviously teaching her to throw cruel comments back isn't going to help). She's not going to be able to learn this on the fly in class, kids learn from doing and example.
Demonstrate to her that she has control of the situation based on how she responds to it. Just the novelty of her not giving the usual response may be enough to throw the other kids off.
It seems like kids take on ''roles'' in group situations, and as they grow these roles change. Kids get big, they turn out to be smart, or athletic, or whatever - they change. She needs to shake up the dynamic.
My two cents, hope that helps. Hate to think of your daughter going through that. Betsy
I would speak to the teachers about changing the curriculum to discuss respectfulness for one another, kindness, compassion, and thinking about how others feel. If they aren't willing to put in that kind of work, I would switch schools.
Yes, you can give your child love at home which will build her self-confidence, but speaking as someone who was treated badly by my peers when I was a child, the pain of that cruelty never goes away. In the old days, they used to say, ''learn to toughen up!'' but nowadays they are more enlightened. There ARE ways to teach kids not to be cruel to one another... they may not work perfectly, but they do reduce these incidents.
Today, this kind of treatment of others is called bullying or emotional abuse, and many schools have a zero tolerance policy on the subject. So there is hope!
Good luck! This is very important for your child.
Making cruel comments is what preschoolers do, particularly as they move into their 4's. Although you may never hear about it, your daughter probably comes up with a few zingers herself. Do talk to the teachers about what the children are saying. It is their job to create a safe atmosphere and communicate to the children that cruelty is unacceptable. The kinds of things you have been saying to the children are quite good. Be clear and matter of fact that you don't like this behavior. It's important for you to sort out your own emotional baggage (we all have it!) from the problems your daughter is having. This is one of the exciting things about being a parent--you are creating a new way of responding to something you have struggled with in your own life. Louise
My reaction to this situation thus far has been to avoid him. We mostly play at parks, and we joined the YMCA about a year ago so we can do physical stuff in the evenings without involving my daughter playing outside. (We live in an apartment, so we can't just retreat to playing in the backyard.) This is a big improvement, but she still likes to play outside and some days I am completely at my wits end. He will scream at her and she will start balling. (This happens 99% of the time they are both outside ) I've progressed from saying "Don't worry about him." to "He's just a big meany." to "Don't worry honey you are much smarter and nicer than he is." I guess I am looking for advice about the following 1. What semi-constructive things could I say to him, the bully, to maybe make the situation better or head it off? Are there books that deal with this subject -for children or adults? and 2. What should I say to my daughter? He makes her feel bad about herself, what can I say to make her feel better? I don't think dealing with the parents will help much based on my experience, and really the problem in my opinion is not so much the childs behavior, which they can do something about, but his personality.
There's a book THE BICYCLE MAN that tells a similar story. It might pave the way for your child to having that play-date. Good luck!
Dreikurs does have one other "slogan" which might suggest something you could do "Take the sails out of their wind." This means if a child is misbehaving to you, remove yourself. Then they don't have anyone to focus their misbehavior on. In your concrete situation, this means take your daughter home if the bully starts misbehaving.
By the way, I'm not sure that it is helpful to the situation to try to make your daughter feel better by comparing him to her. My best wishes to all of you. Fran
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