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Bullying & Teasing in Young Children

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Worries Big & Little > Bullying & Teasing in Young Children

Toddlers Preschoolers More Advice about Bullying


My toddler is being labeled a bully

Oct 2008

My 16 month son and I attend a regular toddler enrichment activity. This is tremendously fun for both of us and we have made some great friends here. Unfortunately, my son has developed the habit of hitting other children on the head or face. This generally seems to happen when he gets excited and happy. He never hits in response to having toys taken from him or as a retaliation. The general reaction of the other toddlers to being hit ranges from an occasional frown or brief tears but more often than not it is usually a blank stare and a quick return to play. My son has frequently been hit, bumped into, knocked down and has had toys snatched from him on a daily basis. It has never crossed my mind that any of these children are headed down the road to brutal delinquency.

About a month ago, my son hit a little girl in the class twice in one session. I was very embarrassed and made sure to apologize profusely to the mother. This child was not someone we had met before and she reacted with very intense, prolonged tears. I am a first time mom and I am not perfect. I didn't quite know how to cope with this beyond apologizing. This was the first time that a child reacted with such intensity and I was truly at a loss.

Since this incident I have been upped my vigilance about keeping a very close watch on my son. We encountered the duo a second time, during which I made sure that he had no contact with her whatsoever. I assumed that the incident had boiled over.

I was approached by the teacher yesterday in front of all of the other parents at the end of class and was told that this mother emailed the director of the program and told her that my son was a bully. The teacher was kind about it and said that she defended my son as a sweet boy. However,I am a bit disturbed about the way the whole manner was handled (this director never contacted me and then it was brought up in front of the other parents).

My knowledge of child development leads me to believe that children at this age have not yet developed a sense of empathy. I don't think it's possible to be an actual bully- is it? Am I completely in denial here? Does it sound like a case of true thug behavior?

I would really appreciate some constructive feedback about managing this behavior. My approach to date has been a firm no, a soft grabbing of his hand, and ''gentle, gentle'' with some redirecting. Does anyone have any other suggestions? -Publically labeled as brutes.

I don't think your son is a ''bully.'' However, he's also not an ''infant.'' He's a toddler with normal toddler tendencies. All you can do is keep working on him, firmly telling him ''no hitting'' and ''gentle, gentle'' every single time. If he hits, remove him from the situation immediately. Don't overreact, but make it not fun. Eventually he'll realize that when he hits, the fun is over. This might last for months and months, but eventually it will stop. Socializing children is hard work, but since you're so aware of it and are trying hard, it will happen! It might also help to explain to the other adults that you're working on it and feeling frustrated, perhaps even ask for their advice. Then they'll know you're aware of the problem and are trying to fix it. Good luck! This, too, will pass!
At 16 mos. kids have NO concept that hitting is wrong. They barely even understand that what they are hitting is another person. So this is very very young for what most of us think of as "discipline."

Say "no" and remove him from the other kid. He won't totally understand yet but you are teaching, not punishing. He does have to start hearing the word 'no' at some point (at the opposite end of the spectrum is my sister's 5 year old who cried when I said 'no' to her because no one had ever said that to her).

Apologize to both parent and kid -- after all, you're the one who let this happen, even if it was an accident. Personally, if the "victim" seems to be overreacting I would focus my apology on the parent.

You have to watch watch watch CONSTANTLY. But don't feel too bad when you miss something - you just won't be able to prevent everything.

I totally know how you feel. Certain moms with these sweet little girls who cry at the drop of a hat when touched by someone half their size can drive me insane. (Thankfully, many moms of sweet little girls are extremely understanding. Love them.)

Real discipline starts later than 16 mos. And I am a mom who is 'strict' by most standards. (Remember, I said 'no' to the 5 YO). There is no such thing as a 16-month old "bully"!!

Hm, your post didn't say anything about you disciplining your child when he hits others - you only shared how the kids don't seem to react to his hitting, even though some do cry - but you said ''briefly.''

It does sound like you are in a bit of denial about your kids behavior. It doesn't sound like he is mean spirited or out of control - but it DOES sound like he needs consequences and discipline.

EVERY time he hits another child, you should immediately tell him not to do it, apologize to the other child and give him a time out. Apologizing to the parent of the other kid doesn't make the kid who was hit feel any better. And if your son can't/won't apologize to the child, you should apologize for him, so that your kid sees you model appropriate behavior and the child who was hit feels better. Your kid will catch on.

But if you just let him continue negative behaviors and think just because he is ''young'' that it's ok, you'll have a handful to deal with when you wake up one day and realize your kid is a nasty teenager who won't listen to you or is not empathetic to others.

Even if other parents aren't doing that for your child when he is hit or pushed, it doesn't make your lack of intervention ok. And, if they do hit or push your child and the parent doesn't do something, say something, it's fine to tell that child it's not nice to hit or push others... take responsibility

I'm the mom of a girl who was the ''hittee'' as a toddler, and now a 16-month old boy who hits and whacks other kids from time to time. Same non-violent household - different personalities. You sound like a fantastic parent. Keep doing what you're doing. That other parent was totally overreacting and the staff handled it poorly. Write the director a letter stating your disappointment. Your son will eventually move past the hitting stage. Mom of two great kids
Calling a one year-old a bully is insane. There is no such thing. Your methods are fine. Always tell the child 'no' firmly and then remove him from the situation (i.e., redirect the child or distract him). Don't let this weird mom who labels your child inappropriately get you down. Anon
Your 16 month old is NOT a bully. He's 16 months old! They hit, they bite - they don't speak english therefore they don't know the rules. I started with rules and discipline around 18 months. Prior to that it was redirection. The toddler group leader is a moron. My son did all that stuff, and he's now a very sweet and respectful nearly 5 year old. He's certainly an alpha male, but he loves playing with little girls and is genuinely nice most of the time. He knows when he can play rough, and knows when to tone it down for the little kids and the ladies. I used regular time outs, consequences and removal of privileges/toys if he showed bully behavior, and I can honestly say he's a great kid. Today he told me that the assertive girl in his class is his favorite friend. One thing that I think is important is I give him an outlet for his aggressive tendencies - swords, blasters (star wars guns), and superheros all figure in his play and are welcome in our home. Mom of a strong boy
My daughter exhibits similar behavior. When she's excited about something or someone, she immediately hits, usually in the face unfortunately...but never hits when she's upset or mad. It sounds to me like you're handling the situation as best as you can. My only suggestion is to actually show your child what he should do instead of hitting. With my daughter, I try to get her to give a hug instead. She's almost 18 months now, and I think she's finally getting the picture. Your child is NOT a bully and you know that. It's a shame that this situation was treated as it was, but just remember that every parent is different and we all overreact about things. I know it's hard not to take it personally. Just keep doing what you're doing... anon
first off, I've been in your shoes but your son is not an infant, he is a toddler. and unfortunately some toddlers hit (bite, pull hair, push...). My son was also a hitter (he is 3 and a half now). It sucked. I am not sure if I could have done more to change things -- as he got older I would remove him so he knew if we were doing something he liked -- like going to the park with his friends -- and he did something, we'd leave immediately. Luckily most of the kids we interacted with were ok but it was not always ok and sometimes I would be in tears. And some kids have huge reactions - some don't. I don't think its appropriate for the teacher to talk with you in front of the other parents but I was constantly seeking advice from any ''teacher'' figure in our lives when my son was 18 mths - 2+ yrs. And no, you can't always catch it before it happens. But I really came to know what times/situations/other kids would set him off and got much better at ending things, moving on, etc before that happened. And unless you have had a kid that hits (bites, pulls hair, pushes) you have *no* idea what its like to be on that side of things - hence the less than understanding parents. good luck
How embarrassing and awful. Two suggestions. Amazon can quickly mail you a wonderful boardbook for toddlers called Hands Are Not For Hitting. I doubt your toddler is a bully, but he does need help to learn to stop hitting. The situation you are in and the accompanying humiliation are something else. May I suggest that you approach the teacher the way you wish you had been approached, and tell her that you wish she had told you in private, as it was humiliating for you. Consider telling the terrified mother (who perhaps has not returned) that you recognize that your son, like all toddlers, needs help to contain himself and that you are working on it. If you are able to get to the point where you can be clear and non-defensive in your communications, you will salvage whatever reputation you may potentially have lost. However, I doubt that the mothers who know you and your child have misconstrued the situation. Another mother
Hitting is normal toddler behavior, it sounds like your actions have been very appropriate. Continuing to monitor your child, encouraging gentleness, and redirection are really all you can do. Based on your version of events, the other parent is totally overreacting. I would not let the accusation upset you. anon
You are right. 16 months is WAY too young to be labeled a ''bully''! I've seen kids display bullying behavior as young as 3, but at 16 months they're in such a totally different developmental phase! Redirecting his behavior, staying close and guiding him when necessary, trying to avert these instances before they happen.... that's what you can do.

I would say get yourself out of that enrichment program. The teacher and the director both displayed extremely unprofessional behavior. I would never stand for that.

Don't worry. Most likely in a couple month your child won't be doing this anymore (but he'll probably have a new and equally baffling new behavior ;) MomOf2

I have 3 & 5 year old girls and we are working on the concept of the power of words (tattling, stupid, etc). Bully is a VERY powerful word. I work in childcare and have seen a huge range of children and behaviors and have never actually used the word 'bully' describe a child. I am not saying that they don't exist. I just haven't had the opportunity to work with one (I see plenty of frustration and its outcomes, but I have never seen bullying. The age group that I work with is 0 to 5). Bully doesn't sound like it applies to your son at all. He sounds quite normal.

I do understand the frustration of the other parent. It is horrifying to see your sub-2 child hit by another child just as it is mortifying to see your sub-2 child hit another child. I remember thinking every awful thought in the book about another child at the playground who hit my then-18-month-old. The shoe was on the other foot a year later. Kids react differently. I am fortunate not to have drama-queens in my household and am always shocked to encounter them, but I do understand...the child was reacting more from surprise than hurt. But, it is withing her right. The Mom will reign that in at some point.

Regarding the preschool...I am not surprised that the director didn't say a thing to you. I frequently hear how horrible this child is or that child is...parents have no problem criticizing others parenting while breaking their arms patting themselves on the back for their successes...I ignore it. I see the children, spend time with the children (often more waking hours than the parents themselves do) and have a pretty good idea about how kids act and what is going on...just the other day I got to listen to some parent criticize the parenting of another and throw names at a child (acts like a baby, obviously no discipline in the home, etc) who is five and under my care. Whatever...I have no need to tell her that the child is autistic. I just told her that the kid is awesome and I love him very much and that each kid has her own bag of tricks. To your point. I never comment on another child (except positively) to another parent. So, I wouldn't expect the Director to comment. I am very surprised that the teacher did this to you in front of other kids and I would talk to her. Let her know your embarrassment and let her know that you felt it was unprofessional (she probably already knows...I have wanted to eat my words on the very rare occasion myself. We are all human.) If she defends her behavior then talk to the director. But, my guess is that she already knows that she said something stupid.

And, regarding the behavior sounds like you are on the ball and doing your best. Keep it up. Model, model, model. Remove from down periods as necessary. Do keep an eye on it...I just heard a story about a lovely 5-year-old who had integration issues. I never would have known that she used to be the 'hitter' on the playground from 18-months until 3. Turns out that she had space issues (and other things) that have been worked through with an occupational therapist. -anon

I do not believe your child is a bully at all. Our daughter hit when she was that age. It was usually mom or dad that she hit, not other kids, so a little different. I think at that age, the kids are so fully of emotions that they don't really know how to handle them. It's important not to correct aggression with aggression, so be gentle with him when you are telling him to be gentle. When our daughter would hit us, we would walk away from her after telling her that was not ok. She didn't like to be left alone So, I would think you may want to remove your son from the room when he hits, at least for a few minutes, just to let him know it's not ok. Another mom
Hi I am so sorry. I have to say, I am with you here. I have had the same reaction from someone who comes to my house for play dates (since recently have ended). I have a 20 mo. old and the same thing has occurred. My son too gets very excited about running with another child and when the child stops, he runs up and pushes to keep the game going. Well, inevidently pushes too hard and the other falls down and starts crying. I posted a while back and other parents exclaimed that they need to protect their children from being ''bullied''. Here are my two cents. I hardly feel that a 18-20 month old knows what they are doing. You have done the right thing, by being arms length, apologizing to the other child and removing your child. I ended my somewhat ''mommy friendship'' by ending the play dates. I am sorry you feel bad, I did also, but know that your son will grow out of this stage (which is normal). I understand the other mother, but she clearly has no idea how this could affect you. Again, she is probably protecting her own. I sought advice from a woman who deals with toddlers daily and she suggested to remove him from the enviorment and find a playdate who can handle the pushing/excitement stage in your son. Then when he is over the stage, go back to the class. Good luck and try not to worry too much. Everyone parents their own way. I just try to feel confident in my choices, seek out advice from others (like you are doing) and breathe. We will always have to deal with situations like this and there will always be someone who you can relate to. mother of a sweet child
My son at 14-16 months did the same thing, mostly to me and other kids he knew to get a reaction, to test. Like your son, he did it while playing, not as a defense, nor over toys, nor while crying or upset. The good news is, that behavior will stop. My son is now 18 months and hasn't acted that way for a while. It is inappropriate to label babies ''bullies'', although I know it is painful for a parent to hear. Try not to be disheartened by this and know that this time will pass. I think what you are doing to teach him is right on target. I did the same things you described and he has seemed to outgrow the behavior. A friend of mine's son was over recently and did the same thing to my son, but I didn't think of him as a bully. He is just a baby learning how to be social. understanding mom
I read the posts in response to your question and I wanted to add my two cents. I have my doctorate in child development and think that your problem is not uncommon at all (neither a young child hitting, nor it being handled poorly by staff). Yes, 16 months is TOO young to be labeled a bully. You are right, children do not have true empathy at this age. We see that empathy emerges in toddlerhood, but more from the perspective of the child (example: a toddler might see that someone is upset and offer her his favorite blanket -- this is sweet, but may not help the girl, still very important in his learning, though). At 16 months he has not even developed a sense of self. All of this being said, it is still important that he learn that it is not OK to hit.

Some parents offered good advice about removing your son from a situation when he does hit, though. It is absolutely important to start teaching him at this age that it is not OK to behave that way. You may also want to explain why (something to the effect of: you didn't like it when (insert child's name) hit you, (insert child's name) doesn't like it when you hit her, either). He may not get this concept yet, and he won't internalize it for awhile, but at least he gets used to hearing it.

Hope this helps. Keep up your vigilance when he is playing and ask his teachers to be consistent with your method, as well. Melissa

NO child should be labeled a bully. But here is an excellent opportunity to teach your son better ways to interact when he is happy and excited. (And it sounds like his playmates who knock children down and snatch toys could also use some help!) I would love to do a workshop customized for the needs and interests of your group's staff and parents: Here are a few ideas to work on.

1. (Most important) look at what happens just before and after hitting and try to figure out if he is trying to get the child's attention, play with the child's toy, get adult's attention. And did he succeed?

2. Instead of reproving your son, model empathy: Turn first to the other child and briefly comfort her saying words like ''I'm so sorry. You don't like hitting.'' Afterward turn to your son: ''You didn't want to make her cry. Can you pat her hand gently to make her feel better?'' (Guide him. Praise him as he tries to follow even if the other child isn't comforted.)

3. Teach a different strategy. Describe what you think he wanted to achieve, e.g. ''you wanted to play, too.'' Model what your son could have done, like clapping, or saying, ''hi!: or holding out a hand and saying ''please,'' or offering the other child a toy. (If the other child does not respond, say ''You tried. Let's see what you and I can do instead'' and model how to join a different child's play.

4. Spend more time with your child in the play group, anticipating problems and modeling better solutions. Don't take over play, just assist in what they initiate.

5. At home create similar situations and make a game out of them: Enter the room with a big ''Hi!'' When happy, clap. In play,''your turn, my turn.'' When frustrated, ''What else can we do?''

6. Finally, be on the lookout for nice behavior, clap, and DESCRIBE and COPY what he is doing right. What your son has is mistaken behavior, not misbehavior. Good luck with teaching him more successful strategies. I'd love to hear from you. Pearl

My 19-month-old is being bullied at the playground

Sept 2008

My son is 19 mos & has a language delay + some issues with eye contact. My Mominlaw says it is B/C he does not go to daycare and interact with children enuf. So, for several mos, I have taken him to the parks/ play areas to socialize. But, it goes awfully (esp. the less babylike he is)! He is hit/shoved/yelled at nearly every outing, usually more than once!!! We try so hard to prevent it too. My son has lost interest in the play structures & instead likes to sit and pour wood chips on himself, or hang at the edges now.

The bullying happens when someone takes an interest in my son's independent play and approaches (often there is no toy involved). I am always nearby and when they bully, I calmly ask the child something like ''are you wanting to play?'' This fixes the problem momentarily, However, often the child returns & more urgently ''punishes him''(shoving, hitting and shouting at my son). My son never resists.

Sadly, the other moms do nothing- or act like it's a ''sharing issue'' (like it's ok to hit if you havetrouble with sharing??). Thus it often happens more than once in a visit. Last week my son was sitting in a toy boat when a boy climbed in & sat beside him. Plenty of room for both. I hoped for sharing glances, but the child suddenly grabbed my son by his shirt & pushed him down into the foot area & hit him. The other toddler's mom came over & lifted her child up, which set off a kicking fit, & the child tried to grab my kid again in anger (didn't want to be removed from the boat) My son had done nothing but just sit quietly in the boat. In August, a 3 year old tried to shove my son, who was at my side, into a fountain!! My son had ignored the child's earlier advances/ no eye contact ..and so I think the kid was mad. I had to practically fight the kid to get my son out of the water.

I've tried hanging back, tried standing right there & chatting w/every child as they approach. But it just keeps happening and I don't know what to do. We are heart broken.

Worse... at the park today, I put my son in amongst a small group of kiddos and babies. For a while he sat still with a worried look on his face, and then suddenly became excited & ran over and swung at a baby and was almost giddy dancing as he tried to stomp her!!!

What should I do? I would love to have anyone's input, but espec. any input from ASD mommies with regard to bullying lola

My son was the same way at that age (now dx'ed w/autism) but I don't know what kind of parks you're going to, we didn't have quite as many encounters as you have! That has to be really hard for you, I'm very sorry.

You might want to try finding one or two more mellow boys his age and set up some 1:1 playdates at your house, where you can guide the interaction and give your son a chance to ''practice'' his social interaction in a safe place. I put signs up in various parks around me (and a notice on BPN) and found some really really great playmates for him. Maybe also find a social skills playgroup with kids his age. The more he can practice in a safe setting, the better he'll be able to do it out in the ''real'' world. Hope that helps! Jill

My now 4-year old son (who was diagnosed as having ASD shortly before he turned 3) could say about 15 words at age 2. And he was really mellow -- kids could come up and take toys away from him and he didn't care, just walked away. It bugged me a lot but never bugged him. Then we had a second kid, 2 years younger, who engaged in lots of undesirable behaviors -- stealing toys, hitting, biting. Our older son finally started to react -- first by coming to us and now by saying ''it's not okay to whatever.'' This seems to have helped him a lot with his social skills because now he has lots of friends in his preschool whereas last year he didn't.

I think a lot of parents take their kids to the park and then check out. I've had kids push my kids off slides, hit, steal toys, etc. and (some) other parents just don't care. So I am vigilant. When another kid approaches your kid, you might want to go one step farther in engaging them in play. Instead of asking ''Are you wanting to play?'' you could ask ''Do you want to pour woodchips into a pile too?'' to help them get started.

I think you are ascribing too much thought to other toddlers. I really doubt they are targeting your kid because of some slight that occurred earlier in your outing. Little kids don't always know (or remember or care) good ways to interact. Also, kids engage in parallel play until they are ~3 years old. Instead of going to parks/on outings, you might want to join a mother's club or a co-op so he sees the same kids each time.

Incidentally, I no longer think my son has ASD. He talks like a champ, reads, is into imaginary play, and has lots of friends. I think he was just a late-bloomer and needed a little extra help and guidance in making friends. Anon

What about ASD daddies? If your son is diagnosed as being on the spectrum, are you getting any therapy? Respite care? I would get into the system now if you haven't already -- contact RCEB for more info. The scenarios you describe in which your son is minding his own business and some other kids comes over to physically abuse him are just plain weird -- so weird that frankly, I have a hard time believing them. Once or twice, MAYBE... but as a regular thing? Weird...

Your mother-in-law, by the way, is dead wrong if she is suggesting that your son has autism because he doesn't get enough social interaction. What should you do? Get in touch with the RCEB and a local ASD support group. You think you can do autism alone? Maybe, but it's going to be hard enough -- why make it harder? kevin

Poor kid. Try going to a different playground. Sounds like there are some unacceptable behaving children at your current playground. And stick to your child until he gets his confidence back. Don't even give the other kids a chance to approach him at this time. He needs to feel secure and protected by you before he can venture out on his own. And don't be afraid to speak up for your child in front of the other parents. If you child doesn't see you stand up for him, how is he to stand up for himself? Crystal
At 19 months, your child is still a baby and needs your constant protection and vigilance so be at his side and be kind but assertive with children who become aggressive. A little reading might help you be aware of what social expectations to have for young toddlers. Ask your pediatrician for advice or referral to resources that might help. anonymous
Where are you taking your child!? I certainly would never want to go there with my 20 month old! I wouldn't take the bullying personally - it sounds like you have had some horrible experiences, but I don't think it has anything to do with your son specifically... If you are in Berkeley, there are a few low key tot lots like at Terrace Park, or King Park that have fewer kids at any one time, and generally pretty hands on caregivers/parents, who would empathize, and not blow off hitting or kicking. I realize this wasn't the intention of your post, but you mentioned your MIL's ridiculous claim that your son's speech and eye contact issues stem from not interacting with children more. Please ignore her nagging and instead look into an ASD parents group where you can both get better information and tips as your son grows. mom to a toddler too

My one-year-old is being teased by kindergarteners

Nov 2005

Yesterday I was in the checkout line at the grocery store with my one year old and two boys about age five started teasing him because he was in a diaper without pants over the diaper. I'm sure my son didn't know exactly what was going on but he seemed a little perplexed by their jabbings (they were pointing at him and saying: ''look, he's naked and then they would laugh''). Their mother seemed oblivious to their antics and I was in the middle of checking out so I let it go. However, I felt myself becoming really angry at their behavior and I wondered how I would handle such a thing if it happened in a year or two or three when my son is old enough to be hurt by their words. I may be overly sensitive but I HATE teasing and I was a school administrator in a school where we had a no teasing, or meaness policy. Any advice? My thought in retrospect would have been to say to the boys in the moment to stop teasing my son as I don't tolerate teasing of any kind in my family. beth

Your post reminded me how huge the gulf is between parents of babies and toddlers and parents of school aged children. I remember that when my first child was one, older children seemed dangerous and monstrous to me. But I have to tell you, that from your description what you experienced was not teasing, nor was it malicious. The boys were not trying to get a reaction out of your baby, or to make him feel sad. They are five year old boys, and five year old boys find anything having to do with diapers, butts, poop, nakedness, penises, etc absolutely hillarious. So they saw your son's diaper and were laughing together. There was no malicious intent, and I'm sure there was no emotional trauma for your child. If your kid were older, and you thought his feelings were being hurt, you could say to the boys, ''Please don't make him feel bad about his diaper,'' or words to that effect. But in the meantime, I urge you to grow a thicker skin, and not encourage your child to feel victimized by the playfulness of other children. I find that school-aged boys are often characterized as mean or wild or vindictive when they are simply playing or talking happily, with no idea in the world that anyone is listening to them. When your son reaches this age, you will find yourself being horrified by how quick mothers of smaller children are to presume that he is scary and bad or mean, when he is just being his sweet little boy self. mother of boys
How Horrible! I would have said ''that's not very nice, he's just a baby''... which I have said before when my son would get baby toys taken away at a young age at the playground by 6, 7, 8 year olds. I don't care if it stunts his ability to ''stand up'' for himself... if this happens with even-age kids (ie, another young child takes something from him) no big deal, it's a social necessity. But older kids who should know better? Yeah, they need to be told that it's not nice, since their parent(s) dropped the ball on a potential life lesson opportunity. sarah
Personally, I have no problem requesting that other people's children treat my kids with respect ... especially when it's older ones being unkind to little ones. I am extremely polite, but I do address the kids directly, and it seems to make an impression (probably more of an impression coming from me than from their own mom).

Also, I would have no problem with someone else addressing my kids the same way if they were the ones causing the problem. But if you do run into a parent who objects, stand your ground. You have an obligation to protect your child, and as long as you are polite and reasonable, you are totally in the right. Sara

I'm sure the boys were not being mean, they were being silly. Furthermore they are not in your family - so you not tolerating it in your family is kind of irrelevant to them. None of us really has much control over what other people do, only how we deal with it. Telling the boys to stop their behavior because it makes you angry or have past issues is not going to prepare your son for handling teasing in the future. It will happen and you won't always be around to protect him from it. My recommnedation is to 1) Separate your issues from his 2) If it doesn't bother him, don't make it bother him by getting upset about it. 3) If it bothers him (now or in two years) handle it with humor so he can learn to handle it with humor.

I would have laughed and said to my son (if he had noticed) look at those silly boys, they must not remember when they wore diapers, then I would have smiled at the boys.

Children take their cues from us. When my son didn't know how to handle something, he'd look at me. For teasing and general sillyness I'd just roll my eyes and smile, then he'd roll his eyes and smile. learned the hard way

What an unpleasant experience! Based on your description, I think I would have gone for a mild reproof/correction of the two boys. Something simple and along the lines of ''Do you think your teasing could hurt the baby's feelings? It it too bad the mother was so clueless and insensitive as to not correct her own children. If you had said something to her, she probably would have gotten defensive. Best, Jan

Other parents letting their kids bully my 2-year-old

Sept 2005

Whenever I take my 2 year old son to the toy store or the playgound, other rude children will come up and snatch toys from him or try to bully him. My son has a calm and gentle temperament and doesn't seem to mind, but I often have to remove my son after awhile because some of these kids would just keep following him. I don't feel that it is fair for my son to give up his toys or space when the parents of these rude kids just sit there and watch their kids getting their way. What is the best way to handle this, should I speak nicely to the rude child or to the parent? Fed Up

Actually, this is an important life lesson for you and your child. I would not look outside of yourselves to resolve most problems. He really needs to learn how to hold his own in life because you will not be able to be there by his side forever. So use these opportunities to connect with YOUR child, giving him skills he can use to be fair to himself as well as others.

Make him practice, not only while in public, but by roleplaying with you at home. I know he's only 2yo, so keep it simple for now and keep working on it with him over time. Good luck.

Dear Fed Up, I could have written your posting. I too have a calm, laid-back 2.5-year-old boy who frequently gets communal toys snatched from him. Even babies crawl over and take his toys, and like yours, he doesn't seem to mind most of time. I don't know that I have much advice. I've tried talking nicely to parents -- one father on the playground told me that my son has to learn to be more agressive and should just snatch the toy back. I sometimes find another toy for the offender if my son is upset, and I've learned to say ''he's playing with that,'' and take the toy back if there is no parent around to intervene, but I'm not always comfortable doing that. I also try to remind myself that I seem to mind much more than my son does and that I may be projecting my own anxieties onto him. Yet I dread the encounters in the playground and toy store, and I too am tired of watching other kids bully mine. You are not alone. Anon
what about walking up to the ''bully'' with your child and encouraging him to politely ask for his toy back? it seems the example of good manners is needed my many. anon
First of all, try to check your judgment -- your mild-mannered angel will, at some point this year or next, start taking toys away from other kids. Maybe not as much as these horrible monsters you describe, but enough so that you are mortified. Second, if someone else isn't parenting their kid and their kid is bullying your kid, you get to step in. If a toy is getting grabbed from your child's, you can go over to the child and very firmly say, ''FiFi wasn't done with that, you can have a turn when she is.'' Or: ''No grabbing.'' Say it loud, and it may rouse the parent in charge out of his or her stupor. nelly
Hi, I also have a kind of meek toddler and I consider it my job to help the kids work things out. My rule of thumb is that if someone is holding a toy, it's theirs until they are done and put it down. I say this to the kids (mine and others). Sometimes I reflect to them (if they are looming) ''Hey, that ball sure looks interesting, but she is playing with it right now. You can play with it as soon as she's done.'' Sometimes I even offer to bring it to them as soon as it is free. JM
Our daughter was also very gentle at age 2 and the more aggressive kids certainly followed her around as well. Like your son, she didn't seem to mind when a toy was taken away either. What I began to do was to keep an eye out for kids that got close to her. When they got closer, I gently let them know that my daughter was playing with such-and-such toy and that they could have a turn when she was finished. It put the kids on alert that a.) I knew they were coming in for the 'grab' and b.) that I did not like that. It also (I hope) showed my daughter that it was not okay for other kids to take things from her and that it was okay to defend yourself. My guess is that the parents of these kids have the philosophy that the kids should work it out for themselves. I personally never agreed with that theory because kids in the 2-3 year old range seem to still be developing a concept of sharing. Anyway, our daughter is now a confident 5 year old and has a very good sense of fairness and sharing. Good Luck. - anon
The way I would deal withthat situation is how I would deal with it if I were still teaching kids and they were playing. I would try to keep it light hearted and give the other kid the benefit of the doubt that maybe he/she just doesn't know better. A quick ''Oh, he's still using that toy, but you can have a turn when he's done (if it's a community toy).'' or ''Oh, that's his special toy and he really likes to play with it.'' or something of that nature. I think it would create a bigger deal by addressing the parent over the issue unless there is a real problem going on where the other child is being mean with intent and/or someone could get hurt. It is irritating when this happens and the other parent isn't on top of it, but a ''friendly'' reminder to the offending child could be a way of letting both the child and the parent know in a non- confrontational manner that it is not okay. cb
I don't know how old your child is, but try and be careful with the language you are using - a child who takes something from another child is not being rude (as would be the case if it were two adults). Rather, that child is being a child. It is so normal, especially for toddlers, to take things from each other. They like the rise they get from other kids and adults, they are learning and testing boundaries, they are learning how to get along. Now, you can definitely step in and set boundaries - gently asking that child to please not take the toy your child is playing with. And if the child keeps doing it, ask the parent to please get involved so that it doesn't happen again. But try and approach that child and parent not as rude, but as normal. My daughter will burst into tears when another child takes something from her, and then a few minutes later will take something from another child. They don't have the reasoning ability to make a connection at that age. I try to encourage my daughter to share, to play together with the child who wants her toy or whose toy she wants - explaining that it can be a lot more fun to play together. Mom of a regular little toddler
I just responded to the first ''Other Parents...'' posting, so I figured I will balance with a response to you.

First, I would say that that your child should not have to be the target of bullying kids of parents that allow aggressive behavior. What I would do is say something like, ''Excuse me, my son was playing with that, so please don't take it.'' If you need to, gently remove the toy and say, ''Let's give it back to Ben, since he was already playing with it.'' I do believe it takes a village, and if you are doing it nicely (not an angry mama bear) both children will get something out of your intervention.

However, the other thing I would say (or ask) is, Are you being overly sensitive? You may feel that because your son is calm and gentle, he is a victim waiting to happen, and so are looking for every possible infraction on the part of other children. I would say that you also don't want to set yourself up for being your child's hovering saviour. Something to be in tune with is finding a way for kids to get along on their own, yet guiding them through it.

One thing I did want to call out is it also might be an appropriate way for your son to learn how to share. I was once in the sandbox at the Montclair playground and was floored when a grandma was standing guard over a cache of sand toys that she had brought for her child. Obviously, other children saw them all and wanted to play too, and she kept saying, ''Give that back, that belongs to Emma.'' I thought it was a pretty poor choice to bring those toys and not use it as an opportunity to teach her child to share. It would have been easy enough to say, '' Emma is playing with that now, if you want to wait a few minutes, you can have a turn.'' Everyone wins. Maybe this is something you could try.

I would not say anything to the other parent (people tend to get sensitive and turn defensive) unless the bully child is really hassling yours. Then, maybe I would say, ''It looks like your son is being a bit aggressive with mine. Could you help make sure he doesn't keep grabbing from my son? Thanks SO MUCH!'' If you do not act like the child is a problem, just acting in an inappropriate way, then your sincere words should go a long way. Elizabeth

As much as the parent who posted the previous question in the digest might hate to hear my advice, I'd suggest you speak nicely to the child. Some gentle guidance is what a preschooler needs. It's too bad other parents aren't doing this for their own kids. I spend alot of time redirecting my child in these situations as she hasn't learned sharing very well yet.

Along those lines, I don't think that two year old are capable of being rude, I think they're being two. Toy snatching is a pretty common activity at that age. I don't know that bullying is really what is happening either, as that implies some intent to be mean and hurtful. Most preschool age kids take what they want, end of story, until redirected by an adult. Now if these other kids are much older, there's a whole different problem, but I assume you're talking about kids of similar ages to yours. Mom of grabby three year old

I just wanted to second what one of the other responders said -- your mild-mannered 2 year old may, much to your surprise, one day turn into an aggressive 2.5 or 3 year old. You may not believe that now -- I don't think I would have either -- but that's definitely what happened with my son. When I first started taking him to playgrounds as a new walker at the age of 15 months, and up until about the age of 2, he was very mild- mannered and non-aggressive. Like your son, he didn't generally get all that upset when other (usually a bit older) kids snatched toys from him. I worried that he was so mild- mannered that people would be walking all over him later in life. Like you, I was annoyed at other parents for not correcting their child when they snatched things from him -- though, since my son wasn't upset, I generally just decided to let it go.

Just after his second birthday, all that started to change. He started objecting if other kids tried to grab something from him, and would sometimes push or hit them to keep them from doing so. That's bad enough, but he also became a toy-snatcher himself, and would shove or hit if the other child resisted. This behavior seemed to peak around 2.6, and is still an issue at 3.4 -- even though I *do* correct it.

And I'd like you to know that, at least for me, it has been way way WAY more difficult to deal with being the parent of the aggressor than being the parent of the child being aggressed upon. Not that it's easy to see other children mistreating your child, but at least you get to rejoice in what a wonderful, well-behaved child you have (while perhaps feeling a bit superior to the parents of the ill-mannered hooligans, who clearly are just not properly parenting their child!). It's far worse when you find your own child's behavior mortifying, but have been having difficulty stopping it. We continue to work on it, and I do think there's been some improvement lately, but let me tell you, it is absolutely exhausting mediating all the squabbles my son gets into. And I'll confess that, especially when he first started snatching things from other kids, I would sometimes look the other way if the other kid wasn't upset -- not so much out of indifference as from sheer exhaustion! I eventually decided that I have to correct the behavior all the time, even if the other child doesn't object, because otherwise I'm sending my son a mixed message, but let's just say I'm now much more sympathetic to other parents who don't always correct their child for this behavior.

So, I guess the main point of this post is to let you know what it's like to be on the other side of this problem -- I'm hoping this will help you to be less judgemental and more compassionate towards the other parents in this situation. For all you know, you may be in their shoes 6 months or a year from now -- and even if you're not, I think it's always a good idea to try to understand the other person's point of view. Diane

I wasn't going to respond to this topic until I saw the responses yesterday. Since it bugged me overnight (I know! Get a life!) I thought I should write in with another perspective.

The parents who let their kids ''bully'' your kid - if taking a toy away could really be called bullying - may just be more laid back parents than you, or possibly the kids could be at the park with thier nannies. Whatever the case, there are some of us, apparently few, who think kids need to develop their own negotiating skills. Kids of a certain age get toys taken away - mine did. Then they get older and they are the toy grabbers - mine did that too. The grabees don't seem to mind.

I think it's the parents who mind, and if that's not projecting, I don't know what is. Toddler play is not like adult interaction, where we'd be upset if we were reading Vogue and some other woman came up and grabbed it from us. Toddlers sort of grab and give up toys in a circular fashion, and that's just normal. As I read all these comments about how dang UPSET some moms get when their kids have toys taken away, and how they feel they need to jump to thier child's rescue, I wonder if these moms are going to attend elementary school with their kids to fight their battles for them. And I wonder if it would even BE a battle if the moms didn't make it one.

There's this competitive motherhood thing around here that I don't even get, so maybe I'm way off base. But I thought it might be helpful to hear from someone outside the choir. why I dread going to the park

First, I would like the parents of more aggressive children to realize that:

I am not judging your parenting. I am worried about my own. What do I do when your kid bites mine, or pushes him or grabs a toy and he bursts into tears? How many times do I say about your child, when mine looks at me, hurt and bewildered, ''he/she didn't mean it'' or ''he/she is having a rough day?'' And what do I do when my child becomes more introverted because he is always picked on?

I understand it is difficult to raise a ''spirited'' child. But as a parent of a child who is gentle and shy, I have put up with all kinds of comments about him ''not being socialized'' or ''still stuck on mommy'' or even ''slow to develop.'' Can you imagine how this made me feel about my own parenting skills? I understand you are embarrassed and exhausted by your child's behavior, but your defensive attitudes drive a wedge between us at a time when we need each other the most.

Secondly, for us, the solution was to stay away from the park and find a small preschool with children of similar tempermants. My son is now thriving and no longer shrinking once I limited his exposure to more aggressive children and their defensive parents. happy at last

Mainly I lurk here but one of the responses -- ''kids will be kids, if it bothers you, you're projecting'' really bothered me. Our kid doesn't stand up for himself. We have to work with him on this, just as parents whose kids assert themselves a little too much do. We have been advised by teachers to remove him from certain situations, even if he objects. Message: it is not acceptable to be treated this way.

Some situations, like when kids are pretty evenly matched, may indicate it's appropriate to let them work it out. Sometimes, especially when the kids were younger, I helped them find the right words/solution. But when one kid is always at the short end -- emotionally or physically -- I don't agree that they should work it out alone.

In fairness, how can I stop him, if he doesn't see me stop it directed at him? Teasing and exclusion are pretty normal developmentally. I've even heard people excuse exclusion of other children (''it's hard for children to expand the group in the midst of play''). How can we accept behavior that makes a child feel so bad? Why do we accept hurtful behavior so long as it's not physical?

This is less about shielding a child from even being exposed to such behavior as letting him know that it's not ok, even if it happens. anon


Is my preschooler a bully in training?

June 2009

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?

Hi, Kids ''try on'' a lot of different behaviors and it is a normal part of their learning and growing experience. Our job as parents is to set firm limits and make our values clear to them. So, it is NOT OK to exclude others or intentionally say mean things that might hurt someone's feelings. At your son's age, though, you have to remember that you are still TEACHING these ideas and values, which means that you try to do it in an upbeat way that isn't punitive or overly harsh to your son. Basically, you need to talk about these different scenarios with your son often and teach him/ tell him the rights and wrongs of the world. You also need to encourage him to develop empathy (how would you feel if. . . ) and to have the courage to stand up for what he knows is right and go against ''the group'' when necessary. All of this is a long and involved process that requires a lot of time and energy from us as parents! It also requires us to be carefully tuned in to our child's behavior (as it seems you are) and to the way kids are interacting and treating each other at school, on play dates, at the park, during the lunch hour, etc. Then, we must intervene and praise them when they are doing the right thing (I like the way you included so-and-so in the game today) and let them know what is not acceptable! With your guidance, your son will be fine and will NOT turn out to be a bully. anon
The word is NO. This kid is five years old What do you do when he says these mean things? Does everything come to a crashing halt until he apologizes? If you believe this behavior is unacceptable, you have to demonstrate the fact by not accepting it. Otherwise you are demonstrating that it is really okay - look at your actions, not just your words.

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

My 4-year-old is bullying other kids

July 2008

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

My child is 8 years old, and one thing I've noticed, so ironical it is almost funny, about some of her aggresive or over-the-top wild friends is that they usually have the most sweet, gentle, lovely parents. It seems that the children keep testing their parents' limits, and the parents give them kind, gentle words reminding them to behave better but without real boundaries and consequences. For example, ''We don't hit, it hurts people's feelings,'' has no impact on the kid's behavior. When used in moderation or if gentle tactics don't work: ''Stop hitting now or you will lose you favorite toy for an hour'' works much better. mom of a limit-testing kid
The most helpful thing for me and my husband was doing therapy with the partner of the therapist treating our child. It was helpful to learn how to help our child, as well as to ventilate the types of questions you are asking yourself. From my perspective as the mom of a victim of a single violent incident of bullying, since you know there is a problem, the most important thing you can do to minimize this problem for your family and others is not allow unsupervised play at this time, as the preschool teachers are doing. anonymous
Kudos to you as parents for realizing the behavior and doing attempting some pre-emptive actions. I too was worried that our boy would be a bully because of the way my husband plays with him, but his disposition is more towards the sensitive side. I watched a documentary called ''Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys'' and learned that aggression and 'violence' is a natural part of being a boy. Without any prompting or modeling, boys will pick up sticks or shoes and pretend they're swords or other weapons. I learned to not be so worried about this imaginative play. I've also learned that exposing our son to playdates/daycares where he is around children of mixed ages really helped him to identify where he fits among the age groups...he identifies himself as a little boy (in between the big boys and babies) and it helps him to moderate some of his behaviors. He actually does a ''fake run'' to get the babies to waddle or crawl after him, and with the big boys, he's learning how to gauge when to jump in (and get bumped every so often) and when to stay back and just marvel at what the big boys can do. Good luck and fortunately, you're catching this early. sympathetic parent
I am in the same struggle with my 8-year-old. I am in Kaiser's Spirited Child Class (for parents) and my son has enjoyed Kaiser's Social Skills class. The latter led to an ADD screening group and positive diagnosis. We are experimenting with medication for ADD, which seems to help (although the problem seems more like too much testosterone - he wants to win at the expense of relationships).

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

All I can say is believe in yourselves -- you have done nothing wrong. I have not had your exact experience but do have a child that has done quite a bit of nasty behavior -- and I have friends who continually remind me of his past behavior - and it sucks. You are getting help with him, and I imagine thats the best place to start. You did not do anything wrong. take care
I really appreciate the honest description of the situation and the frank recognition that this is a serious issue. I am a researcher on children's health (but not specifically bullying) and can tell you from my general reading on the subject that the problems that ensue from bullying affect the bully as much as the bullied so you are right to address this immediately. Most elementary schools these days have a zero tolerance policy and you will know relatively soon whether you are having any success with modifying his behavior. Best of luck to you and be prepared for feeling like the ''bad parent'' from other parents. I hope that if people know you are taking this seriously that they will cut you some slack. a recent NYT account of a journal article on bullying had a quite disturbing array of responses from people bullied in their lifetimes that were happy to hear that bullys suffered from an increased risk for suicide. Anon
I am so sorry for your situation. It can be so frustrating and painful.

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

I don't have any personal experience with how to cope or navigate the challenges presented by your son's behavior. However, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Webster-Stratton on a small academic project. You mentioned that you are seeking professional help and I thought another resource might be helpful - eventhough the program is based in Washington state. You may have already discovered the Parenting Clinic in an Internet search. The clinic is a truly wonderful nurturing space with a remarkable program to help parents of children with aggression problems. You might want to check these links out.

The Parenting Clinic

Carolyn Webster-Stratton Professor of Family and Child Nursing, Director of the School of Nursing Parenting Clinic University of Washington

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'' 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

It sounds like you are doing the right thing by looking into getting your son some help. Make sure you keep on loving this little one even when you feel like he is a ''bad kid''. It might help to tell him what is an appropriate way to behave in X situation, and have him practice the behaviors that you would like to see him use. I've gotten a lot out of reading the positive discipline books. good luck

My 3.5 yr old is a bully!

Feb 2007

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

Your son is not a bully. He may have a problem with sharing and playing too rough, but a bully is mean to gain control or power over people, and that is not what you're dealing with.

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

You may want to evaluate your discipline. You really need to be consistent and dish out discipline with consequences. I am not criticizing your parenting when I say this -- I was in your shoes about a month ago. I have two high energy kids. Just getting through the day is exhausting with them as they never stop moving.

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

I'll be curious to read responses to this. My son has a kid like yours in his class, let's call him A. One day I was talking to my child's teacher and we were talking about how nice A's mom is, and how hard it would be to have such a *ahem* spirited child at home. And my son's teacher said something really interesting, which is that A's mom is probably ''too nice'' to have a child like that. She said that those kids need very strict parents that are willing to lay down very clear boundaries. The kind of parent we want to be--encouraging, offering choices, etc---just might not work for your child.

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

It's time to introduce your son to discipline! Research what method you would be comfortable with (example- timeouts,loss of tv time) and stick to it. Figure out what he's angry about/ what's bothering him and deal with that (maybe it has to do with his father or need for attention, etc.), but let him know what you will not tolerate before he gets out of hand. anon
I wonder if your child might have some form of sensory processing disorder. You say he's always the extremely high-energy kid, and the sort of things you describe seem to indicate a lack of ability to modulate his own physical behavior. Two things you could try, if you wanted to pursue this as a possiblity: you could read ''The out of sync child'', and you could talk to your pediatrician and see if the doctor thinks a visit to an occupational therapist for evaluation is in order (these are the people who provide therapy for this problem). Karen

My 3-year-old was bullied at preschool

March 2003

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 daughter's preschool at Temple Sinai is sponsoring an adults- only workshop with the organization KidPwer to teach parents of young children how to talk to their kids about staying safe, and bulleying is one of the issues they are supposed to be discussing. This event is Wednesday, April 30 from 7-9 p.m., costs $25, and is open to the community. If you or anyone else is interested in attending, let me know and I'll e-mail or send you a registration form. Good luck. It's really painful to see your child get victimized, but hopefully it will be an opportunity for learning that can empower him. Hannah

Cruel comments by kids at preschool

Dec 2002

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 think that the solution to cruel comments from little kids is to alter the response. If the desired response isn't there, it's no longer fun to do. It sounds like your daughter has become a fun button to push, so she has to unhook the button.

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 was heartbroken to hear about the situation at your child's preschool. That is just not right, and it is a failure of the teachers. At my children's preschool that kind of talk is just not tolerated. There are also lessons in treating one another with respect. It is not just a matter of the teachers keeping an eye on all the children all the time; it is a matter of teaching.

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.

I wouldn't tolerate this kind of behavior towards my child at school. Have you discussed this with the teachers and with the other children's parents? It seems to me that kids who are mean to your daughter every day (calling her stupid every day) should be taught that this is not appropriate behavior Teaching them this lesson is the responsibility of the teachers and the children's parents. The situation with the kids who are usually friendly and occasionally mean is a bit different , but I think that all kids should have lessons (from their parents and from the teachers) on how to be kind and not to hurt each other. Three and a half is not too young to learn these things. -another mom
I also struggled with cruel comments from "friends" at school, particularly in junior high, and had trouble figuring out how to respond effectively. I think this is part of the social learning we all have to do, and some of us seem to master it more readily than others. I expect that your experiences, although similar to your daughter's, occurred when you were older and were products of a different developmental stage. Also, you may not have had much support or guidance to help you learn how to deal with it, and now you feel at a loss to help your daughter.

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

It's been my experience with 3.5 year olds that all of them delight in saying totally cruel things to one another. My son and his best friend - who adore one another, call each other on the phone, talk about each other constantly - just love to push each other's buttons. One will taunt and the other will crumple, then it reverses. I'm surprised to hear your daughter is never a taunter (and impressed, if this is true). Maybe my child and his friend are sociopaths, but I thought it was pretty normal 3.5 year old behavior. I'll be interested to hear what others say. (Don't get me wrong - we spend a lot of time telling him and his friend NOT to act like this, and explaining why, but it still goes on.) Have you talked to her preschool teacher(s)? Fran I heartily recommend this organization for your daughter. Try role playing with her, ''I don't deserve to be treated like that! I get sad when you X because I think Y. Please stop.'' I'm also biased, but how about homeschooling? Kathy
I have read the responses posted to your question (which is heartbreaking), and I don't think that they go far enough. This behavior should not be tolerated any longer; your daughter is being damaged, perhaps permanently. The teachers and preschool have COMPLETELY FAILED your family. If I were in your shoes, I would make my top priority finding a different preschool as soon as possible. I would not send my daughter to the school for one more day. (You might look into hiring a temporary babysitter to watch your daughter while finding a new preschool.) In this situation, the only one protecting your daughter is you, and, in my opinion, you need to act NOW to prevent further damage. Alison

Pre-schooler vs. neighborhood bully

I am the parent of a preschooler and would like to request advice as to how to do deal with a neighborhood boy who is downright mean, at least to my child. Mostly he confines his treatment to yelling at her, excluding her, and blaming her, but if they are both playing outside together it is usually only a matter of time before he hits or pushes her. I have talked with a parent before, but now they avoid me and have not spoken to me since. I suspect his behavior is a problem to more than just me, for example, I was watching some of the neighborhood kids outside one day. This little boy pushed another girl down and she hit her head on the cement. She starts screaming and the other parents rush out. The father rushes to the bully and says "What did you do?" He of course denied everything but it was pretty obvious from the situation that if another kid is crying the dad knew from experience his kid must have done something.

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.

We had a similar situation which got resolved through a formalized play-date at our house. The aggressive child seemed to be asking for attention and may have only been able to get it before by acting out. Sad but true often times children do only get attention through "bad" behavior.

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!

There are two children that my son is around a lot who are quite aggressive (whose parents don't intervene appropriately). I find that it works best if I supervise constantly and intervene a lot with "that's not a very nice thing to say" or "keep your hands to yourself" etc etc. I also try to help my son speak up "I don't like it when you do that." For a long time (too long) I left the kids without enough supervision and I feel I didn't give my son the protection he needed with these other kids. The constant supervision that I do now is a lot of work, so we don't tend to see them as much as we used to. All the children are 5 years old now, and one of the aggressive kids is actually a lot easier now than he used to be, but the other one is not and my son doesn't want to play with him anymore.
Sometimes the only solution is to just keep them separated. It's very hard to change the behavior of a kid who isn't yours. We all know how hard it can be to change bad behavior in our own kids! My two boys have never gotten along - their personalities are just too different and they conflict. The only thing I have ever done that works is to separate them as much as possible and supervise them closely when they are together. Now that they are older and can go their separate ways, they enjoy each other's company in small doses. But being together for more than an hour or two almost guarantees there will be a dispute, maybe even a fistfight.
I would be careful about interpreting this boy's behavior as a "personality" problem. Sounds too much like there's no hope. Personally, I think preschool age is too young to expect children to play without adult supervision. I think adults need to be present to instruct their own children about acceptable behavior, to advise their child on-the-spot about dealing with difficulties, to advocate for their child when they need help, and, if other parents aren't present, to instruct other children about acceptable behavior. I would try being close by and when the boy does something unacceptable, like yelling at your daughter, I'd first advise your daughter to stand up for herself...something like..."Tell him you don't like it when he yells at you." If that seems too hard for her, you can model it yourself by saying to him, "She doesn't like it when you yell at her...can you use a different voice to ask her that question?" If he does things that are totally unacceptable, like hitting, and his parents aren't around or aren't doing anything about it, I wouldn't hesitate to tell him that hitting is NOT okay. If you are out there sticking up for your daughter, she'll understand her own worth and she'll also learn some defensive techniques from your modeling. Cathy
I think you are probably justified in taking this child by the hand, (if you can catch him), leading him to his parents and telling them that "this child is not ready to play with other children yet. He should stay inside until he can learn not to make them cry." Often the parents are not really aware of how big the problem is - because everyone else is too upset to confront them. This bully is going to need a lot of help - a huge proportion of childhood bullies end up in jail. If he gets help, everyone is going to be happier and your daughter's going to feel less helpless, so it's really in your interest. If the parents don't respond, you could find out what resources are available to treat their child and pass them on. Fiona
I haven't had any experience handling bullies so can't offer first-hand advice but you asked about books, either for children or adults. I full-heartedly recommend Rudolph Dreikurs's "Children, the Challenge", which I have recommended many times on this list over the years. His basic message in your case is "A misbehaving child is a discouraged child." Your description of the father rushing to the bully and saying (yelling perhaps?) "What did you do?" sounds to me like the parents of the bully need a good dose of Dreikurs, but reading the book will give you some insights which might help the parents. I don't recall the book having anything that might help your daughter directly, but you might be able to convey your insights to her in a way that give her some comfort.

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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