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Responding to Bullying

Dear Elizabeth,
I’m a preschool teacher, and I care for a 3-year-old who pushes the other children, takes their toys & screams at them. What’s the best way for me to deal with bullies and their behavior?
Joan Kleman
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Intervene at the first signs of bullying behavior
  • Help the aggressor understand that harmful behavior is never acceptable
  • Provide support to help the victim & the aggressive child develop socials skills
Expert Advice
Ruth Beaglehole
Ruth Beaglehole
Center for Nonviolent Education & Parenting
What is Bullying Behavior?
A bully is somebody who uses behavior to show their power over another person. They may tease. They may use physical force. They may just name-call. But it’s a way of trying to feel powerful in a situation over another person.

Causes of Bullying
There are many, many causes for bullying. A lot of times, it’s a child who’s actually feeling out of power, who’s not feeling very good about themselves, who chooses to display that behavior as way to sort of get back power in their life. Sometimes, it’s a child who’s seen bullying behavior. They may have had siblings, and they may have been the brunt of it from an older sibling. It may be a child who’s actually watched TV shows, you know, violent TV shows. It usually is a reflection of something that they’ve watched and seen. It’s not a natural behavior.

Tools to Defend Against Bullying
It’s really important that children feel that they can use their voice, that they can say, “Stop. I don’t like it,” that they can go say “Help me” to a teacher, that they have a sense of being able to protect themselves, that they have a right to say something. I know sometimes people like to say to children, “Well, hit them back.” Well, that usually is not very effective because that will escalate the situation, and if you’re not feeling very powerful, and this child is hurting you, it’s hard to go back and hit back. So I think it’s so important that your daughter was able to come and talk to you and get help. I think getting help, feeling like you can say to a child, “You don’t deserve to ever be hurt. Come and get help. Use your voice, and we’ll listen to you. We’ll be there for you.”

The Importance of Intervention
We want to stop the bullying behavior right away because we don’t want children to get hurt, and we don’t want the child who’s pushing and shoving and hurting the other child to feel that they can keep doing this. We need to be right there, right then. We need to say “Stop.” We need to name what’s going on and really help them figure out another way to express what it is that they’re feeling.

Preventing Bullying
The best way to prevent bullying is to have environments where it’s safe to have feelings. A lot of behavior we call bullying is not bullying. It’s strong feelings. And every human being feels things strongly. So I think that we need to really take care of the emotions of children so when a child is angry, not to jump quickly to say, “Oh, you hit. Therefore, it’s a bullying behavior,” that it’s a little boy or a little girl who needs to learn how to say “I’m mad” or “I don’t like this” or “I’m feeling scared.” And the teacher or the provider can look. “I see this child being, you know--looks like they’re not feeling included. Oh. Well, how can I name that before it comes out as a hitting behavior?” So, emotionally caring, reading stories about feelings, talking about big feelings, and making them safe to have in ways that are respectful.

When Siblings Bully
Siblings have to learn how to get along with each other. There’s no gene that says, “Love your sibling. Get along with them.” It’s a process. So I think a parent or a caregiver, taking care of children, taking care of siblings, has to do a lot of modeling. “Stop. No. Can’t let you hit. What’s going on? What are you feeling? I’m going to help you be able to do that.” It’s a lot of intervention work, and there’s no quick fix for learning how to name your feelings. And sometimes, it’s going through the tears, it’s listening to the tears and being able to say, “Wow. Your brother, your sister really got hurt. She can’t tell you right now, but it looks like you need to see that what you did didn’t work for her or him.”
Child Care Provider Comments
Verdis Ferraro
Verdis Ferraro
Child care provider for 23 years
Usually, I observe bullying behavior with the older children – the three- and four-year-olds. When a two-year-old does something, it is often not intentional. The older ones learn how to plot and scheme and hurt their friends. Typically, a bully is a normal kid that wants attention by being bad.

To prevent bullying from happening, I will often read books to the children to discuss certain situations. I will stop on the pages and ask the children. “What do you think?” “Was that nice” “Would you like that if someone did that to you?” What I try to do when I am dealing with an issue is I try to teach empathy. Get on their eye level. “Your friend is crying because you made him feel sad.” “Would you like him to do that to you? How can you fix it?” We have rules that you can’t ruin someone else’s work. “Would you like to give him a hug?” Nine times out of ten they give their friend a hug.
Angela Hughes
Angela Hughes
Mother of three
Bullying has had an impact on my daughter’s life. Ciana was almost 3 years old and there were some older girls that were giving her a hard time. They were hitting her and telling her things that weren’t nice.

I talked to the teachers and to the director of the school. I thought to myself, “Do I need to talk with the parents of the other girls? How should I handle this?” I didn’t want to create a whole group fight in the school. When they were playing with her alone, they were fine. When they got together, they became a bullying group.

After I met with the director and teacher, they talked with the kids individually. The teachers were better about monitoring situations. They used it as a learning experience for the kids -- teaching how to treat others. The teachers did have to talk with the parents of two of the kids. A couple girls were still cliquish. I told her to tell girls that “I can’t play with you if you are going to hit me or say those things to me.” Give fair warning and then walk away. Go tell the teacher if it continues. In the end, all the girls became friends.

The biggest piece was recognizing that it was happening. If she was younger and less verbal, it would have been harder to recognize it. The parent really has to be vigilant. Is your chld asking not to go to school when he liked school before? Is she crying when she didn’t before when I left her? Parents have to be aware. Parents need to communicate with kids. Talking to my daughter and explaining that she has a right to say “no” gave her a voice to say what was acceptable & not acceptable.
Juvwana Wilson
Juvwana Wilson
Grandmother of 13
My three-year-old seems to be most aggressive when he feels like other kids are invading his space. He does this with my other grandkids. He is an only child. He has physically pushed kids. He has hit.

To help curb my grandson’s aggression, I will sit down with him and whomever he is bullying to teach him how to share. The kids love grapes. Instead of putting the grapes in separate bowls anymore, I put them in the same bowl to teach sharing. They have miniature basketball goals. We bring out only one ball, so he has to learn how to share. I will go to the park with him alone, so he can still have alone time with me. That reassures him that he will still have alone time.

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Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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