Many parents have asked me—do preschoolers bully? My initial reaction is to state ‘No!’, even though I know there are rare cases of preschool bullying reported. Preschool children are much too egocentric to be classified as bullies, however. Preschool age children do sometimes call names, pull a toy away from another child, tantrum, hit, kick, bite at times. But developmentally, preschool age children are learning to make acceptable or non-acceptable choices. They are trying out behaviors that they see on television, have modeled by others in their environment, or reacting to situations in which they have limited vocabulary to express themselves. A major focus of Early Childhood Education is teaching positive conflict resolutions and assisting the children in ‘using their words’ to resolve their problems, as parents and educators provide appropriate vocabulary and ‘walk children through’ the appropriate way to deal with problems.
It is normal for all children to test the boundaries of acceptable behavior and the limits of their power. Parents and teachers must take the responsibility of teaching their child what the expectations are, and not feeling they must intervene with each infraction.
Conversations may include these types of comments:
“In our family, we talk to each other when we have a problem. We never would hit or kick or yell. We love each other and respect each other. That is what we will help you to do too.”
“At South Hills, there will be many times we will be angry, upset, and frustrated with each other. That is what happens when people spend a lot of time together. It is ok to feel that way. But we must use our words to tell each other how we feel so we can work out our problems and continue to take good care of each other.”
Labeling a young child as a bully can have life long consequences. Therefore, it is important for parents and educators to truly understand what bullying is, as opposed to the normal reactions and behaviors that come with growing and learning.
Please consider the following comments from researchers in the field of Early Childhood Education:
“Bullying is very different from occasional rowdiness or behavior problems under unusual circumstances. Bullying is repeated roughness or repeated planned victimization. The intention of bullying is to cause deliberate hurt, or to gain more power and control. Bullying occurs consistently between the same children, with each consistently playing the same role—victim or aggressor. The victim is usually younger, smaller, weaker, and lacks the skills to cope with aggression.
Children three to five years of age are experiencing a time of tremendous intellectual growth. Children are ready to begin learning about acceptable and unacceptable behavior and begin feeling some empathy for others. There are still limitations, however. At this age, children begin to understand that hitting hurts others. Even so, they may not always be able to stop themselves from aggressive or hurtful behavior nor can they foresee the consequences of their actions; children in this age group cannot readily understand that they can avoid hurting others by not hitting them. Still, they do generally possess some degree of self-awareness. If they make others cry, they probably feel bad for having done so.
The most frequently displayed characteristics of an overly aggressive child (and hence a potential bully) are as follows:
*Multiple temper tantrums in a day, or several tantrums lasting more than 15 minutes
*Consistent refusal to follow directions
*A desire to be the boss all the time
*Indifference to having hurt someone
*Cruelty to animals as well as other children
*Insistence on always getting his or her own way
*The use of anger or threats to achieve goals
*A failure to return to parents for a brief hug or touch in a strange situation.
--from the book Bullying by Janice Schoeder , developed with the Minister of Learning, Alberta, Canada
“Some degree of socially imperfect behavior is normal in all children--and not everything needs an adult response. There is value in letting our child learn how to handle low-level normal behaviors, rather than jumping in a every perceived offense…”
--Dr. Rebecca Cortes, research scientist at the University of Washington’s Department of Psychology and the developer of the PATHS Preschool Curriculum.
At South Hills, take behaviors ‘lightly’. We spend much time daily redirecting behaviors, reviewing good and poor choices, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, and rewarding appropriate behaviors. As I have stated in an earlier blog, children at the preschool level have strong feelings and strong behaviors. They depend on the adults in their world to assist them in managing their feelings and behaviors. Good modeling is critical, and many of our students also provide the positive role modeling for their peers.
Children with behavioral disorders are referred for Early Intervention, and positive means of management are implemented if South Hills is determined to be an appropriate placement. Our goal is for all children to succeed and meet their potential across all developmental domains.
Overall, we provide a happy, peaceful environment where children can thrive, development, learn and grow. Yes, there are many times when children are angry, frustrated with their friends. But together, with the support of families, children learn how to conduct themselves and resolve their problems. We develop confidence in children so they can respectfully stand up to anyone taking advantage of them, and ensure that they develop empathy and compassion regarding others.
A parent’s support in this process cannot be underestimated. Parents can role play, use puppets, and discuss potential situations in which their child may someday be involved. This reinforces confidence that young children will be able to respond appropriately to others and increase their self-awareness, as well as keeping the communication open. Discussions of this sort in the preschool years make it easier to ‘keep talking’ throughout the many challenges of growing!