Preschool Bullying: Talking About It, Dealing With It, Avoiding It

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First of all, just to be clear here, we are talking about PRESCHOOL bullying in this article. I understand that bullying is a BIG problem, and that children can suffer serious and irrevocable physical, mental, and emotional damage as a result of bullying. I am NOT talking about that type of bullying in this article. I am talking about your garden-variety, not sharing, playing too roughly, pushing, taking toys, name-calling, PRESCHOOL version of bullying. I do NOT want to undermine the severity of the detrimental effects that more serious bullying can have on children. Please keep that in mind, as you read this article.

This morning, I was making breakfast while my 5 year old son watched Daniel Tiger in the living room. In this particular episode, sweet little Daniel is having a rough morning, because none of his friends at school feel like playing with him. He wants to play kangaroos, but all of his friends are involved in different activities, and they aren’t interested in stopping what they are doing to act like a marsupial (can’t say I blame them). Anyway, Daniel’s teacher breaks into some song about how when friends don’t want to play with you, “don’t feel sad, just choose something else to do”. So, in the spirit of trying to engage my boy in some good, early morning conversation, before sending him off on his day, I said, “so bud, if that was you, and none of your friends felt like playing with you, would you feel sad like Daniel, or would you just be like ‘whatever'”? To which he replied, “I’d probably just punch them all in the nose”.

Yep. Sounds about right.

Despite how it sounds, and despite how it LOOKS….my kid actually isn’t a bully. In fact, he’s pretty sweet. Just this week, I’ve been told several stories of instances where my little man stood up for, or befriended, someone who really needed it. Mostly, he makes me proud. That being said, he DOES have maybe a WEE little streak of bully in him. Sometimes. Maybe. Let’s just put it this way: at playdates, I hear THIS: “Miss Hayley, Gunnar just _____________ me”, waaaaaaay more often than I hear THIS: “Mom, so-and-so did ______________ to me”. I could spin it really positively and say he’s just not a tattle-tale and other kids are, but….nah. That would be as annoying as it was untrue. The truth is, he does tend to boss, provoke, and play too rough. He often times demands his own way…or else. He’s not awesome at sharing.

So…there you have it. The mother of the bully, writing an article on what to do about Preschool Bullying. Maybe you ought take this with a grain of salt.

Seriously though, we do talk to him a lot about what a bully is, how to not be one, and what to do if one messes with him.

Here is what we teach our boys in regards to not BEING the Bully:

– God created everyone. EVERYONE. If you choose to be mean and nasty to someone, you are being mean and nasty to one of God’s special creations, and that does not make Him happy

– We expect you to be a leader. A leader doesn’t bully people

– Don’t EVER be the person to START a fight

– Do to others what you would have them do to you

– Usually, there is a KIND and RESPECTFUL way of taking care of a problem.  Give that way your best shot.

Here is what we tell them to do if THEY are bullied:

– Use your words. Clearly and firmly ask the person to stop doing whatever it is they are doing that is bothering you

– If that doesn’t work, come and let an adult know

– If it continues, play somewhere else, and with someone else

– If someone is physically harming you (hitting, kicking, pushing, whatever), do whatever you need to do to protect yourself. Yep….that includes hitting back (I’m going to hear about this in the comment section, aren’t I?) Listen, I’m actually a bit leery of this myself. My husband is the main proponent of it. It’s not that I want our son to just have to sit there and take it, if someone is hitting him. But…I know the mind of a preschooler. The mind of MY preschooler, anyway. Brute force has been used way too often in the name of “protecting himself”. Like, his little brother stole one of his french fries, so he had to hit him to “protect himself”. Yeah. No. Anyway. I’ve chosen to deflect to my husband on this one, and he says….”hit ’em back.  Harder”. The years will reveal whether or not this is good advice.

And HERE is what the self-proclaimed “Mom of a Bully” wants YOU (the Mom of the Cherub) to know:

– Playing rough doesn’t necessarily equal “being a bully”.

My son has ALWAYS been the kind of kid who just plays really, really rough. Probably because he and my husband play rough. They wrestle. They tackle. My husband hurls him across the pool, and he does flips in the air. Etc etc. They have a blast. The problem? Not everyone likes to play that way. I get it. And I remind my son of that. And when I see him playing that way with someone who does not seem like they are enjoying it, I make sure to intervene. But….he ISN’T being a bully. He is just playing the way he is accustomed to playing.

– Your kid liked it… a second ago.

He may be upset and tattle-telling now, but five minute ago, he was ASKING to wrestle/karate chop/tackle/whatever. It’s ok. My son is guilty of this, too. It’s still annoying, though. I typically ask the other mom, who my child is brawling with, “are you ok with them playing this way?”. That way, both parties are aware of the fact that the kids have MUTUALLY agreed to play in a way where someone MIGHT get hurt. We are all willingly accepting the risk and if someone gets hurt, we can all agree it’s NOT because one kid (mine) was bullying the other.

– The kids might just be able to work it out themselves…if we let them.

I’m ok not intervening the very second there is an issue. Are you? At almost six years old, I think my son can, and needs to, work things out on his own sometimes. Turn your propellors off, helicopter mommies. If we give the kids just a few seconds before we fly over there, your kid MIGHT just tell my kid he doesn’t want to play that way anymore, and my kid MIGHT just listen.  They MIGHT forget the whole incident 30 seconds later, and move on to a different game, and we could have saved our helicopters the gas.

– I’m ok with your kid “bullying” mine

My son mostly plays with kids his own age. And as I mentioned a few times already, he is among the more aggressive of the pack. He has one good friend though who is older than him…and therefore a bit tougher, a bit stronger, and a bit more aggressive. Sometimes, when he plays with this friend, HE is the one getting “roughed up” a bit….and I actually don’t mind. It’s good for him to get a little taste of his own medicine every now and again.

– Being a “bully” can sometimes be a good thing

Yes, it’s true. If we are at the bounce house together, my kid may play too rough. He may sling shot himself across the inflatable, landing on top of your unsuspecting child. But…last week, at the bounce house, my son saw a boy picking on another child who was smaller than him, and instantly stepped in. Acting a lot tougher than what he actually is (one upside to being a “bully”) my son demanded that Kid A leave Kid B alone. And guess what? Kid A listened. On the playground at school a few weeks ago, my son saw a boy from another class, who was playing alone. The kid told my son that no one in his class wanted to play with him. My son not only invited him to come play Jurassic World with him, he also “kindly” offered the following: “I could punch them all in the nose for you?”.

At the end of the day, all of our kids, yes ALL of them…even yours (now don’t you start bullying ME in the comment section..it’s true) are going to at some point get bullied, and at some point BE the bully. Both sides suck, but I think the best thing that we as moms can do is:

  • teach our kids the value of other people, and their feelings
  • teach them how to be clear and effective communicators
  • equip them with some strategies on how to handle sticky situations with other kids
  • hope for the best

And…if all else fails….just tell them to “punch ’em in the nose” ; )

 

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7 Responses to Preschool Bullying: Talking About It, Dealing With It, Avoiding It

  1. Annemarie April 21, 2016 at 11:51 pm #

    I just recently found your essays and have spent a good part of tonight reading them. I particularly enjoyed this one as my (just weeks shy of) 5 year old sounds an awful lot like your oldest. I struggle with knowing how to handle his actions when they affect others (besides his younger brother or sister). I liked all of your wisdom, thank you for sharing. I too, am a mom of 3, and an Aggie too! Love all your essays.

  2. Crystal Lovell August 12, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

    I actually really love this article! I’ve had a really hard time with this with my 4 year old who is also very aggressive but a sweetheart! You really described him! It’s nice to hear another perspective as we have really just focused on the negatives of it. In going to change our approach now and see how that works- maybe it will sink in better! Thanks!

  3. Amy August 16, 2016 at 7:55 pm #

    I have the 6 year old boy who wants to play rough but gets hurt EVERY single time. I’m at my wits end. Whether with the neighborhood kids (who are bigger than him) or his sister who is the same size, he always ends up injured and crying his eyes out. I’ve tried to explain that he needs to not play so rough or he will end up getting hurt. I don’t jump up and run to him when I hear tears because I know that although he is hurt, its probably not serious. He still wants to play like that. So I guess he will have to toughen up a bit! I completely understand where you’re coming from though.

  4. NYMom October 1, 2016 at 7:27 am #

    I really love your article, thank you! I especially love that he offered to punch them – that made me laugh so hard. My child is just like yours sounds, and the same age too. But she’s a girl and the difference is girls can be MEAN… so I’m addressing that too…..

  5. Jen November 3, 2016 at 7:33 pm #

    I have the sensitive 4-year-old who complains the other kids are playing too rough or hurting his feelings even though he tells them to stop. We’ve had many conversations about how to handle the situation, but some days I just wish he’d learn to play a bit rougher and get over it!

  6. Dag November 24, 2016 at 5:28 am #

    Teach your kids about empathy.

    I have sensitive kids and I am resisting the social force to “toughen them up”. Although I do teach them to stand up for themselves and punch back if necessary, it’s just not in their nature.

  7. Meg July 24, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

    It’s so helpful to talk to the other moms about this. One mom misinterpreted my helicoptering and apologized for her son always being rough with mine. I told her I LOVE her kid! He’s amazing – he’s rough but kind and sensitive. My kiddo is overly cautious and this guy teaches mine to jump off of big things and run fast into playgrounds cause it is fun. My helicoptering is me telling my kid, no you aren’t hurt, it just happened fast, keep going! If I don’t reassure him sometimes, he totally melts down. I can tell when it’s about to happen so I just get in front of it.
    She couldn’t hear me, so she thought I was telling him no. I told her why I loved it. She told me that she loved that my kid was careful cause her son gets hurt less when mine is around. Now, we watch in quiet happiness cause we know the other’s approach. Mommy communication for the win!

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