“two children” by marin courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
“Bullies.” We all know them and remember them with a kind of discomfort that brings up old feelings associated with school yard taunts and even physical attacks. I remember the days that a class mate would consistently knock my books out of my hands in the halls at school. I remember hearing other kids laugh and make fun of a new kid in the class. We all have either experienced bullying behavior or been a witness to it at one time or another. Bullies exist in the adult world too.
So when I found out that my 2 year old was getting pushed and her pigtails pulled at preschool, my first feelings were the feelings from the school yard days, but this time for my child and with a fierce protectiveness. But is it fair to think about the pushing and shoving of 2 year olds as bullying? Has bullying gotten so bad that even 2 year olds are doing it now? Or in the alternative, are toddlers and young preschoolers really just still working out their impulse control and in the throws of emotional development?
According to Bullying in Preschool: What Parents Need to Know, bullying among preschool children is common and overlooked. Bullying is described as physically aggressive behaviors as well as social sniping and isolating behaviors. Its results include stress, fear and anxiety in young children that can play out in both the classroom and home.
Dr. Laura Markham offers some practical and effective solutions for parents when children hit other children. She suggests being present during play time to help facilitate problem solving and to help kids develop the language they need to work through issues. The first response should always be to sweep in and provide care for the victim. The parent or caretaker should be calm, never angry, and set and maintain the rule which is that hitting is not permitted and the play date (or game or contact) ends if hitting happens. The enforcement of the rule is ending the playdate or activity. She also recommends working with the other parent to help them teach the child empathy and making sure one’s own child does not get the message that its okay for them to be bullied. Finally, its important for parents to separate their own feelings out from the feelings of the child.
When I learned my toddler was being pushed, the first thing I did was speak with the teacher. I also spoke with the administration at the school. I insisted that any events in the future needed to be documented so that the other parent and I could know what was going on in the class. I also talked to my child to let her know that she can always talk to me about what is going on. We talked about how she feels about the other child in the class and what to say and do if another child touched her. I even got on the floor and we practiced verbalizing her desire for space and how she can express to another child that she did not want to be touched. I encouraged her to tell her teacher if anything happened that the teacher did not see. My goal is that she can confidently assert herself in future situations.
Finally, I reached out to the other parent. Even though it was a bit awkward, I would not want to miss an opportunity for problem solving. I shared some of the conversations I had with my child and the other parent and I made a plan to keep talking to our kids about respecting others’ space and maintaining a zero-tolerance policy for hitting and pushing.
It is our responsibility as parents to teach our children how to get along in the world without violence and without hurting others. I will never accept excuses for violence and “boys will be boys” or other excuses are just acceptable lessons to teach anyone. It is also our responsibility to teach our children that it is not okay to be pushed, shoved, or hit and that we, as parents, will do everything we can to make sure they are safe. Children have the right to be free from violence and it’s not too early to start these conversations with our preschoolers.