A few things have come to light recently where I am concerned my son might be being bullied at preschool, how do you know if your toddler is being bullied?
Brutus started preschool last September he is only just 3 so hasn’t got his allocated hours, despite his size he is a sweet boy who is mild mannered and very sensitive. He is quite sociable and has a lot of small groups of friends whom he loves to have play dates with. He took to preschool brilliantly, not wanting to leave on his first day but after a parents evening to review his development it was clear to me that although he seemed confident he was still quite withdrawn at school hiding his abilities from his key worker. I wasn’t too worried though as he only did 2 days at the time and out of those two days had been off with chest infections and chicken pox so it was no wonder they didn’t know the real Brutus.
Just Fights at PreSchool or Bullying?
Kids fight in Preschool, but when is is just an altercation, and when is it bullying or intimidation.
Experts define bulling in 3 ways:
verbal (put-downs, taunts, name-calling)
physical (pushing, kicking, punching)
relational (rumors, social rejection, exclusion)
Not all scuffles are bullying, kids can’t always express themselves and act out, they fall in and out of friendships, they push boundaries and assert themselves. Play can get out of hand and wresting matches go too far, but this is not bullying. Bullying affects a child’s confidence and self esteem, it can be physical and/or emotional, intentional intimidation or shunning is not acceptable at any age.
After Christmas we upped his hours and he seemed to be happy, in fact he still does seem happy. However we did have an incident where he had been in a fight. It is the preschools policy not to tell parents who was involved but he had a small scratch by his eye and I signed an incident report. I didn’t think anything of it, Brutus had told me ‘Child X’ had wanted his car and then hit him. I know Brutus is terrible at sharing especially cars so I put it down to 6 to 1 half a dozen to another.
I mentioned the fight in jest to a friend and mentioned the child involved and my friend initially recoiled, saying ‘But ‘child X’ is only little, what are you going to do about Brutus’ behaviour?’, they had jumped to the conclusion that because Brutus is big and the other child is small that Brutus was the protagonist.
Brutus went through a hitting stage at around 18 months which we nipped in the bud, since then he does not raise his hand or push other children that we know about and we have remained strict over this with a straight to the naughty step policy on hitting. He has started hitting me and hitting his sister now though, he pushes her a lot and hits her a lot. We continue to discipline him but it is not getting through. Of course I put this down to him being a threenager!
Brutus really likes preschool he likes his key worker and all the staff, he likes a lot of the children, which is not surprising as there are some lovely kids there. But for weeks he has maintained that Child x is not his friend, when I ask why he says because he hits me and pushes me. I thought that Brutus was just recalling the previous incident when he said this. Another child looked very upset and Brutus told me she was upset because ‘Child X’ had hit her, again I put this down to projection.
The other day I was a bit early to pick Brutus up and I came up to the preschool and saw into the yard where they were all playing. I looked for Brutus and saw he was in a corner of the yard and ‘Child X’ was intimidating him, he would not let him out of the corner and was moving around him blocking Brutus’ exit. I watched this and saw that both key workers were oblivious to this. I watched for a bit longer until ‘Child X’ started to hit Brutus when I shouted over to the key workers to stop it. It was stopped, ‘Child X’ was put on the naughty step and made to apologise, but something about the way it happened made me think it was regular. I felt terrible that Brutus had been telling me for weeks but he is only 3 and not great at talking so I still don’t know for sure.
Preschool had commented that he didn’t play with children, but I know he does, I have seen it, not just next to children but he does play with children, but apparently not at preschool. This morning Papa Bear took Brutus in, he wanted to chat to them about the incident, but he noticed Brutus wasn’t himself he stood on the sidelines till a toy (a car) was free he wanted. He also saw ‘Child X’ push the car he was in away and shout at him. Still using aggressive behaviour that was unnoticed by the staff.
All signs point to this being a regular thing and my concern is over Brutus’ lack of confidence at preschool. I don’t care about him meeting developmental milestones but it had been noticed he was slightly behind socially. This did not ring true to me. Today I watched him in the park, he ran and played with 3 different children, one from preschool only briefly, another girl we hadn’t seen since Furby was born (so a year) and a friend we had arranged to meet. He played WITH the all, especially the playdate child as they sat and pretended to make dinner in a club house, made pretend pancakes then pretended the Police, then the Fire engine came and ran round happily. It was very sweet and not the child I am led to believe is attending preschool.
The Bully label
No one wants to label a child a bully, especially at such a young age, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, but I am concerned the intimidation is causing my son to turn into a victim, or will push him to become a bully himself. He already displays this behaviour with his sister.
I have raised my concerns with preschool, but it is not necessary for Ofsted that they have a bullying policy, they have a behavioural policy which they sent to me but no bullying policy. I suppose this is because 3 and 4 year olds can’t be bully’s. But lets face it, every 3 year old I know – including the very nicest- are capable of bullying behaviour.
In fact it is common for 3 year olds not to have developed a sense of empathy so they do not always understand they are hurting someone, they may understand it is wrong if their parents have done a good job with right and wrong but empathy is a complex emotion.
We need to accept that although no one wants to label a child a bully, they are capable of bullying behaviour.
How to Handle a PreSchool Bully
Is your child a bully
I think most parents would want to know if their child is acting like a bully, it is only by addressing the problem that you can help them be a nicer, kinder and respected individual. By not addressing signs of bullying at a young age you may be dealing with a worse situation later.
Even at 3 or 4, children usually know their behaviour is wrong, they may act secretive, they will hide their actions from grown ups. ‘Child X’ couldn’t look me in the eye when he knew I had seen him intimidate and hit Brutus, he knew he was wrong and had been caught out.
They may try to segregate your child from the rest of the group, I do not know if this has happened but I do know Brutus is reluctant to join in at preschool, when in other situations he is the first to join in and loves to play with friends. This does not mean ‘Child X’ is directly responsible, but if the actions are affecting Brutus’ self esteem this is likely.
I am not a psychologist, I can’t tell you why ‘Child X’ is acting as he does, I don’t know if it is just him flexing his muscles, or a deep rooted problem or just he see’s Brutus as a victim, and as Brutus has been taught not to hit or push he does not retaliate and just cries without defending himself. Great boost to a little boys ego!
How to deal with Bullying behaviour in toddlers
Papa bear gets very protective of his cub and hates that Brutus feel intimidated at Preschool, he wants him to hit back, but it is important to remember that ‘Child X’ is only a toddler, he is a baby too. He is still understanding the world, just like Brutus, and this is all too complex for adults let a lone a child.
Steps to protect your child
- Are they really being bullied? This is a difficult question to answer, we are still not 100% sure but all signs point to him being bullied/intimidated. Ask your child direct questions, like did someone push you today? Did someone hurt you today? Who was it? What did they do? For emotional (and physical) bullying, your toddler may not understand or have the words to explain. Stay calm and tell your child you love them and will help them.
- Bullying Action Plan Your preschool may not have an action plan but you can:
- Help your child be brave tell them to shout, STOP, or NO, this will alert an adult and show confidence
- Tell them to ignore the bully I get the impression Brutus has been trying to do this all by himself to no avail (from watching him at school and in other environments when ‘Child X’ has run up to Brutus in public play areas), but experts feel that by removing attention and not reacting the bully will get bored
- Help them develop a social circle Friends will give your child confidence and any friends around that they feel comfortable with will give them safety in numbers, we try to take Brutus to as many play dates as possible
- Let adults know Key workers and parents need to be aware and monitoring the situation
- Take action Contact your preschool and let them know your concerns, they should be able to monitor the situation, our next step if this is not successful is to arrange a play date with ‘Child X’ we already know his mother and she is lovely and was apologetic when she found out a out an incident. I find it hard to believe any child is horrible and I think if they can get to know each other better that will help.
Signs your Toddler is being bullied
Are you are concerned your child is a victim of Bullying or intimidating behaviour, these are common signs:
- Your child loved preschool but now doesn’t want to go.
- He complains of bellyaches or headaches before being dropped off at a playdate, daycare, or preschool.
- He no longer wants to play with a child he once liked.
- He repeatedly tells you a certain kid is “bothering,” “bugging,” or being mean to him.
- He suddenly becomes withdrawn, depressed, fearful, or clingy.
- He makes derogatory remarks about himself, like “I’m a loser,” “I’m stupid,” or “No one likes me.”
- He has unexplained boo-boos. Little kids get bumps and bruises when they play, but if your child seems to have more than a normal amount or “forgets” the details of getting hurt, it might warrant a closer look.
It is very hard to imagine those fresh faced Cherubs you see at your child’s preschool could be capable of hurting and upsetting your child, I am finding it very difficult to handle.
We are going to work hard on Brutus’ confidence and Papa Bear is going to show him some self defence moves by starting kickboxing lessons at home (Papa Bear is an ex Champion Kickboxer). We are putting our concerns in writing to the preschool and there will be lots of play dates in his immediate future.
Since writing this a lot of people have contacted me privately saying that they are experiencing the same in different preschools. Brutus’ Preschool doesn’t have an anti bullying policy, it covers bullying under behaviour but no set guidelines. My friends have said their schools don’t take it seriously thinking they are too young to be bullying but we need to take it more seriously.