Bullying takes many forms, including teasing, verbal threats, physical intimidation, or fighting. But does bullying occur in preschools and daycare facilities? How bad can the bullying be in the 5 and under set? And what can a concerned parent do about it?
A lot has been written lately about bullies in our schools. Most schools have adopted a no tolerance approach that will hopefully make our schools a safer place for our children. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, close to half of all children are bullied at some point while they are at elementary, junior, or high school. And at least 10 percent of children are bullied regularly.
Mary Hake of Madras, Oregon, was a part-time assistant teacher at a small daycare facility. She found that bullying wasn’t that uncommon among younger children. “I observed some children, usually boys, hitting, kicking, and verbally abusing other children, usually those weaker or younger than themselves,” says Hake. “One [child] in particular seemed to feel the need to use such behavior to show he was tough and in control. He was very manipulative and rude at times and did not want to cooperate. Often he would tell certain children they could not play in the games he planned.”
Hake and her coworkers used time-outs and other nonphysical methods to try to control the child’s behavior, but she admits that this isn’t always effective. “For those [children] with deep-seated problems, this only dealt with symptoms but didn’t really change the person,” says Hake. “They needed more help than we provided.”
Symptoms of Bullying
According to Dr. Alice Honig, professor emeritus of child development in Syracuse University’s College of Human Services and Health Professions, the first thing you need to do as a parent is recognize the symptoms that your toddler is being bullied. “If your child comes home from school with a tummy ache or avoids your eyes when you ask how school went, it is time to take a closer look,” says Dr. Honig. “Another warning sign is if your child starts refusing to go to school even if they had previously enjoyed school and had done well.”
Dr. Ramon Solhkhah, director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry for St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, believes that bullying can often have serious consequences on the emotional well-being of children. “Children who are bullied may often become withdrawn, anxious, depressed, or even fearful,” says Dr. Solhkhah. He agrees with Dr. Honig that children who are being bullied may express a fear of daycare or preschool or even refuse to go.
Dr. Solhkhah feels it’s important to note that bullies will often times choose children who have a harder time defending themselves such as those that are younger, smaller, or more passive. As bullies have often been the victims of bullying themselves, it is important for all involved that the problem be addressed as soon as possible. If a child is acting out aggressively at this age he may have issues going on in his life that need addressing.
Steps Parents Can Take
Contact the Teacher: If you feel your child may be being bullied at daycare, your first step should be to contact your child’s teacher and set up an appointment to talk with him. “First of all, find out if the teacher is even aware of the situation,” says Dr. Solhkhah. “Most bullying occurs on playgrounds, cafeterias, or in secluded areas such as bathrooms. These are places where adult supervision is minimal, so the adults at school may not even know that the bullying is taking place. Simply bringing it to their attention may be enough to increase adult supervision and have the bullying stop.”
Listen to Them: In order to help your child process the experience, it is helpful to just be a good listener. Being available and open to talking will go a long way to letting your child express her feelings. Give her an opportunity to try and problem solve and come up with a way to deal with the situation.
Don’t Encourage Fighting Back: “Parents shouldn’t encourage their child to fight back,” says Dr. Solhkhah. “Instead, they should help the child focus on strategies to avoid the situations in which bullying is likely to occur. Parents can also ‘coach’ their child on how to handle the situation by letting them role play and practice what they could say to the bully the next time the bullying occurs.” The simple act of standing up to the bully can positively affect the situation and help your child feel empowered.
The toddler years should be filled with the wonder of learning—being bullied is one lesson your child can do without.