A lot has been written lately on bullies in our schools: how to keep your child from being bullied, what to look for, how to handle school authorities, etc. Most schools have adopted a no tolerance approach, which will hopefully make our schools a safer place for our children.
This proactive approach is due in part to recent studies which show that about half of children and adolescents experience bullying at some point during their lives. Statistics show that approximately one in five of our children are being bullied on a regular basis.
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?
More Common Than You Think
Mary Hake of Madras, Ore., was a part-time assistant teacher at a small daycare/preschool 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 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 the others used time-outs and other nonphysical methods to try to control the behavior, but 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."
What Can You Do?
According to 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 child 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 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 child and adolescent psychiatry for St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University's 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 Honig that children who are being bullied may express a fear of school or even refuse to go.
Dr. Solhkhah feels that it important to note that bullies will oftentimes choose children who have a harder time defending themselves, such as those who 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.
If you feel your child may be being bullied, your next step should be to contact your child's teacher and set up an appointment to talk. "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."
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 toward letting your child express his feelings. Give him an opportunity to try and problem-solve and come up with a way to deal with the situation.
"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 preschool years should be filled with the wonder of learning – being bullied is one lesson your child can do without.
- Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do (Understanding Children's Worlds) (Blackwell Publishers, 1993) by Dan Olweus
- The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School – How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence (HarperResource, 2004) by Barbara Coloroso
- How to Handle Bullies, Teasers and Other Meanies: A Book That Takes the Nuisance Out of Name Calling and Other Nonsense (Rainbow Books, 1995) by Kate Cohen-Posey
- What to Do ... When Kids Are Mean to Your Child (What to Do Parenting Guides, Vol. 1) (Readers Digest, 1997) by Elin McCoy
- Bully-Proofing Your School: A Comprehensive Approach for Elementary Schools (Sopris West Educational Services. 1994) by Carla Garrity, Kathryn Jens, William Portern, Nancy Sager, Cam Short-Camilli