Many parents of older children are concerned about bullying, and want to ensure their child is being treated respectfully while also being kind to others. However, bullying behaviors can emerge in preschoolers as well. Here are some age-appropriate ways you can talk with your preschooler about bullying.
Identify the signs of bullying in preschoolers
Parents of toddlers and preschoolers are all too familiar with their squabbles over toys or games. These disputes are often minor and quickly resolved. Young children are still learning how to express and understand their emotions, so brief instances of impulsive acts are understandable. However, this conflict becomes bullying when there is a deliberate attempt to exclude, scare, or hurt another child. For example, a preschooler grabbing a toy truck from another child and then pushing the child over is an act of bullying behavior.
Have conversations with your preschooler about their day
Some preschoolers may not be able to clearly discuss bullying, or become shy and anxious if asked directly. Instead, you may want to have more general discussions about their day, in order to reveal your child’s thoughts about the people around them. For example, you can ask questions like, “Who are your friends at preschool?” or “Do you still play with Kristen?” These questions can help you gain a clearer understanding of your child’s daily life, and how they feel about the behavior of other children.
If you believe your preschooler is being bullied, it’s important to remain calm. Acting upset or demanding answers may scare your child, and prevent them from talking about the situation. Instead, you may want to ask questions such as, “What name did he call you?” and “How did it make you feel?” It’s perfectly understandable to feel upset when you discover your child may be the victim of bullying, but staying calm will help you to better assess the situation, and show your child that you support them.
Offer strategies to help
Your child may find confidence with some age-appropriate strategies they can use to handle bullying. For example, you can role-play telling another child, “Stop that!” and then walking away from the situation, or you can demonstrate how they can talk to their preschool teacher if they’re scared. While it’s not reasonable to expect your child to stand up to a bully all the time, strategies such as these can help them navigate and possibly defuse the situation.
Discuss feelings and encourage empathy
Sometimes, your child may be the one who is exhibiting bullying behavior. While it’s difficult to imagine your child acting this way, identifying the issue early on is key to fixing it. Talk about your child’s feelings with them, and try to figure out what emotions cause their behavior. Encourage empathy for the other child without placing blame on your preschooler, and praise them when you catch them being kind. If possible, helping your child to apologize or make amends can show them how their behaviors can make others feel. Most importantly, model respect and empathy at home to ensure you are not unwittingly encouraging bullying behavior.
Ask your preschool for advice
Your child’s preschool will most likely have policies in place to prevent disputes from escalating into bullying. Review these policies with your child’s preschool teacher, and take this time to ask for any specific advice you may want. A preschool that teaches their children respect and encourages them to work through their feelings can give helpful strategies designed for your child’s specific personality and situation.
Bullying is never an easy topic for children to discuss, and preschoolers are still learning how to process and express their own feelings. However, by keeping the lines of communication open, remaining calm, and working with your preschool, you can show your child that they can trust you to help deal with bullying.