Pre-school bullies

We often hear about bullying at school, but what about at daycare or in childcare? It’s more common than you think. Find out about the difference between conflict and bullying, signs your child is being bullied, what to do if your child is being bullied and what if your child is the bully?
We often hear about bullying at school, but what about at daycare or in childcare?

It’s more common than you think.

Find out about the difference between conflict and bullying, signs your child is being bullied, what to do if your child is being bullied and what if your child is the bully?

5 Tips on pre-school bullies & what you can do


1. Understanding pre-school bullying

Being picked on, pushed around, shunned and bullied is not acceptable at any age.

Bullying can be defined as intentionally aggressive behaviour, usually involving an imbalance of power and repeated over time.

It can be verbal (put-downs, taunts, name-calling), physical (pushing, kicking, punching) or relational (rumours, social rejection, exclusion).

Bullying can systematically undermine a child’s self-esteem.

The tendency with pre-school bullying is that it is often dismissed as kids just being kids. There’s a perception that children under 5 are too young for the kind of tormenting we associate with bullying.

But sadly, that's just not true and because any kind of bullying by pre-schoolers is so surprising to many parents, it's not noticed as readily as in older kids.

Babies and toddlers don't have the cognitive ability to feel empathy, so a child might hurt another emotionally or physically, but doesn't really understand how the other child might feel.

However this starts to change around 3 years old. By then the brain has the ability to understand another point of view and it’s a time when premeditated and purposeful aggression could begin.

The reason pre-schoolers start to bully varies considerably. Often they are just mimicking what they have seen others around them do or to get attention.

More concerning they turn to bullying with the full intent of hurting others or causing misery to another person.

2. The difference between conflict & bullying

Not all confrontational behaviour can be defined as bullying. Kids are active and impulsive, and they're going to have spur of the moment scuffles, friendship spats and wrestling matches that occasionally get out of hand.

Everyday play-related conflict can make kids stronger because they learn through experience how to compromise, negotiate, and forgive.

One way to tell the difference between conflict and bullying is to look at intent. If two boys are fighting over a car or truck for instance and both boys are upset, that's conflict.

If a child bashes your son over the head with a car or truck and grins as your son cries, that's bullying. Not all bullies act this way, but most kids who do are bullies.

Another sign to watch for is sneakiness or secretive behaviour. Bullies don’t want adults to catch them in the act so they do it covertly.

They know what they’re doing is wrong. They often try to recruit others to join them too and encourage them to carry out the bullying behaviour as well.

3. Signs your child is being bullied

It may not always be obvious that your child is being bullied, but here are some signs you can look out for if you think your child is the target of a bully:
  • They used to love pre-school or childcare but no longer want to go.
  • They complain of being unwell before being dropped off.
  • They no longer want to play with a child they once liked.
  • They avoid eye contact when you ask them about preschool or childcare.
  • They repeated tell you a certain child is bothering them or being mean to them.
  • They suddenly become withdrawn, depressed, fearful or clingy.
  • They have trouble concentrating.
  • They make derogatory remarks about themself, like ‘I'm stupid’ or ‘No one likes me’.
  • They come home with unexplained injuries.

4. What you can do if your child is being bullied

Communication is key. If you suspect your child is being bullied at pre-school or in childcare, let them know that you can help with the situation if they tell you what’s happening.

Ask them pointed questions such as ‘Did someone hurt you?’, ‘Can you tell me exactly what happened?’, etc.

Set up a meeting with the teacher or caregiver to discuss your concerns further. They may be unaware of the situation, and that's not necessarily a sign of a bad teacher or caregiver, just of a good bully!

Give your child the tools they need to handle a bully. Teach them how to stand tall, look the bully in the eye, tell an adult and avoid being alone.

You can also empower your child by role-playing with them so they can practice what they’re going to do next time they’re approached by a bully.

Confident children are less likely to be targeted by bullies, so find ways to build your child’s self-esteem.

You can help them develop friendships outside of daycare and childcare and get them involved in confidence-boosting kids sports and activities.

5. What if your child is the bully

So how do you know if your child is a bully? Perhaps start by asking yourself:
  • Does your child need to feel powerful and in control?
  • Are they hot-tempered or quick to resort to aggression?
  • Do they feel they do no wrong?
  • Do they show little empathy for others' feelings?
  • Are they aggressive toward adults?

Don't panic if you answered yes to any of these questions. It doesn't necessarily mean your child is a bully. But a child with these traits can certainly turn into a bully, so pay close attention.

The biggest red flag is if your child seems to enjoy insulting, shaming or attacking other kids.

Try discussing your child’s bullying with them in a way they can understand, explaining how it's not acceptable behaviour and the affect it is having on other children.

Otherwise ask your doctor or paediatrician if there's a therapist or specialist you can see to help work through things.
Bullying can have consequences for bullies too. For instance they may have a hard time forming real friendships, which in turn can lead to problematic relationships in all parts of their lives later on.

Dealing with bullying behaviour sooner than later is key.

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