Bullying and how it affects preschoolers
Bullying can be devastating for preschoolers. That’s because these are the years that children start to spend more time with others and learn how to make friends.
If your child is being bullied at preschool, they need a lot of love and support, both at home and at preschool. Your child also needs to know that you’ll take action to prevent any further bullying.
Children have the right to learn and develop in safe and healthy preschool environments. Protecting children from bullying and working to prevent it at preschool is part of creating safe environments that help children grow and thrive.
Talking with children who are being bullied at preschool
If your child is being bullied, listening and talking with your child is essential. This helps you to find out what’s happening so you can take action with the preschool. Calm and caring conversations with you will also help your child feel loved, supported and understood.
Here’s how to get started:
- Listen. Give your child your full attention and consider talking somewhere quiet. Ask your child simple questions, then listen to the answers. Try saying things like, ‘So what happened next?’ and ‘What did you do then?’
- Stay calm. This is a chance to show your child how to solve problems. If you feel angry or anxious, wait until you feel calm before you discuss the situation with your child or others.
- Summarise the problem. You could say something like, ‘So you were sitting on your own eating your snack. Then Sam came up and took your lunch box and threw it across the playground’.
- Let your child know it’s OK to feel upset. For example, ‘No wonder you’re feeling so sad about this’.
The next step is showing your child that you care and will help:
- Agree that there’s a problem. For example, ‘It’s not OK for someone to treat you like that’.
- Praise your child. Telling you about the bullying might not have been easy for your child, and praise will encourage your child to keep sharing problems with you. For example, ‘I’m really pleased that you’ve told me about this’.
- Make it clear that you’ll help. For example, ‘It sounds like things haven’t been so good. Let’s think about some things we could do to make it better’.
- Avoid negative comments. It won’t help to say things like, ‘You need to stand up for yourself’ or ‘You poor thing. Never mind, you can stay home’.
Make sure your child knows the situation isn’t their fault. For example, ‘It didn’t happen because you’re smaller than the other kids’. You could also tell your child that the person doing the bullying might:
- be copying other people, and not know that bullying is wrong
- not know how to be nice to other people
- have a problem and think that making other people feel bad will make things better.
Talking to the preschool about the bullying
If your child is being bullied, you need to get help from preschool staff as quickly as you can.
Bullying is a serious issue, and most preschools will have policies and procedures for managing it. Your child’s teachers should also be trained in spotting and handling bullying. They can work with you to stop it.
Also, your child needs to know that you’re working on the problem, so make sure that you tell your child you’ll talk to the teacher about it.
Here’s how to work with your child’s preschool teacher to stop bullying:
- Make a time to speak privately with the teacher.
- Calmly present your concerns as a joint issue for you both to deal with. For example, ‘Cassie says Tyler is hitting her at preschool, calling her names and telling the other kids not to play with her. I’d like your help to find out what’s happening and what we can do about it’.
- Discuss the problem with the teacher. Ask the teacher for information and their perspective on the situation. You could also ask how the preschool teaches children about emotions and how to treat other people. It might also help to tell the teacher about any behaviour or other changes you’ve noticed in your child.
- Be assertive, not angry or accusatory. For example, ‘Yes, children do tease sometimes. But I don’t agree this was just teasing. I think it’s more serious’.
- End the meeting with a plan for how the situation will be managed. For example, ‘You’re going to talk to the other teachers about this so they can watch the children carefully around the climbing frame. And we’re going to talk again next week’.
- Keep in touch with the teacher.
Speaking directly to the child who is bullying or to their parents is likely to make the situation worse. It’s always safest to work with your child’s teacher than to try to solve bullying on your own.
Not all aggression is bullying at this age. Some preschoolers are aggressive because they haven’t yet learned appropriate language and social skills. Your child’s teacher is trained to know the best approach if another child is behaving aggressively towards your child.
If the bullying doesn’t stop
If the bullying at preschool doesn’t stop after you’ve spoken with the preschool teacher, it’s still safest to work through the preschool than to take matters into your own hands.
Here are further steps you can take:
- Keep a record of what happens and when. If the bullying involves physical harm or damage to your child’s property, you could also take photos.
- Write a note to the teacher saying that the bullying is still going on. Ask for your concern to be addressed in writing.
- If the problem doesn’t seem to be getting better over time, speak to the preschool director or someone from the preschool management committee.
- If you’re not satisfied with the results of your meeting with the director or committee, ask to make a formal complaint. Most preschools have a procedure for handling grievances.
It takes time to change behaviour, so you might not see overnight results. But you should feel that your child is safe and being cared for while the preschool teacher is working on stopping the bullying.
It’s best for your child’s wellbeing and development to be in an environment where they feel safe, respected and valued. If you’ve tried to address the issue and it’s not getting better, you might want to think about moving preschools. Before you decide, it’s a good idea to speak with your current preschool and consider asking your GP for a referral to an educational psychologist.
Supporting your child at home
At home your child needs a lot of support and love while you and the preschool teacher work on stopping the bullying.
You could aim to have a time each day when you chat with your child about the good and bad parts of their day. Rather than always asking about bullying, you can ask more general questions like ‘What was the most fun part of your day?’
Sometimes professional support might help your child deal with bullying. You can ask your GP or the preschool teacher about where you can go for professional help.
What children can do to cope with preschool bullying
If your child is being bullied, you should always step in using the strategies above. But your preschooler can also learn ways to cope with the bullying when it’s happening. This can help your child to handle any future bullying.
Here are ideas for your child, along with ways to explain the ideas to your child:
- Tell the person doing the bullying to stop: ‘Standing up to bullies in a calm way lets them know that what they’re trying to do isn’t working’. You could also role-play this situation with your child. For example, ‘Stop calling me dumb. I don’t like it when you say that’.
- Stay around other people: ‘If you play with your best friends, the person doing the bullying might not bother you because your friends will notice’.
- Ask other children to get a teacher if your child needs help: ‘Other children probably understand what you’re going through and can help you if you need it. It’s OK to ask them to get a teacher’.
- Tell the teacher: ‘Your teacher can help you. The person doing the bullying might not even know that the teacher is helping you. Bullying can be hard to handle, and grown-ups are there to help’.
You and your child could pick 1-2 ideas that your child feels comfortable using. Encourage your child to put the ideas into action. This will help your child feel more confident and less powerless about being bullied.
What if your child is the one doing the bullying? It can be hard to accept, but it’s good to know that the younger your child is, the more likely they are to change the way they act. So it’s best to do something about bullying sooner rather than later. A positive approach to behaviour management and working with your child’s preschool teacher are most likely to help your child.