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Time With Your Kids
Preschool Bullying

Research has shown that school bullying is taking place throughout many middle and high schools across the Nation. Bullying behaviors can start as early as preschool and preventative steps need to be taken to target such behaviors among our children.

What is bullying?

Bullying is aggressive, deliberate, and threatening behavior that harms or frightens another child and, usually, involves children of unequal size and strength. (See: Bullying Among Children and Youth.) Bullying can be physical (hitting, kicking) or it can be emotional (teasing, name-calling, ridicule, exclusion from group play). As children get older, these behaviors can escalate to include bullying over the Internet and cell phones, otherwise known as cyberbullying. Bullying causes anxiety and fear in young children, affecting their self-confidence and ability to learn, as well as contributing toward depression. Even bystanders can be affected by bullying. If not stopped early, bullying can have long-term consequences to the mental and emotional well-being of the bully and individuals who are bullied.

Where does bullying occur?

Most bullying occurs at school, although it can occur in other settings, such as on the playground, school bus, or elsewhere within the community.

How do I know that a young child has been bullied?

A young child might not tell you (or know how to tell you) if he or she is bullied at school. So, how do you know what behaviors might raise a red flag that there is a bully in a child’s life? Watch children for the following symptoms:

  • They no longer want to go to school, even though they have been happy there in the past.
  • They develop physical symptoms (e.g., stomachaches, headaches, sleeplessness, nightmares, listlessness) for which there is no known cause.
  • They come home with cuts and/or bruises—and no explanation.
  • They seem sad or withdrawn.
  • They are uncharacteristically clingy.
  • Their eating patterns have changed.

What can we do to address bullying?

Keeping open lines of communication between children and their caregivers strengthens children’s resiliency. Ongoing communication sharpens children’s ability to communicate appropriately and effectively, enhances their sense of self-worth, heightens their problem-solving skills, and increases their internal locus of control (belief that they are in control of their own behavior).

What if my child is the bully?

Research has shown that children who bully often suffer from psychosocial problems and may have difficulties adjusting to social situations. Some studies have even indicated that bullies may suffer from depression, which may cause them to engage in aggressive behaviors, especially towards their peers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some bullies are often seen as popular at school and may suffer from too much self-confidence, which often leads to choosing bullying victims that suffer from isolation and low self-esteem.

The general theme that lies within bullying behavior is the lack of ability in dealing with problem-solving and social situations. This may stem from developmental and adjustment issues with the child and it is important to address this issue early on.

So, what can you as parents do when your child is being a bully?

  • Cleary state your expectations on how you would like for him or her to act toward others.
  • Model healthy behaviors. Refrain from physical punishment and other aggressive behaviors at home. Your child is likely to mimic your behavior. 
  • Emphasize that bullying is NEVER acceptable and what the consequences will be if your child bullies others. Praise him for following rules and engaging in non-violent behaviors.
  • Emphasize the positive behaviors your child could show with others: sympathy, empathy, helpfulness.
  • Encourage your child’s positive social activities.
  • Be involved in your child’s life and frequently support and monitor her activities. Make sure you know who she is friends with.
  • Help him adapt to new situations by teaching him problem-solving skills.
  • Keep in constant communication with her teachers. By working together, you can target bullying behaviors before they lead to further complications in your child’s life.
  • Seek medical attention if you think your child might be suffering from depression. Targeting warning signs early may help prevent serious health problems and risky behaviors from occurring later in life.

Family Activity: Preschool Bullying: What Can You Do?

Educator Activity: Stop Bullying in the Classroom

Quiz for Parents: Bullying: What Can a Parent Do?



Health Resources and Services Administration


From The Journal of the American Medical Association

  • Bullying Behaviors Among U.S. Youth: Prevalence and Association With Psychosocial Adjustment (2001)

Books on Bullies and Bullying (some are appropriate for preschoolers)

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Updated on 4/9/2013