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Preschool Bullying: What Can You do?

Bullying is abusive. It hurts the individuals being bullied, the bully, and, oftentimes, children who may witness the bullying taking place. The emotional and mental long-term effects of such abuse can carry on through adolescence into adulthood. How can parents strengthen their children to lessen the impact of bullying and to eliminate it from their children’s lives altogether?

Effects of Bullying

It is very important to understand the effects of bullying on our children. Serious consequences result from bullying behaviors such as:

  • Loneliness, depression, anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Absenteeism from school
  • Feeling sick (e.g., stomachaches, headaches, sleeplessness, nightmares).

The following recommendations outline what parents or caregivers can do if their child is being bullied.

Open Lines of Communication

Successful bullies count on the bullied child to keep quiet about the abuse. Begin now to encourage your children to talk with you about anything and everything. Young children are often shy about telling an adult about another child’s actions, even when they know those actions are wrong. When talking about abuse, emphasize to your child that “telling” is NOT the same as tattling.

  • For 3- to 4-year-olds: Encourage even the youngest children to share the events of their day. This will help them understand their lives are important, too, and that family members value them. If you suspect your child is being bullied, start a conversation with, “What do you do if your friend takes away your favorite toy?”
  • For 5- to 6-year-olds: A few regularly scheduled minutes of face-to-face conversation during snack time or just before bedtime will allow children to practice their conversational skills. And, anticipating they will have that time with you will give them an opportunity to share. If you suspect your child is being bullied, start conversations with, “What do you do if…”and fill in a topic specific to your child.

Use Building Blocks To Support You

Building Blocks has materials and activities to support you and your child as you help him or her build confidence and open up lines of communication. Just click on the following materials to download to your computer.

Reinforce Behavior Expectations

Remind children of the rules of play:

  • Fighting, biting, hitting, or kicking is not allowed.
  • “No abuse” includes verbal abuse (e.g., teasing, name-calling).
  • Share toys if more than one child wants to play with them.

Encourage children to expect their playmates to abide by the same rules. Shy children may find it easier to cite bullies for “breaking the rules” than to assume bullying behavior is personal.

Talking to the Teacher

Your child’s teacher may not be aware of bullying behavior as most little bullies wait until the teacher has his/her back turned or is out of sight. You may also want to drop by the school unannounced. This will allow you to watch how your child plays with other children, and it will keep the school staff vigilant.

If your child is the bully (PDF 610 KB)

It is important to understand the root cause of your child’s behavior. You may be asking yourself, “Why is my child bullying other children at school or in our neighborhood?”

Research shows 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. Furthermore, some bullies are often seen as popular at school and may suffer from too much self-confidence. They may have friends who actually support their behaviors and may act aggressively themselves.

If your child is the bully, work with all the adults who interact with your child to alter how he or she interacts with other children. Let your child know what is acceptable behavior at home and what is expected of him or her at school. Make sure you let him or her know the consequences for bullying behavior in both arenas. Help your child build social and problem-solving skills. Most important, you must model healthy behaviors and create a warm family environment in which you are keeping in constant communication with your child.

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Updated on 3/22/2014