Bullying Preschooler

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Image by nzgabriel via Flikr.

The other day we’re at the playground. My girls are running around climbing and swinging from anything in sight. The 4 year old goes up the stairs to attack the slide when a boy about her size blocks her way.

Fine. Be a punk. No one’s getting hurt and, to be honest, I’m a little curious to see what my daughter does.

They stare at each other. Him – a mean, punk stare. Her – a why-do-you-look-so grumpy-and-what-kind-of-weird-game-is-this stare.

She attempts a move forward. He blocks.

She attempts a move towards his other side. He blocks.

She looks at me. “Mami, he’s not letting me go.”

“What do you think you could do in this situation?” Trying to empower her.

She turns to face him. “Excuse me.” The punk starts to swing his leg back and forth aiming to kick my girl.

I watch, suppressing every urge I have to run up there and push him down the slide.

My daughter turns to me. “Mami.”

I remain calm and again attempt to empower her to do what she feels is right. “How do you think you could get by?”

Clever girl makes a move to get under his arm and past him. Bastard swings his leg harder and further.

“Mami!” Under my breath I whisper, in Spanish, “Kick him back.” She doesn’t hear me and keeps looking for my help. He keeps kicking aiming to harm my girl.

Acting like a punk is fine, go ahead. But take try to harm my kid and your mom doesn’t budge from her idle chatter five feet away and we’re not so fine.

I charge up the stairs and speak in an attempted calm voice when really I’m seething with a whole lot of grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-get-the-f*-out-of-her-way, “I wouldn’t kick other people. It’s not very nice.” And we stare each other down. He turns just in time to find baby sister charging up into his face to yell at him, “Don’t kick my sister!”

I love that kid.

The punk moved, his mom looked at me curiously, my daughter went down the slide and baby sister was a rock star.

We haven’t run into many situations like this one. But when other kids try to harm my kids a savage kind of rage boils up. I can’t explain it. And the animal instinct in me finds it hard to tell my daughter – hey stand there and take a beating because the “right” thing to do is say excuse me, please and thank you. I secretly wished baby sister had punctuated her statement with a good shove. Not proud of these feelings I had; just being honest.

Later, my daughter asked me why the boy was trying to kick  her and why he wouldn’t let her pass. Instead of telling her what I really thought (he’s a mean little bastard), I kindly explained to her, he was a good kid who just happened to make a bad choice. Like her and all little kids, he sometimes needs his parents’ support in figuring out how to make good decisions. She understood this because this is how we’ve started approaching her own decision making. Putting the focus on the actions taken not the person acting. Nonchalantly, with the wave of a hand, “He was probably hungry or sleepy.” The two primary reasons she herself makes not so good choices.

I should mention here while the words “mean little bastard” and worse crossed my mind, I do sincerely believe in the good kid-bad choice philosophy. Is he the devil’s spawn? I’m sure he gives his parents a run for their money but he’s just a little person with big feelings and the need for loving and caring guidance. So, yes the mama bear in me will continue to bad mouth him in my head. In my heart, I understand he’s just a kid.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the incident. Did I tell her the right thing? Did I step in too soon? Did I say the right thing to the little boy? Should I have let it unfold by itself? It’s a tricky line – letting your kids learn tough lessons on their own and protecting them.

My daughter is naturally one to take a step back and approach with caution rather than just attack. I respect this is her personality but would also like to let her know she can be cautious and assertive. I used my trusty parenting research assistant, Lady Google, and came up with a few helpful suggestions for teaching kids how to be assertive and avoid being bullied.

-Teach kids the importance of verbalizing how certain actions and words make them feel.

-Use play to explore the feelings of being bullied are great.

-Modeling confident behavior, staying emotionally connected to your child and more role-play are good ways to bully-proof your child.

-These articles make good suggestions for preschool bullying taking place in and outside of school.

I’ve talked about this with several parents and the responses have been interesting. Some parents would have the same question about how to best handle such a situation. One grandparent told me parents nowadays parents are just too nice. Back in the day, a parent would’ve run up to the punk and told him, “Get lost you little brat.” (instinctively what I wanted to do). My other friend encountered a bratty girl on the playground. Her tactic was to call a spade, a spade. Her daughter asked why the little girl was hogging the playground equipment (long story short – a long line of kids waiting for a swing and a kid old enough to know better just sitting on the swing not swinging for a half hour and several parents asked her to let other kids have a turn and she ignored them). So my friend’s response to her daughter? That’s just a bad, bad little girl. She’s a bad person and doesn’t like to share. I won’t go into detail but I think she might have mentioned to her daughter they could call the police to have the girl removed from the swing. (not my style but good God I laughed my ass off when I heard her telling this).

At the end of the day, I’m still left wondering what the heck to do next time. What would you do if you were in the same situation? Have you encountered preschool bullying? What’s the best way, for everyone involved, to respond? Let me know in the comments. I’m looking to be prepared for the next playground bully we encounter.

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9 Comments on Bullying Preschooler

  1. Lisa Quinones-Fontanez
    21 September, 2011 at 9:42 am (3 years ago)

    OMG – I’ve been in this situation before. And it’s difficult for me. My son is 5 but he’s a big 5. But he can’t articulate his needs or if someone’s being a bully. At the playground, I cannot just sit on a bench and gossip with other moms, I need to be within arms reach, at the bottom of the slide – monitoring his every move. Making sure my son is not the bully – though if he pushes another child, it’s not intentionally, he just doesn’t know and I’m there to make sure it does not happen and if it does – I make him apologize. And I also need to make sure, my son is not bullied by another. But I’m not above yelling/scolding someone else’s kid if the parent is not around. Sigh…I also realize that at some point, I will have to step back.

    You did the right thing! And know your child will make the right choices :)

    Reply
  2. Mercedes @BeChicMag
    21 September, 2011 at 11:22 am (3 years ago)

    Carla, love this post. I liked your first response, “What do you think you could do in this situation?” These are one of the things that worry me about the playground but it’s one of the reasons that it’s a must– it’s not just a place for them to jump around and get their exercise. It’s definitely the place to learn how to deal with these situations. I’m getting better at not stepping in too soon with my niece, but sometimes I can’t help it :)

    Reply
  3. Patty @ A Day in My NYC
    21 September, 2011 at 11:25 am (3 years ago)

    You most certainly did the right thing. I am not a parent yet so I don’t know how I would handle it in the future. I also come from “old school” parents where my dad would have told me to just push him out of the way. Whenever I had trouble with a boy in class I’d tell my dad, he’s talk to the teacher, the principal and if it didn’t stop he’s just talk to the kid and parent when we were dropped off at school. Sometimes that went well, sometime not so much. In essence the message was clear…stand up for yourself.

    Reply
  4. Unknown Mami
    21 September, 2011 at 12:24 pm (3 years ago)

    I think you handled it superbly and I do not think you stepped in too soon. I know the rage that boils up. My daughter tends to back down on the playground and some kids just keep pushing. It’s not that she is a pushover, it’s that she’s really just very nice and doesn’t understand “mean” behaviors. You gotta let them fend for themselves, but I would for sure step in before she gets pummeled.

    Reply
  5. Laurita
    21 September, 2011 at 6:59 pm (3 years ago)

    I think you did the right thing by stepping in. While it’s important to teach your child to be assertive, it is my experience that most little kids are TERRIFIED of angry grown-ups. (Just ask my Mami– she scared the hell out of many of my school bullies.) I was picked on a lot in school, and sometimes I STILL wish Mami had kicked the crap out of them. They deserve to know what it felt like.

    But I think the best piece of advice I can offer is to NEVER BE AFRAID to confront the parents about it, because many parents are completely oblivious to the fact that their child is behaving badly. Make sure they know the truth! <3

    Reply
  6. rachel
    21 September, 2011 at 9:08 pm (3 years ago)

    I have actually not had to deal with this (YET). Can you believe that? From NY to LA. I’m glad I haven’t because I’m so over-protective of my son, I know exactly what you mean by that savage feeling lol.

    Reply
  7. Carla
    21 September, 2011 at 11:33 pm (3 years ago)

    Thanks, ladies, for your kind and honest comments! Just talked to a dear friend and she offered a unique way to respond to a bully on the playground. If it comes to the point where you have to intervene, approach the brat, um I mean child, and in this case say, “Someone could get hurt if by your kicking. You should go see your mom now.” I like the idea of sending the kid to his/her parent. She even took it a step further and suggested you ask the child where his/her parent is and kindly mention what was happening – your son was kicking and I was concerned someone might get hurt so I just wanted to make you aware. Food for thought =)

    Reply
  8. Morena
    22 September, 2011 at 11:26 am (3 years ago)

    I think you handled it in the best possible way. I’m impressed by how you controlled yourself! :D I usually wonder how I would act if I had kids, and I think we have to relax a bit. We all try to be perfect (parenting is not an exception), and you know what? Our parents made lots of mistakes too and we’re doing fine.

    Reply

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