Believe it or not, bullying amongst toddlers and pre-schoolers is more common than you think. While some parents and teachers might dismiss the occasional bite or hit as “normal toddler behaviour”, the truth is, this type of behaviour from an early age, could be a sign of more intense bullying to come and shouldn’t be overlooked.
In fact, according to a recent survey on student bullying by the International Study Center (part of Boston College), South African grade five pupils reported the highest occurrence of bullying out of 49 countries. Almost 44% of the respondents said they were bullied weekly. A bullying scale was then created that included common cases of bullying, such as:
- Being made fun of
- Being left out of games and activities
- Being hit or hurt
- Lies being spread about a child
- Having something such as lunch stolen regularly
Although the results of the survey highlight incidences of bullying among older kids, teachers, parents and caregivers need to understand the difference between normal social experimentation and learning versus emergent bullying behaviour.
“I’ve never taken any kind of aggression between the kids in my class lightly,” says preschool teacher Laura Kearns. In fact, I’m always shocked to see how many three and four-year-olds hit, bite, punch or kick each other on an ongoing basis, especially when they think I’m not looking,” she explains. Little boys tend to act out physically whereas little girls can bully each other with social forms of rejection and exclusion – where they single out certain kids and refuse to play with them, mock and tease them or say mean, unkind things to them,” she adds.
There are different types of bullying
- Physical bullying. This includes actions such as kicking, punching, poking, biting, excessive tickling and hair pulling.
- Verbal bullying. A bully will often use words to humiliate or hurt another child. This might involve hurtful name calling, insults, gossip, racist remarks and constant teasing.
- Relational bullying when one child is deliberately excluded from group activities.
According to Childline SA, bullying can also be part of other forms of abuse, including emotional or physical neglect or sexual abuse. Unfortunately, bullying can happen any time and anywhere – including at home or school.
Are you concerned that your child is being bullied? Here are some warning signs to look out for:
- Your child once loved preschool but now doesn’t want to go.
- He or she seems depressed or anxious.
- Your child doesn’t want to play with a child he once liked.
- He repeatedly tells you a child at school is “bothering” or being mean to him.
- He acts aggressively towards siblings.
- He is quiet and withdrawn all the time.
- He’s not doing well at school anymore.
- He has a bad temper and is very moody.
- He always comes home with torn clothes, cuts and bruises
- If he’s older, he might pretend to be sick to avoid school.
- He is tense and tearful before and after school.
- He withdraws from school activities.
How you can help
- Firstly, ensure your child doesn’t feel it’s his fault that he’s being picked on.
- Let your child’s teacher and principal know as soon as possible so the behaviour stops.
- Never tell your child he is a “cry baby” or “weak”, and don’t let his siblings or anyone else call him names.
- Take your child’s feelings and fears seriously when he shares them with you.
- Help to boost your child’s confidence by concentrating on things he’s good at.
- Find professional help for your child immediately if he’s been traumatised in any way.
Childline SA also has the following pointers
- Teach your child to be assertive at school (or at parties or playdates) by encouraging him to stand up for himself without being aggressive.
- Encourage your child to always tell an adult. This could be the teacher at school and you at home. Children from a young age need to learn that it’s OK to speak up and share their feelings.
Our experienced editors work with trained journalists and qualified experts to compile accurate, insightful and helpful information about pregnancy, birth, early childhood development and parenting. Our content is reviewed regularly by our panel of advisors, which include medical doctors and healthcare professionals.