Knowing how to spot the signs early
Bullying is a word that strikes fear into most parents’ hearts when their child starts school. What you may not expect, however, is to find yourself dealing with this tricky issue much earlier.
At a glance
- Little ones crave adult attention and if they are denied it, may behave badly to get any type of attention
- If you suspect your child is being bullied, it’s important to take action immediately
- Build up your child’s self-esteem as this is often an issue for children who bully
In the past few years, there has been a significant rise in the number of under 5's expelled from reception and nursery classes for verbal and physical aggression, so bullying may be an issue you need to tackle before you planned to.
No one knows the exact cause, but experts point to a lack of boundaries at home and the increasing amount of time children are left to watch TV or play on computers.
Little ones crave adult attention and if they are denied it, they may behave badly to get any type of attention, even if it means being hurtful towards other children. While your child might be lucky enough to avoid being the target, it’s worth knowing how to spot the signs early, as research shows early bullying can affect your child’s chances of succeeding at work and in relationships later on.
How do under 5's bully?
Michael Duke, a Principal Educational Psychologist explains:
- Bullying of the under 5's is not that dramatically different to what happens in school. Girls tend to leave each other out of groups. Boys are more physically aggressive. The difference is that bullying in the under 5's is less obvious. In one research study, nursery children played nicely together until they moved away from adult earshot into an area where researchers had hidden microphones. At this point, some children began taking other children’s toys and refusing to give them turns
- If your child is being bullied at nursery or school, and does not have the language skills to tell you, they may exhibit other signs. Is your child withdrawn and less responsive to you? Have they started wetting the bed regularly? Are they coming home with scratches and cuts?
- Remember, for behaviour to be defined as bullying however, it must be repetitive, take place over a period of time and be targeted at your child specifically
If you suspect your child is being bullied, it’s important to take action immediately. Your first step is to identify what is happening and what your school or nursery will do about it.
Can I stop it?
- Children need time and space to make sense of things. Try to speak to yours about what is happening over a period of time – not, for example, quickly before you kiss them goodnight. It is better to sit and read a storybook about bullying with them to prompt a gentle chat. Make it clear that it’s safe to tell you what’s happening
- Write down any incidents your child mentions or behaviour that you notice, rather than telling your child’s teacher that it ‘happens a lot’. Fifty individual entries build up a picture. Perhaps the bullying happens on a Tuesday when a certain little boy is at nursery? One-off incidents can be discarded. Only use the world ‘bullying’ if you are sure
- Schools and nurseries should have an anti-bullying policy. If you are worried a teacher is not taking your concerns seriously, ask to see the policy to check the teacher is following it. You can follow this with a formal complaint to the nursery head or chair of governors at your school, and finally the Director of Education Services
Just as important as stopping a specific incident, is the long-term goal of making your child feel confident enough to brush off a bully’s verbal teasing as unimportant. Valuing your child’s feelings and thoughts, showing your child you love them and giving them choices and responsibilities will increase their self-esteem to the point where a bully’s attempt to belittle your child will simply have no effect.
I’m scared my child is the bully
Low self-esteem is also an issue for children who bully. Many hit out because of insecurity. It’s important to not only build up your child’s self-esteem, as above, but also be aware that children who understand how to behave appropriately in their society will have a much better chance of succeeding later on in jobs and relationships.
In the meantime, parenting charity Parentline suggest that you:
- Sit down with your child and find out what has been happening
- Let your child know that you want to help them to change their behaviour. Explain that it is their behaviour you don’t like. You still love them
- Speak to your child firmly but gently about any difficult issues they are going through, at school or in the family home to get to the root of their need to act out aggressively
- Explain that all forms of bullying are wrong. Give examples of how hurtful each type of bullying can be
- Ask your nursery or school for help