Preschool Bullying: Steps to Stop Child Aggression
Not many people are surprised to see preschoolers acting aggressively—from taking toys from each other to getting physical to expressing negative emotions, three- to five-year-olds are expected to have outbursts, as they’re still learning how to interact appropriately with their peers.
While all bullying is aggression, not all aggression is bullying. To be considered bullying, the bully must display behavior that’s intended to hurt, harm, or injure another person, and done on numerous occasions—all while maintaining a position of social power, such as having older, bigger friends. When the perpetrator acts aggressively, the harassment may become patterns of bullying unless adults intervene to teach young kids the appropriate way to handle conflict (1).
Instances of bullying between young kids takes many forms, including hitting and kicking, name-calling, and social exclusion (e.g., “I’m not going to be your friend”).
During preschool, bullying is based more on the here and now, and likely doesn’t include past events. Additionally, this peer-on-peer harassment tends to be direct and done in front of adults, revealing the identity of the bully and making intervention by adults easier compared to older children (1, 2, 5).
Victims Down the Road
Kids who are aggressive in preschool are more likely to be on the receiving end of bullying down the road. These aggressors, who often tell other kids “you can’t be my friend anymore,” are more likely to be isolated by these same behaviors later in the school year, and kids who exclude their classmates in preschool end up not being liked well later in the school year—which puts a target on the backs of former bullies. Additionally, kids who aggress by excluding or rejecting others are less likely to be included in birthday parties, play dates, and other social gatherings later on (2).
Interestingly, the same shift has been found in children who are victimized by their peers in preschool. Kids who are victims of bullying before kindergarten learn from their experiences—and act out aggressive behaviors in the future. Not only does the bullied become a bully, but children will often dish out the same sort of treatment they received earlier. For example, the child who’s hit and kicked by his peers is likely to hit and kick others (3).
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