What does bullying look like in early childhood?
Bullying in young children can be difficult to pick out from other common childhood behaviors, such as peer conflicts or aggression directed at others when upset. There is also a common assumption that bullying does not occur in early childhood due to the idea that children are too young to be involved in bullying. However, children can be both the victim of bullying and demonstrate bullying behaviors in early childhood. It is important to be on the lookout for bullying so that you can help support your child and stop the behavior early.
Bullying occurs when:
- One child intentionally harms (either verbally or physically) another
- There are repeated incidents over time
- There is a power difference between the child being bullied and the child engaging in the bullying behavior (e.g., age difference)
The impact of bullying on young children
Bullying can contribute to anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of loneliness, and physical complaints such as headaches or stomachaches. It can lead to children feeling unsafe, and it may also be confusing and hard to understand.
How to address bullying with your child
Be observant but don’t jump to conclusions
If you are concerned about bullying, pay extra attention to possible bullying behaviors when your child is playing with peers. Remember, difficulty sharing and some aggressive behaviors when upset can be a normal part of children learning how to interact with peers and developing appropriate social skills.
Talk about bullying
Talk with your child about bullying through discussion and play as appropriate. Talking with your child about bullying can help them understand that parents, caregivers, and other adults can help keep them safe and deal with big feelings that are a result of bullying. It can also provide an opportunity for children to practice how to respond to bullying (e.g., asking the peer to stop, telling a trusted adult, etc.)
Talk to teachers and care providers
Teachers and other care providers spend a lot of time with your child and may be the first line of defense against bullying! They can explain what bullying looks like, tell you about your child’s behavior with peers, and help you figure out how to best help your child.
Seek out additional support if necessary
If you are concerned that your child is being bullied or is engaged in bullying behavior and you would like support, The Children’s Center can help. A mental health professional can support your child and family in navigating early childhood, addressing bullying with your child, and preparing you and your family for future success.
-Abigail Nash, ACMHC
Family Therapist at The Children's Center Utah