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Bullying Behavior

Dear Debi,
My 11-year-old son bullies his 5-year-old brother at home. Now Iím getting complaints about my 5-year-oldís bullying behavior at his school. How do I stop this before it gets worse?
David, Arcadia, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Set limits and enforce them
  • Model behavior you want kids to learn
  • Use positive discipline techniques
Expert Advice
Pamela Kisor
Pamela Kisor
Anna Bing Arnold Childrenís Center
An 11-year-old who is consistently aggressive is a ďbully.Ē The five year old is acting out at school because thatís where he has power. His brother is teaching him that, and the older brother is getting away with that type of behavior. The father has to address the 11-year-old, and help the 5-year-old see that there are better ways to manage aggressive behavior. He really has to address whatever is causing the 11-year-old to act so aggressively. If they donít solve the problem with the older son, they canít do anything with the 5-year-old. The sad thing is, the 5-year-old is exhibiting expected behavior. Heís learning negative behaviors, and exhibiting them. The 5-year-old has to see that someone is stepping in and heís not a victim all alone.

With pre-schoolers, we donít really see bullying behavior. Bullying is more of a thought out process. A bully chooses victims who are smaller and easier to victimize. Children under 5 are more impulse-driven. Theyíre not so connected to their behavior. You might see a kid consistently being aggressive or randomly acting out, but that behavior isnít really set yet, and itís something we can work with in a preschooler. A teacherís job is to ascertain why the child is doing that.

Providers should use positive discipline techniques to avert and respond to any incidences of aggression, whether physical or verbal. If, for example, you have a 3-year-old and another child takes his toy and he hits that child, the child Ďs behavior was provoked.

But letís say you have a child who every 5 minutes disrupts. Thatís an aggression thatís harder to resolve. Itís random and difficult to find the source. Thatís a child who doesnít have good social skills. Thatís a child whoís potentially on a path to continued aggression as a way to get what they want. Itís not only how much it hurts everyone else, but how it damages that childís self-esteem, too. Theyíre in trouble all the time when they get older. They have fewer and fewer opportunities to get out of those patterns. Itís best to solve that behavior while theyíre still in pre-school.

There are also children who are victims more often than others. If a child is constantly a victim, you have to teach them to get out of that behavior. Iím not suggesting you tell kids to hit. Lots of times, the kid whoís hitting is bigger or more aggressive and it doesnít move them past fighting. Itís good to tell kids under the age of 5 that they also should use their words. They have to be able to speak for themselves and feel some sense of empowerment. Sometimes it takes the teacher being right there to show the child. The victim learns they have a voice they can use.

Child care providers should work with parents by first finding out how parents deal with the childís aggression. Aggression should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. With a child whoís aggressive a lot, we work with his or her parents. Kids who are aggressive at school or in a child care setting are either overly controlled or under controlled. Aggressive behavior is usually because young children need a reaction. If they come from a home where everything is a ďNo,Ē then they come to school where theyíre not spanked, and they donít have that sense of external control. So they act out a lot to see where the control will come in.

Some kids without limits act out to get some kind of limited force. We all need to know weíre in controlled environments. On any given day, any child might behave aggressively. If the provider or teacher feels the child didnít continue with that behavior, itís not necessary to tell everything to the parent. But if a provider observes a pattern of aggression, they should definitely talk to the parent right away. Our goal is to get children to develop self-control.
Child Care provider Comments
Provider for 10 years
As a child care provider, when you see a child exhibiting negative behavior against another child, you need to get involved. This one child just wanted attention. It didnít matter if it was positive or negative attention. He didnít just bully one child, he would bully any child who would let him get away with it. I shadowed him to watch his behavior, but I also concentrated on the child who was being bullied. I sat next to the kids he liked to bully and try to redirect his attention away from them. Sometimes he would go for it. If I had him engaged in something else and was giving him attention, he would leave those children alone.
Darlene Patterson
Darlene Patterson
Family child care provider for 22 years and mother of three
Itís usually the bigger child who does the bullying, but they have usually been bullied themselves. When a child sees another child they can bully, they do it.
Parent Comments
Mother of three children
My daughter, Kailyn was 3 and a half and I went to pick her up from school. She told me that a little girl was bothering her. Then I started to see bite marks on her, so I reported it to the supervisor. The bullyís parent was spoken to, but the child kept doing it. I started to tell Kailyn to fight back, but it didnít work. The other child continued to hit and started spitting on Kailyn. The site supervisor had told me that other people had complained about the same child and said it was just too late in the semester to change the little girl out. At the time, I didnít really know how to handle the situation.

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