My daughter is only three years old, so, in my mind, she is far too young to need to worry about bullying. Until she started spending more time with other children in preschool and Sunday school, I honestly believed that bullying was something that only happened to older kids. My own memories of being bullied begin in third grade, so it seemed bizarre that small, innocent children as young as three can engage in this severely disruptive, upsetting, and hurtful behavior. But, as I found out, bullying is not uncommon in preschools-- and it often goes unidentified by parents because we assume that preschoolers are too young to bully one another.
Several signs can alert you to the possibility that your preschooler is being bullied or mistreated by his peers. If you suspect that your preschooler is being bullied, talk to his daycare provider or primary educator.
1. He has become depressed or withdrawn since starting school.Bear in mind that it is not uncommon for kids to experience mood disruptions shortly after starting school, since it is a major transition that involves separation from his primary caregivers. However, if your preschooler's school-time blues seem more severe than usual, it could be a sign that other children are bullying him.
2. He has become very critical of other people. If your preschooler has suddenly started pointing out imperfections and flaws among his peers or family members-- such as calling his sister fat or saying that his daddy's shirt is ugly-- it's likely that he picked up the behavior from other children. Kids don't act critical and mean by instinct, so find out exactly where your child learned that this behavior is acceptable. Then, to stop your bullied child from becoming the bully, teach him that it is wrong.
3. He has become very anxious or clingy. Again, behavioral problems are common as your child starts school. But, if his anxieties are abnormally pronounced, it's possible that bullying is to blame. He may show anxiety symptoms like night-time disturbances, toilet accidents and emotional outbursts because he feels genuinely terrified of facing bullies at school.
4. He shows signs of injury.While older children tend to attack with words, preschoolers are very physical in their altercations. If your preschooler shows bruises, scratches or bite marks, these are fairly certain signs that he is being mistreated by his peers. Ask his teacher exactly when and where he acquired these injuries. If other students are to blame, the problem needs to be promptly addressed.
5. He tells you about specific incidents. Your preschooler isn't likely to give you a play-by-play account of every day at school, but pay close attention when he tells you about his day. If he says something like, "Ben called me stupid," or "Sandy said that my birth mark is ugly," don't dismiss these as mild preschool faux-pas. They could be signs of a much deeper, more persistent problem. Talk to your child's other care providers to address the situation before it dramatically degrades your child's quality of life.
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