1. Preschoolers
  2. Behaviour
  3. Common concerns

Preschool bullying: helping your child

3-5 years

If your child is being bullied at preschool, it’s important to step in quickly. You and the preschool staff need to work together to stop the bullying.

Bullying at preschool

Bullying can be devastating for children’s confidence and self-esteem, especially in the preschool years.

If your child is being bullied at preschool, he needs lots of love and support, both at home and at preschool. He also needs to know that you’ll take action to prevent any further bullying.

Talking with your child about the bullying

If your child is being bullied, one of the best ways to help her is to listen and talk about the bullying. It’s also a good way to find out more before you talk to the teacher about it.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Listen: give your child your full attention and consider talking in a quiet space. Ask your child simple questions, then listen to the answers. Try saying things like, ‘So what happened next?’ and ‘What did you do then?’
  • Stay calm: this is a chance to show your child how to solve problems. If you feel angry or anxious, wait until you feel calm before you discuss the situation with your child or with others.
  • Summarise the problem: you could say something like, ‘So you were sitting on your own eating your lunch. Then Sam came up and took your lunch box and threw it across the playground’.
  • Let your child know it’s normal to feel upset: help your child to understand that his feelings are normal. For example, ‘No wonder you’re feeling so sad about this’.
  • Make sure your child knows it’s not her fault: for example, ‘It didn’t happen because you’re smaller than the other kids. Paddy might have been upset about something at home. But that’s no excuse’.

The next step is showing your child that you care and will help:

  • Agree that there’s a problem: for example, ‘It’s not OK for someone to treat you like that’.
  • Praise your child: telling you about the bullying might not have been easy for your child. Praise will encourage him to keep sharing problems with you. For example, ‘I’m really pleased that you’ve told me about this’.
  • Make it clear that you’ll help: for example, ‘It sounds like things haven’t been so good. Let’s think about some things we could do to make it better’.
  • Avoid negative comments: it won’t help to say things like, ‘You need to stand up for yourself’ or ‘You poor thing. Never mind, you can stay home’.

And if your child understands why some children bully, it might help her realise the situation isn’t her fault. For example, you could tell your child that the bully might:

  • be copying other people, and not know that bullying is wrong
  • not know how to be nice to other people
  • have a problem and think that making other people feel bad will make things better. 

Talking to your child's preschool about the bullying

If your child is being bullied, you need to get help from preschool staff as quickly as you can. Your child’s teachers will be trained in spotting and handling bullying and can work with you to prevent further bullying.

Also, your child needs to know that you’re working on the problem, so make sure that you tell him you’ll talk to the teacher about it.

Here’s how to work with your child’s preschool teacher to stop bullying:

  • Make a time to speak privately with the teacher.
  • Calmly present your concerns as a joint issue for you both to deal with. For example, ‘Cassie says Tyler is hitting her at preschool, calling her names and telling the other kids not to play with her. I’d like your help to find out what’s happening and what we can do about it’.
  • Discuss the problem with the teacher. Ask for the teacher’s views. You could also ask how the preschool teaches children about emotions and how to treat other people.
  • Be assertive, not angry or accusatory. For example, ‘Yes, children do tease sometimes. But I don’t agree this was just teasing. I think it’s more serious’.
  • End the meeting with a plan for how the situation will be managed. For example, ‘You’re going to talk to the other teachers about this so they can watch the children carefully around the climbing frame. And we’re going to talk again next week’.
  • Keep in touch with the teacher.

Contacting the bully or the bully’s parents directly is likely to make the situation worse. It’s always safer to work with your child’s teacher rather than to try to solve bullying on your own.

Not all aggression is bullying at this age. Some preschoolers are aggressive because they haven’t yet learned the right language and social skills. Your child’s teacher is trained to know the best approach to take if another child is behaving aggressively towards your child.

If the bullying doesn’t stop

If the bullying at preschool doesn’t stop, it’s still safest to work through your preschool than to take matters into your own hands.

If your first meeting with the preschool teacher hasn’t solved the problem, here are the next steps to try:

  • Keep a record of what happens and when. If the bullying involves physical harm or damage to your child’s property, you could also take photos.
  • Write a note to the teacher saying that the bullying is still going on. Ask for your concern to be addressed in writing.
  • If the problem doesn’t seem to be getting better over time, speak to the preschool director or someone from the preschool management committee.
  • If you’re not satisfied with the results of your meeting with the director or committee, ask to make a formal complaint. Most preschools have a procedure for handling grievances.

It takes time to change behaviour, so you might not see overnight results.

If the bullying continues and you think the preschool isn’t doing enough to stop it, you might consider looking for another preschool with a better record of addressing bullying. Your child’s development is best supported by a safe and healthy environment. It won’t be good for him to stay in an environment where he feels really unhappy.

What your child can do to cope with preschool bullying

If your child is being bullied, you should always step in. But your preschooler can also learn ways to cope with the bullying when it’s happening. This can help her to handle any future bullying or negative social behaviour.

Here are some ideas, along with ways to explain the ideas to your child:

  • Tell the bully to stop: ‘Standing up to bullies in a calm way lets them know that what they’re trying to do isn’t working’.
  • Stay around other people: ‘If you play with your best friends, the bully probably won’t bother you’.
  • Ask other children for help: ‘Other children probably understand what you’re going through and can help you if you need it. Bullies are less likely to strike if they can see that you have backup’.
  • Tell the teacher: ‘Your teacher can help you deal with the problem. The bully might not even know that the teacher is helping you. Bullying can be hard to handle, and grown-ups are there to help’. 

You and your child could pick one or two ideas that he feels comfortable using. Encourage him to put them into action. This will help your child feel more confident and less powerless about being bullied.

Supporting your child at home

At home your child needs lots of support and love while you and the preschool teacher work on stopping the bullying.

You could aim to have a time each day when you chat with your child about the good and bad parts of her day. Rather than always asking about bullying, you can ask more general questions like ‘What was the most fun part of your day?’

Sometimes professional support might help your child deal with bullying. Talk to your GP or preschool teacher for information on professional help.

What if your child is the one doing the bullying? It can be hard to understand and accept, but there are things you can do if your child is bullying others.

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Last updated or reviewed
08-12-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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