No parent wants to imagine that the precious kindergartner you drop off at school in the morning will be using every opportunity during the day to make another or several other classmates’ lives sheer misery in the classroom, on the playground, and even in the bathroom. Such is the nature of the Kindergarten bully. Why a child becomes a bully, how he or she can be identified at school, the serious effects such behavior can have on those victimized, and how to prevent bullying at such a young age are all important issues to consider, especially when you realize that as many as 18% of kindergartners are regularly bullied at school.
Kindergarten bullying comes in three forms: verbal, physical, and exclusionary. Left unchecked, it will increase to peak forces by junior high school, where peer relationships, positive or negative, are most powerful. While there are many factors that influence a child’s tendency to become a bully, most of them seem to come from the home environment and behaviors there. Since children as young as 2 years old have been observed practicing bullying to get a toy or position they want, it is imperative that parents do not tolerate aggressive or threatening physical behavior, even at this young age.
Other family risk factors include lack of parental involvement or warmth, lack of supervision, parents or older siblings who model bullying, harsh physical discipline, and being a victim of bullying at home. Having friends who exhibit bullying behavior and value violent or aggressive actions is also a contributing factor. Additionally, the potential negative influence of TV, movies, and video games cannot be overstated. Finally, the elementary school itself, including kindergarten that ignores or minimizes such behaviors between young children is, in fact, endorsing those very negative interactions.
The typical signs of bullying in kindergarten include physical aggressiveness such as pushing, tripping, slapping, hitting, kicking, stepping on feet, pinching, and even choking. Social bullying often involves name calling, hate speech, hurtful teasing, threatening, and saying nasty things about the targeted child. Emotional bullying is more apt to be exclusionary. “You can’t be my friend” or “No one wants to play with you” are systematically aimed at the bully’s target. The results from any of these forms of bullying have both serious short-term and long-term effects.
The childhood victim of bullying suffers on several levels. The kindergartner may be physically hurt by the aggressive, even dangerous actions of a bigger, stronger child. The usual response is increased timidity and isolation that often develops into a dislike or fear of school, resulting in increased absenteeism. Worse yet, the defensive responses of the child such as crying or running away serve to make him or her, an easily recognizable target for future attacks and increased bullying.
Over the long-term, teens and adults who were bullied as young children often struggle with low self-esteem issues. They may even feel that they deserve being mistreated by others. A feeling of powerlessness may cause them to run away physically or emotionally to drugs and alcohol. Depression and chronic migraines or non-migraine headaches are more frequent within this group as well.
Both parents and the schools can take an active role in preventing kindergarten bullying. Parents need to realize that their children may be at fault, and telltale signs such as disrespectful behavior at home, arrogance and sarcasm, bossiness, taking frustrations out on other younger siblings, and talking unkindly about classmates are all warning flags. Any child who behaves in these ways at home is probably doing similar bullying actions in other places including the classroom and playground. Kind but forceful and consistent intervention is absolutely necessary. Investigate, judge the situation, and discipline as necessary each and every time until the behaviors are modified. Obviously, building a healthy relationship with your child and discussing bullying and respectful relationships is crucial as well. The bottom line is that young children model what they see, especially from authority figures such as parents and teachers.
For teachers of kindergartners, studies show that bullying can be reduced as much as 50% by introducing curriculum that deals with the subject, setting clear school rules, and enforcing them. Positive affirmation for appropriate behavior is important because children at this age really care about teacher-approval. Watch closely for possible bullies and avoid showing any favoritism. Stories that illustrate respectful behavior allow for discussion and play-acting as well. Kindergarten bullying is a serious issue that needs to be addressed both at school and at home for proper resolution.
Jennifer Mizuhara is a writer for Findourschool.com.