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Building a ‘Non-Bully’ with Young Children

October 15th, 2014     By Boys Town ContributorMother of eight-year-old son and six and one-year-old daughters

Bully, Discipline, Family, Toddler

Last Monday, I dropped off my almost 2-year-old at the child care center of my gym for the first time. I was afraid she would cry, throw a fit, or show some kind of emotion that said I was still her everything and that she couldn’t bear to be apart from me.

She smiled and walked right in.

If that wasn’t enough to take the wind out of my sails, I found out when I picked her up that she got into four fights! (Let’s call them “arguments.”) One was over her taking toys away from a 4-year-old and making the older child cry!

I was mortified. What had I done wrong? We make it a point in our house to always talk about compassion, being respectful of how other people feel and the importance of doing the right thing even when it’s not the popular thing to do.

But, apparently, all that talk is lost on a toddler.

Before we left the child care center that day, I walked my daughter over to the “little” girl she had taken toys from and told her to say she was sorry. She said nothing. Her vocabulary is good for her age (don’t we all think that of our child?), but she doesn’t really understand what “sorry” means. Nor did she care to do anything but go on playing with what she wanted, when she wanted it.

I was concerned. Was I raising a bully? Would the other kids now start avoiding my daughter?

Like any reasonable adult, I took to the Internet to find out what I should do.

I was happy to discover that my daughter’s behavior, and many others like it, IS NOT BULLYING. My child is not a bully. My child is learning. My child is presenting me with an opportunity to teach her. And I found several tips for addressing this type of behavior in young children through guided play:

  • Intervene – Kids need direction, especially at this age. Don’t let them work it out on their own. Model for them what you would like them to do.
  • Say “NO” – When children engage in this type of behavior, say “No,” tell them to stop and give them a consequence like time-out.
  • Give Them Something Else to Do – This does not mean turning on a cartoon to distract them. It means redirecting them to an appropriate behavior. In my daughter’s case, I showed her how she could get another similar toy, let the other girl have hers and play together.
  • Praise Them! – When you see kids doing the right things, make a big deal out of it. It’s just like potty training; if you make a huge production when they finally do it, it lets them know they are doing the right thing and that you are happy about it.

Like everything in good parenting, consistency is the key to successfully teaching kids positive behaviors. That means being there to observe their interactions with other children — younger or older — and making the most of opportunities to teach, correct or reinforce what they do.

Talking about empathy and kindness can go a long way toward teaching older kids about how to get along with others. But when it comes to working on “building a non-bully” with a young child, strategies like guided play are a great place to start.

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