Uh-oh, Is My Kid a Bully?

This morning, Hubs and I had our son’s first parent-teacher conference of the year. We were mildly anxious and excited at the same time, wondering how it would go.

Last year, when he was 2, I recall them saying things like “James is a joy” and “he likes to sing the songs” and “recess is his favorite time.” Awww garsh, my lil’ boy’s a peach and everyone loves him.

This year, all I heard was “James hurts other kids in his class” and “He seems to target the little ones, not kids his own size” and “He has made children BLEED.”

Holy shitballs, people. My 3-year-old is the class bully.

The teachers also pointed to his less-than-ideal verbal development. James does have trouble communicating what he wants or how he feels. He talks plenty, but how much of it is understandable to others? Maybe 50% at this point.

I know there has to be a connection between his frustration of not being able to verbalize and his penchant for hitting, shoving and being rough.

BUT STILL. I feel horrible. Here’s my sweet little Boo Bear, turning all mean and beating up his classmates. And the next minute, acting all, “What? Who me? Gimme a kish.”

We pledged to his teachers that we’re going to work with him on verbalizing. I also need to stop treating like a baby and start expecting more from him, to step up and be a big boy.

Nonetheless, I know I can’t hurry up his verbal, emotional or social maturity. Some of that just has to happen over time, and meanwhile, I need to keep him out of Toddler Jail.

Any moms of lil’ bullies out there? Can you give me some advice for curbing these violent tendencies and get my boy to act sweet in school?

13 thoughts on “Uh-oh, Is My Kid a Bully?

  1. My son has the occasional issues with inappropriate reactions. I find it often comes from him not having a good mental “preset” of how to react in new situations. Whenever we have trouble, starting when he was 3, I would make a daily “plan” with him for how he is going to behave during the day. Take a sheet of printer paper, fold it in half, then in half again and again until you wind up with 8 cells- like a comic strip. I start with things like “K wakes up. He is smiling.” then “K eats breakfast”, “K gets dressed with help from mom” and other very specific actions combined with behavior. For some parts of the day, I am very vague- like “K enjoys school and does what his teacher says” or something. I draw crappy little stick pictures. He can help draw if he wants, but he needs to help me supply what’s next. We talk about each cell and work through potential road blocks. Like… what do you do if you someone touches you at circle time? and map out specific acceptable reactions. I usually need to do this every day from scratch each day for about four days. He takes the plan to school and shows it to his teacher. His teacher just needs to say to him- K, is this on your plan? And he smartens up. After 4 days, we take the last plan and just read it together every day quickly. Then I stick it in his backpack in case he wants to look at it. Once he is behaving consistently and following “the plan”, we don’t read it much anymore. He only seems to need it when he goes to a new class, a new school, or something else big changes in his life. It’s like he needs that mental rehearsal to know how to behave. If there is a specific problem that really needs work, we draw out scenarios like… if one of the special needs kids accidentally hits you, how do you react? and we map out about 10 good ideas. If I am feeling motivated, I staple these together and make a “book” for us to read. I got the idea of a plan from reading NurtureShock. The chapter on Tools of the Mind was fascinating, so I read some additional reading on the original researcher. It talks about giving kids the practice they need to go one… step… beyond… where they are now. About giving them tools, mental rehearsal and ways to be successful in small ways that work up to big ways.

    1. Dana, WOW. That is some good parenting you are dishing out there. I would never have thought of it that way. I’ll give it a shot with James. Let you know how it goes!

  2. Another idea- once I left a camera with the teachers at his preschool and asked them to take pictures of his routine and good moments throughout the day. We’d look at these pictures and I’d have him tell me more about what was happening in each picture. It gave him a chance to tell me about the challenging situations, so we could figure out how to deal with them, and also reinforced his routine and good moments.

    1. Another cool idea! Thank you!

  3. I’m glad to hear I am not the only one. My 2 1/2 yr old is (cough) very assertive. When it first started happening I did some internet research and found that the prevailing opinion is that children become bullies because their parents are violent. Great. That opinion is less than helpful somehow, since we are NOT violent. I have been working with my daughter over the last 6 months to guide her (ahem) natural leadership ability away from aggressiveness. Mostly, I’ve been patiently and consistently setting down guidelines that we do not hit, kick, or hurt people/things/animals, that we ask nicely when we want something, and that people/things/animals do not always act the way we want them to.

    1. Yeah, we are totes nonviolent, so that theory does not apply. But setting the guidelines is a good plan. And I hope we can steer James toward being a good role model for the younger ones, rather than, ya know, beating them up. Thanks, Tricia!

  4. Read the blog “it coulda been worse”. A friend of mine w same problem but worse I think.

  5. Our son was asked to leave 2, count ’em two, day cares. My husband started taking care of him full time at age 3 for nearly 2 years. When he entered pre-school, I left our first parent-teacher meeting in tears for the same reasons as you. We found rewards charts worked wonders, as did me changing my schedule so I was home most mornings. For the rewards chart, for each part of the day he behaved in, he got a sticker; three stickers got him a big sticker at home (A 3 sticker day!!). And if he had 10 3-sticker days, he got a present (he picked them in advance). It made a huge difference!

    He’s in all day K now, and the conference was last night. Not perfect, but he’s come such a long way. Time and some help worked for us… Good luck!

    1. Maureen, I am seriously concerned James will get the boot. But if he does, we’ll figure something out. I would like to try some of the things you guys have suggested here and see how they work. Right now, James seems totally uninterested in rewards, and doesn’t seem to “get it” when we talk about rules and consequences. But maybe he will in time, and we have to try.

      I am looking forward to checking in with his teachers before the Christmas break and see if our efforts have clicked.

  6. Susan, I’m really sorry. I had something similar happen last year at the conference for my older daughter – the teacher said she’d made friends with another girl who was something of a bully, and that my daughter had been making fun of other kids in her class when she and her friend were together. I think all of us try to prepare for what we’d do if our kids are bullied – I even wrote a piece for an anthology on bullying! So it’s a shock to be told your child might actually BE a bully.

    I don’t have any tips for dealing with these issues in young children. With my daughter, we had a very serious discussion. She was remorseful and embarrassed that her teacher had told on her. She got the message that the adults in her life communicate about her behavior and her progress at school, and I think it’s good for her to operate under the assumption that I will find out if she misbehaves. I believe things have improved and will be asking for an update from her new teacher when we have our conference.

    1. Thanks, Sara. I like that you let your daughter know that you and teachers are incahoots. That is key. I behaved myself quite often because I just KNEW my mom would KNOW. (And she still does, damnit!)

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