Is my child a bully?

When your child grabs a toy from another child, is he bullying? When your child tugs at another child’s hair, is she bullying?

No, they are not being bullies. The dictionary definition of bullying is a person seeking to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable). Young children do not have the emotional development to be malicious. Heck, they barely understand what they’re feeling. To make someone feel a certain way is beyond their capability. It can look like bullying when they seem aggressive and tyrannical. That is their way of expressing their needs or desires! Yeah, right! True story. So what about when they are inconsiderate, selfish, and domineering?

They’re inconsiderate because they have no idea how to be considerate yet! They are living a life in which everything revolves around them… for now.

They’re selfish because parents wake up tending to them and go to sleep putting them to bed and everything in between. And that makes sense, because for some reason, human babies are one of the most helpless species. But they’ll be driving and packing soon enough.

They’re domineering because young children do not have diplomatic skills yet. They barely have manners. They want something, they’re going to do what it takes to get it. They’ve just learned how to run and jump. Don’t expect them to do ballet.

As you see, all these efforts are honing their skills to get what they want, as healthy animals that need to survive should. They were just born a short time ago and their innate nature is being selfish, and they have to be – it’s part of every species’ development. Now, It’s our job as adults to teach them how to express their needs as little humans, not little animals. And that method of teaching cannot be:

· Inconsiderate – telling them to “Give back that toy right now, that’s not yours!” followed by grabbing the toy from them and giving it to another child.

· Selfish – telling them “I told you over and over that, we have to share!”

· Domineering – tugging their hair right after you see them tug another child’s hair and saying “How do you like it if someone does that to you?” This is totally the wrong message. You just did to them what they were not allowed to do.

What we can do instead is help them express their needs with:

  • Words - “I see that you really want that toy, but we don’t grab toys, we wait our turn.”

  • Actions - “When we play with others, we have to share toys. Why don’t we ask for our turn in 2 minutes?” You can use a timer here so that the signal for your child to ask is the timer, not you.

  • Empathy - “Ouch, that hurt her head when you pulled it. We must use gentle hands when we play with others. Let me see you use your gentle hands.”

  • Modeling - After you stop your child from pulling her friend’s hair, you can begin to teach them by modeling: “I’m so sorry your head got hurt, would you like to say sorry too?” Sometimes, children don’t know how to say sorry immediately. Sometimes, the whole experience surprises them and they just freeze. Forcing them to say sorry is not a way of teaching them. Saying sorry for them is more effective. Then eventually after a few (or a dozen) times, they will apologize. And you would have taught a lesson that you know they learned!

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