The Preschool Bully


Like most moms, I can easily turn into scary mama bear when somebody threatens to, or actually hurts my child.

There have been times at the park when I’ve had to hold myself back from knocking a 12 year old on his butt for shoving my son, E, a not-so-little 4 year old. But I don’t, because I have always taught my kids that hitting is never OK, and to walk away from people who are being mean.

And I guess it would set a poor example if I side-checked a kid into the wood chips.

bears, water
Mama Bear will always defend her cub
BEARS – 2014 FILM STILL – Sky and one of the cubs – Photo Credit: Disney

Sometimes I think “just wait until E is bigger than you and can fight back”; but, then I instantly remind myself that I would never want to get that phone call from school (or the police!) that my son is in trouble for fighting. No matter how much that bully might’ve deserved it, my hope for E is that he doesn’t get physical with anybody.I want to give him the tools to respond to somebody who is bullying him, so that he can feel like he is standing up for himself in a positive way. It’s hard to explain to a 4 yo what it means to be the “bigger person”, and honestly I had hoped it would be a while before I had to.

We have been very fortunate to have E attend a daycare center where he’s made wonderful friends and has had caring and supportive teachers. Which is why I was very troubled when E told me in the car on the way home one afternoon that “Frank (not real name) hits me a lot. I was so upset I wanted to turn around, go back to the center and give this other boy and his mother an ear-full. But, in that moment, I had to be there for my son. My young son who doesn’t understand why a “friend” would chose to be mean. Who doesn’t understand why he’s told he can’t hit, but another kid can.  I’d love to tell him “some people are just jerks”, but I doubt that would’ve made him feel better, or helped the situation.

bull, statue
An angry 4 yo can seem like a raging bull

And then I thought about this other little boy, Frank, and I felt even more sad. What could possibly be going on at home for this child, to hit and say terrible things to his classmates, at only 4 years old? Is this the kind of feedback he is receiving from the adults in his life? I never expected to have sympathy for someone who bullied my son. Then again, I never expected to see so much anger in such a small person.

My thoughts went from how I could stand up for my son and reprimand this youngster?, to how could I be a positive role model to this troubled child? 

That is really what would help more children in the long run. How would you deal with it?

wood, carving, mom child embrace
I wish every child could feel safe and loved
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I am a native Vermonter, and even though the winters nearly drive me away each year, the beautiful landscape, supportive family, and wonderful communities keep us here! I’m also very fortunate to have a job in Clinical Research that married my love of organization with my fascination for science. As much as I love my job, our family is by far the greatest joy in my life. My husband and I have three boys and we have lived in Milton for five years. I also love running, cooking, and being outside with the boys hiking or hitting the beach!


  1. I would wait until you can get an adult’s perspective before jumping to any conclusions. Talk to the teacher and see what they have to say about context, frequency, interactions between the children etc.

  2. Carolyn, Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I, in no way think that every child that hits at this age is facing difficulties at home or at school, and I hope you can understand that this post was focused around one child that has demonstrated very abusive behavior, both verbally and physically. I agree that children use hitting as a form of communication early on, and it has been shown that children under 3 do not comprehend empathy. However, bullying can occur in Preschools, and this is a very vulnerable time for children. I think sometimes we dismiss bullying here, because the children are so young. But, when a child is being intentionally aggressive, I think it is important for the adults in his or her life to get to the root cause and work on the behaviors. I’m hoping that parents whose children are going through this at school can approach the subject with mindfulness, rather than anger, and can do whats best for their child(ren).

  3. While I appreciate your concern for your son and the other child, labeling a child a bully at four is excessive. I am the parent of a 3 year old who has used hitting as a method of communication since he was just 1. I can assure you, there is “nothing going on” in our home that causes this behavior. My husband and I are calm, peaceful, loving people who have taught our children that you do not hit, you don’t hit back and you use words to express frustration. This has been by far our biggest parenting challenge. It is mortifying to see your child hit someone else. It is embarrassing to have your child hitting you while you are trying to teach appropriate behavior. I can assure you that there is little difference in my parenting than that of other parent’s of children who don’t hit. I can also assure you that negative judgement of my child and my parenting because he occassionally uses mistaken behavior makes both our lives harder.


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