Preschoolers don’t bully


That second you see the blue line on the pregnancy test you start, you worry, and it never stops. However there are some worries you think you can put off for at least 12 or 13 years, such as bullying.

Almost all of us have experienced some sort of bullying, usually in high school and bullying has contributed to many mental health issues in adults. As a parent, you worry that the sweet perfect child in your arms could become a victim of bullying, but not yet, no, they are tiny, and you think you won’t need to worry about that for years.


That is what I thought, I was wrong.


I am not a child psychologist or an expert in EYFS, I am a mother who has been to hell and back with her 3 year old who was intimidated and bullied for months. My son was bullied, his confidence was rock bottom, social development declining and we received no support, because preschoolers don’t bully.


Preschool Bullying


It is not an Ofsted requirement to have a Bullying policy for a preschool or nursery; this is because the understanding is that a preschooler hasn’t the emotional development to be a proper bully. This does not mean they cannot exhibit bullying behaviour or be a victim of bullying.

At the age of 2, 3 and 4 years, children very rarely have a good grasp of sympathy and even smaller understanding of empathy. Therefore preschool bullying isn’t the manipulative, intentional and comprehendible bullying a teenager or adult may conduct. That doesn’t make the effects of bullying any less destructive.


Bullying can be described in three types of behaviours;

verbal (put-downs, taunts, name-calling)
physical (pushing, kicking, punching)
relational (rumours, social rejection, exclusion)


Although a 3 year old is unlikely to be able to comprehend the consequences of such actions, they are all certainly capable of these behaviours.
Opportunist Behaviour


If you have a preschooler, I am sure you can recognise behaviour that could be construed as bullying, my daughter kicks and punches me, my son calls his sister names, it is common to see children excluding other children. This is all a natural part of development; they are asserting their dominance, learning independence and pushing boundaries. So when does this behaviour turn into bullying?


A child kicks another child, it is normal, if they are not reprimanded or told it is wrong, they do it again. Even children who have learnt that we shouldn’t hurt other people or that name calling is wrong will try to do this again if they get away with it. Quite often a child won’t let them get away with it as the other child will hit them back, but some children won’t hit back for whatever reason.


The child will try again, get some enjoyment out of asserting their dominance, understanding it is wrong to some extent, but not understanding the deeper hurt they are causing. It is very unlikely that it is done with malicious intent, just opportunist behaviour.


One off hits, and name calling, are all part of growing up, but when a child is targeted and receives this behaviour on a regular basis, it turns into intimidation and abuse.


Once a child becomes a victim of bullying you will see their demeanour change, they will lose confidence, confidence that can be very hard to get back. Neither child fully understands what is going on. As preschool is their earliest introduction to schooling bullying can have deeper implications on their social development and education.
Don’t blame the bully


As a parent of a victim of bullying behaviour it is very hard not to blame the other child. All sorts of things go through your mind; you think why did I spend so long teaching my child not to hit, only for them to become a victim. Why can’t other parents bring their children up properly? Of course this is wrong, jumping to the wrong conclusion. Every child has the capabilities of being a bully, it even shows some intelligence to be flexing those proverbial and literal muscles, and how they behave at home may be different to in preschool.


The child exhibiting bullying behaviour needs as much care and support as the child being bullied, they need to learn that the behaviour is wrong. It is also important that the child is not a victim or seeing this behaviour elsewhere (rare but a safeguarding issue none the less) or that they are bored or frustrated for some reason.


At the end of the day we are talking about very young children.
Worried your child is being bullied?


One of the problems I had with my son was that he wasn’t a good talker, even now nearly 12 months later he is starting to be able to articulate what happened to him, although we were concerned about certain behaviours.


Has your child told you a certain child has been hitting, pushing or being mean to them
Have they lost confidence with groups of people or children
Are they visibly distressed about going to preschool or nursery
Do they have physical marks, bruises, scratches etc where the preschool cannot tell you what happened.


If you are concerned then you have every right to speak to your child’s keyworker and ask that they keep a closer eye on your child, it is common for good preschools and nurseries to do regular observations. Nurture groups and circle time can help children feel more included and help build a better relationship with the child who has started to target your child. Speaking to the other child’s parent is an option but really the preschool or nursery should have informed the other parent without naming names.


If their keyworker is not being supportive, or you feel they are not taking it seriously then as to speak to someone higher, arrange meetings to discuss processes and bring someone with you to witness. Keep a full audit trail of conversations, emails and meeting notes although most EYFS keyworkers should be supportive and have strategies to limit bad behaviour.
What Can Preschools do?
I had a very bad experience with our preschool, they refused to acknowledge a problem even though my son was obviously suffering. The main reason for this is the denial that preschoolers are capable of being bullies. Of course I whole heartedly believe that a child of 3 is not capable of real malicious bullying, but even the nicest toddler and preschooler is capable of bullying behaviour and by ignoring it does not help either party.


After 12 months my son is slowly getting his confidence back, but when he see’s a child get hurt he talks about his own experience to this day. 12 months is a quarter of his short life and he remembers and is upset by it to this day. We had to remove him from the preschool to get him away from the situation.


If preschools and Ofsted would acknowledge that preschoolers can be victims of bullying then they can help them. If preschools and Ofsted would acknowledge preschoolers can be intimidating, target children and display bullying behaviour then they can support children, helping them develop empathy, a better understanding of other people and develop socially possibly preventing this behaviour continuing into pre teens, teens and adulthood.


It is important for our children that we acknowledge this goes on, if preschools and Ofsted continue to put their heads in the sand we will see more and more children hurt and damaged by bullying.


Sadie Sherran is a parenting blogger at Fit For Parenting you can read more of her story about her son being bullied here.