Oct 29, 2012

Preschoolers, assertiveness, and bullying: initial thoughts

I should probably have been less surprised that bullying is already an issue with the toddler crowd. Though T is shy around strangers, I didn't think that she had any assertiveness issues. Mostly because she has no trouble telling H and me when she's angry with us. "You hurt my feelings! Say sorry!" is pretty much her go-to phrase when things don't go her way.

But now I'm wondering if T is too soft when it comes to other kids. She goes to a great childminder and nursery which emphasize respect for other people and kindness - and though of course there are minor squabbles, T has come home only once with injuries she received from another child (and they were pretty minor scratches that I wouldn't have paid attention to if we hadn't had to sign the accident log).

However: growing up in these environments, T is used to other kids listening when she says "no" - she evidently has no mechanism for dealing with someone who continues to pester her.

This became painfully clear this weekend. T was playing with a slightly older girl (also 3) who didn't listen when T told her to stop pinching and pushing her while taking away the toys she was playing with. I didn't step in at first, because I wanted to see how T would react. My mother says that when I was that age a neighbor's son (again in the same age bracket) would frequently pinch and tease me until one day I snapped and bit him, drawing blood. While I wasn't hoping for that reaction, I did hope that T would follow these steps:

But no. T did say in a quiet voice "stop, you hoiting me," but didn't walk away or do...anything really. She just let herself be pinched and prodded.


I was annoyed at T for not standing up for herself or going to an adult for help (I was in the same room). Though I knew I was overdramatizing it, I was still wondering if this means that T's in for a lifetime of being peer-pressured and bullied.

But I was also annoyed at the other kid's mother for not intervening.

See: at the playgrounds and playgroups I've been to, all the parents usually fall over themselves apologizing to other parents if their child is a bit rough (and berating the offenders). And it's almost a competition at who can make their child share their toys best. But I guess I too have been coddled and need to learn how to deal with other types of parents.

The resolution wasn't awesome. I ultimately told T to stand her ground, loudly enough for the mother to hear - though T still didn't do anything, it gave the other mother a reason to berate me for encouraging T to be aggressive. And then I snapped back at her (no blood was drawn). Talking to T later she did take away from that experience that H and I will protect her when she needs it, but it wasn't a shining hour of glory for any of us.

So I have since been mulling on questions I hoped I wouldn't have to deal with for another few years:
- When is it a squabble and when is it bullying? I myself would say it's bullying when the other child says "no" and is clearly unwilling or unable to give pushback to what's happening to them, though I'm sure there's a huge gray area.
- How do you raise a child who is assertive and confident but not a bully? Ideally, I want to raise T to be the child who stands up for bullied kids.

I'm going to start collecting some articles on the issue since I'm sure it will pop up time and time again. For the meantime, H and I are talking to T more about what to do when someone hurts or is "mean" to other children and how to stand up for yourself and others.

Parenting magazine: How to handle preschool bullies

iVillage: Bullying starts in preschool

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