It is in the news almost daily…. kids bullying other kids.  Most of us assume bullying behaviors start in elementary school and carry on or accelerate during the teen years.  But, unfortunately, child care settings are where many children first observe or experience early forms of “bullying behaviors”.  If not addressed, this behavior can continue to escalate throughout all phases of life, until as adults, the bully engages in violent behaviors such as ‘road rage’ and other crimes of violence. 
 
What does bullying look like in a preschooler? Making mean faces, saying hurtful or threatening things, grabbing or throwing objects, pushing, and refusing to play with others are things most of us see children do when in a group of children.  These behaviors in themselves are not necessarily meant to be “bullying behaviors”.  Left unchecked, these behaviors may become patterns of “bullying behavior” because they provide a positive result for the child committing them.  These behaviors then become “learned behaviors” that can lead to verbal, physical or indirect bullying.
 
Among preschool children (ages 2-6), bullying usually follows a well-defined progression that can be a ‘side track’ of the typical social/emotional development where children are learning about acceptable social boundaries.  A child that experiences or sees family members or media characters forcefully dominate others to get what they want may then target and dominate a vulnerable peer.  If they are successful in bullying a vulnerable peer, not only do they see themselves as powerful, but other children may also see this behavior as powerful.  Parents and caregivers have an important role in channeling negative behaviors into socially acceptable responses.
 
How do we stop or prevent bullying behaviors? Learning how to get along with others is one of life’s most important skills.  Child care settings (including play groups) provide us with the perfect opportunity to intervene in behaviors that can lead to social bullying.  Exposing children to a variety of experiences, and guiding them through appropriate responses and behaviors, can help children learn to channel aggressive impulses in constructive  ways such as how to use words, negotiate, and compromise. 
 
Teaching Social Skills is Key to Preventing “Bullying Behaviors”. Teaching and modeling socially acceptable behaviors begins in infancy, and should continue throughout childhood and adolescence as situations become increasingly more sophisticated. Learning is most effective when unacceptable behaviors are corrected at the time of occurrence.  

Caregivers can “reframe” behavior through:
**Helping children recognize, understand and verbalize about their own feelings (helping them develop their self-control);
**Helping children recognize and understand how others’ are feeling (helping them acquire empathy);
**Helping children understand how their actions impacted another child (helping them become accountable and responsible);
**Helping children learn how to stand up for themselves without being aggressive (helping them become assertive).                                                                                                                        
Children are not born ‘bullies’ but bullying can be a learned behavior. Let’s start children out right by helping them learn skills and strategies to resist bullying!