Although Cathy Georges' daughter, Anna, is only four, Georges is concerned that she is exhibiting behavior could lead to her becoming a bully.
When her daughter tells her that another child in the classroom gave her an "ugly scribble scrabble picture" or says that her classmate is wrong about something in a gloating tone, Georges can tell that Anna has conveyed these statements to the child himself. "She seems so young to be starting this kind of behavior—I don't want it to get worse!" says Georges. "I guess it particularly bothers me that she's singling someone out to pick on; that seems more worrisome than just having disputes with various kids," Georges adds.
While parents in the past might have accepted bullying as a fact of life and suggested that their overly aggressive child was just misunderstood, experts today say that bullying is a real threat to schoolchildren of all ages, and that the behavior starts in preschool. Additionally, schools are less likely to overlook aggressive behavior or chalk it up to "kids being kids," so if your child is a bully, or on his way to becoming one, you've got to deal with the behavior with a sense of urgency.
Josh Mandel, PsyD, director of the School-Based Intervention Program at the New York University Child Study Center, says, "Without a doubt, by age four bullying is occurring. At that age it can be mostly physical, but as children get older and better with language, that changes."
So how do you know if your child is the bully? Obviously, if you've received a call from your child's school saying that she has been bullying a classmate, you should get to the bottom of the story immediately, says Dr. Allan L. Beane, PhD, author of The Bully Free Classroom.
"First of all, it's important to recognize the possibility that your child is a bully and you need to get the facts from the school of what happened. You need to listen to your child—not interrogate her. You need to compare what you hear from the school to what you hear from your child. If your child is a true aggressive bully then he may lie to you, but it's important not to blame but to investigate. Stay on top of it and let your child know that you are going to be monitoring her behavior and are concerned about it," says Dr. Beane.