Can Toddlers be bullies?

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This week is anti-bullying week and thinking about it made me recall a conversation I had with a mummy-friend a couple of weeks back.  She had been pulled aside by the nursery staff when she went to pick up her son and was told her son had been caught ‘bullying’ another child – a child with Downs Syndrome.  The whole incident was very distressing for my friend and she apologised profusely.

I had very mixed emotions when she told me about it and lots of questions.  In particular, what constitutes bullying by a 2 year old?  My son, and many of his friends, are presently living out the ‘terrible twos’ in full force, testing every boundary known to woman and generally challenging everything.  This sometimes manifests in what I suppose could be described as bullying: Being territorial over their toys, snatching, randomly diving on some poor unsuspecting child’s head, shouting at the top of their voices while just an inch away from someone’s face!! But is this bullying?  Had the nursery made an issue out of ‘normal’ two-year old behaviour because the other child had Downs Syndrome?

Now, from our previous post on prejudice and children, you’ll know that I don’t believe very young children can be racist or prejudice.  Difference doesn’t threaten them like it does when they get older.  The other thing that struck me was how it is just as devastating to be the parent of the bully as it is to be the parent of the victim.  We try to do our best with our children but sometimes they may still display bad behavior despite our best efforts – see our nature V nurture post.  I am devastated at the thought of my son coming home having been bullied at school but, I am even more horrified at the thought of the school contacting me to say he has been the bully!

I am passionately against bullying and fully support this week’s campaign.  Like racism, I think we can help our children against bullying by simply celebrating difference from a young age.  Ask any teacher and they will tell you there is no easy way to deal with bullying however, if we can focus our efforts on growing our children into accepting, caring, confident and content human beings, maybe that is our best fight against bullying as parents.

The Beatbullying organisation says their key aim is all about ‘shaping attitudes and changing behaviours’.  I’m inclined to agree that this is probably our strongest weapon to help combat bullying and we can start this with our young children as parents in the home before school even starts.


9 thoughts on “Can Toddlers be bullies?

    Sarah said:
    November 16, 2011 at 9:46 am

    I would want to know exactly what my child had done that had been judged as bullying. I don’t think toddlers bully. They can be boisterous and overbearing but they don’t bully.

    My youngest son was at a creche but as he has an older brother he was pretty overbearing basically because he was bored. The creche asked me to take him out and put him in school. Thankfully, I managed to find a school that would take him (aged 2 3/4) and he was as happy as a sandboy and not bored at all.

      morethanamummy responded:
      November 16, 2011 at 10:57 am

      I’m with you Sarah. Both BearCub & Minchkin enjoy a wrestle – usually with eachother – and it is difficult when their normal albeit boisterous behaviour intimidates other children but it’s certianly not bullying in my mind!

    TVraisedmykids said:
    November 16, 2011 at 9:52 am

    I don’t think 2 year olds can be bullies. I think to be a bully you have to have some awareness of the effect you are having on the person you are bullying, and to have deliberate intent to cause them distress. I don’t think 2 year olds are that pscyhologically developed, they’re only just developing their sense of self let alone a sense that other people have their own ‘selves’ going on in their heads. I think a ‘bullying’ incident should be treated as a learning opportunity – either for the child to learn about the effects their behaviour has on others, or for the carer to learn to find better ways to deal with the poor impulse control typical in toddlers.

      morethanamummy responded:
      November 16, 2011 at 10:59 am

      Your comment ‘typical toddlers’ is what strikes a chord with me as to me a bit of snatching, not sharing and general in your face shouting is (unfortunately) ‘normal’ 2 year old behaviour!!! 😉

    Scottish Mum said:
    November 16, 2011 at 10:01 am

    schools and nurseries have different views and tolerances to parents. A 2 year old is testing boundaries and extreme exceptions aside, I wouldn’t call that bullying at that age, although mentioning what happened helps a parent steer in the right direction.

    Many of this type of issue is a non-issue and if left unrecognised it has the potential to escalate if children sense a weak child. All normal life lessons at that age I would say.

      morethanamummy responded:
      November 16, 2011 at 11:01 am

      Yes I think any undesirable behaviour should be ‘addressed’ early on but without perhaps labelling it – I think the label can sometimes make the issue where there is no issue!

    Cath said:
    November 17, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    Im so glad i found this. My 3 year old was branded ‘bossy’ and the word bully was mentioned. She was reprimanded at preschool for the ‘bossy’ incident (shes a girl…how many 3 yr old girls arent bossy!) and it completely knocked her confidence and she refuses to back to preschool. I think bully is a dangerous word to use especially when a child is so young. I would have liked to think her bossyness is her leadership qualities shining through!

      morethanamummy responded:
      November 17, 2011 at 10:54 pm

      Munchkin definitely does bossy…really rather well. But then you could ask anyone who knows me and they’d tell you that I am pretty good at it too! Behaviour needs to be managed, not labelled.

      morethanamummy responded:
      November 18, 2011 at 12:54 pm

      Here! here! Well said 🙂

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