What Do You Do if Your Child Is Bullied?

Our 8-month-old daughter was recently conked in the head with a plastic toy. The conkER was an 18-month-old girl visiting our home with her parents.

As soon as it happened, both little girls started crying. The mother of the older girl immediately took her child aside for a time-out. She spoke softly to daughter about playing nicely, not hitting and being gentle, especially with younger children. Soon thereafter, the older girl approached our daughter and apologetically held out the toy as a peace offering. Both of us moms praised the older girl for being sweet. Tears were wiped and the incident was soon forgotten.

But it got me thinking.

What do we do when our children are bullied? Or if our children start to bully others?

Now, I recognize that this was not a true "bullying" incident. These little girls are babies, just now starting to learn how to interact with others. But I know that children learn behavior as a result of what they see and experience.

It turns out that the 18-month-old had recently started attending a new daycare where there was a "hitter" in the class. One little boy -- apparently a little bully in the making -- was hitting all the other children. And clearly teaching them this new form of expression.

Who knows where the little boy learned this behavior. Very likely someone hit him at some point, or he witnessed hitting between others. The point is that this behavior is learned early, and repeated.

I realize there's nothing we can do to stop it from happening. But we can have a plan of action in place when it occurs.

From what I can gather, there are generally two schools of thought on how to teach your children to handle situations where someone gets physical with them:

  1. Encourage them to use their words and try to resolve the situation non-violently.
  2. Instruct them to hit back once, and let the perpetrator know that this sort of behavior will be treated in kind.

Our little girl, of course, is too young to use her words. She has no words at this point. But soon she will. And she already attends a school where she is learning to interact and share with other children. It's only a matter of time before this issue arises. 

I grew up in the '70s, and my father always told me never to hit anyone first, but to hit back if someone ever hit me. My husband's father told him the same thing. Now, however, hitting back could get a child in the same amount of trouble as hitting first.

As someone who was bullied as an older child in school, this issue is particularly sensitive to me. I know what it is like to be scared in that environment, and to dread being in that vulnerable situation day after day.

Remember the scene in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle where the devious nanny (Rebecca DeMornay) visits the playground and physically threatens the little boy who had been bullying her young charge, thereby become the heroine to the little girl whose mother had, ineffectively in this case, encouraged her to use words against an older, male bully?

I'm sure most parents have had fantasies of grabbing a bully by the scruff of the neck and scaring the pants off of him or her in order to ensure that their little one was no longer targeted. But that's not quite realistic, is it? It could get us into serious trouble, for one thing. Plus, it's probably not the best lesson to be teaching our own child.

Violence begets violence. And hurt people hurt people.

So how does one protect his or her own child while not perpetuating violence? With someone -- particularly a young child -- who has been hurt or damaged and knows no way of communicating other than acting out physically, words may not be effective.

So what do we do?

As a mom, it was very hard to watch my baby get her first dose of someone -- even another innocent toddler -- deliberately acting out toward her. Her quivering, protruding bottom lip and instant tears caused something to immediately rise up inside me. And I know I or another parent won't always be there.

I realize that sheltering my child isn't the answer, although I now get why some parents (including my own) give in to that desire to try to protect their children from absolutely everything. It may work in some cases. In my case it just caused me to act out and rebel against the restrictions. I ended up going a little nuts for awhile, a la Rumspringa. So I know that keeping our daughter in a bubble isn't a viable option.

I'd love to hear from more experienced moms and dads about how they have handled this situation. I'd like for my little girl to have tools for dealing with such events as they occur ... something other than her mama swooping in and snatching the offender by the ear. And as parents, we need tools too.

So, how have you handled the issue of hitting among your young children? What has worked, and what hasn't?


Image via Brooke Kelly

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jec72579 jec72579

Okay, so my son is 5 yo, going into kindergarten tomorrow. Last year in Preschool, his teacher dubbed him the "class leader", which normally would be a good thing, except she made it a point to let us know that he doesn't always use his "powers" for good. He would lay down during story time, when they are supposed to sit quietly, and other kids would follow. He would throw rocks at trees during recess, and they would follow then too. My concern is that he will eventually understand that he has this power over others, and maybe start using it to pick on others that he may not like for one reason or another, or for no reason at all! His father is not a good person at all, he was very abusive towards myself, and now his current GF, and my son sees that, when he goes to visit. I'm worried that he wil follow what he sees, or that in some ways it may be part of him, genetically. 


My son is a very playful, loving, caring little mama's boy, and I am afraid that he may be on the other end of the bullying as he gets older. And I, for one, have NO idea what to do if it arises.

Stink... Stinkydog

First, I don't mean to minimize your daughters experience or anything, but I think the term "bullying" is way overblown here. The fact is, there is a NORMAL developmental stage that occurs in some children, usually preverbal, where they use their hands and fists because they can't "use their words."  When you are talking about toddlers, you are not talking about BULLIES. You are talking about children going through a crappy phase that they usually outgrow by the time they are able to express themselves better.   Furthermore, this assertion: "Who knows where the little boy learned ." Is  just patently false.  Toddlers who have NEVER EVER been touched by their parents, who are raised in incredibly loving homes..will turn around and bonk the ever living crap out of their classmates because they want that toy car, or doll.   They do not hit because they have been hit themselves. They hit because its a visceral natural reaction to being frustrated and quite frankly, it works for them at the time. To say that any child who hits does so because he/she has been hit themselves is just not the case.  


Yes, hitting and other aggressive behaviors are distressing for all involved, but please, lets not refer to it as "bullying."  I think Bullying requires an INTENT to bully and that just isn't present in kids this age.

Stink... Stinkydog

And to clarify, by "this age" I am talking about  the 18mth olds you refer to in your example.

AniAngel AniAngel

Agreed that the example is flawed, but then so does the writer, she says so right in the article. It does get you thinking though and it's a good question. My ten year old has always been a friend with everyone type, so when we speak about bullies we mostly talk about standing up for the kids getting bullied. Peer assistance seems to be one of the most effective tools.

Melissa Rashid

The only hitting I've had to deal with so far has been between my 4 year old daughter and 6 year old son. Last year, my son had some issues with a boy at school, not hitting but, saying things that hurt his feeling and "bothering" him. But I took it just as seriously, especially when my little boy is crying that he doesn't want to go to school. I called the teacher and talked with her and she in turn moved the little boy to another area, and talked to the entire class about respecting each other. His dad and I also went to his school during lunchtime recess to see if anything was going on. The last few weeks of school were fine, but he still holds a grudge against this little boy.

Linda Morgan

My grandson is 28 months old.  He has always been a curious, busy, too-smart-for-his-own-good little boy.  He has an uncanny ability to solve problems and has since he was about 8 months old.  However, he is very rough.  I had my first black eye (at 65!) from him purposely headbutting me in the face and hitting my brow bone.  Nearly the whole right side of my face was black and blue

Linda Morgan

(oops- didn't mean to send that yet!)  He bites.  He has a mean right arm and can and does throw object hard.  I have caught him kicking at my 5 lb dog (she hides in the back bedroom under a piece of furniture when he walks in the door and won't come out as long as he's here), and he is being very rough with a kitten I recently took in.  He is an only child being raised by my daughter.  Dad's not in the picture currently.  I see such aggressive, willful and defiant behavior in him that I am concerned that he is going to be a bully (if he isn't already).  He is darling, and he can be very sweet.  I  recently watched him greet a younger girl at a play area by handing her a toy so she could play with him.  But the aggressive, cruel behavior is bothering me.  I have tried looking up what to do if you think you may have a bully, but there's nothing I could find.  It's all about the child on the receiving end.    No matter how much time I spend with him and the kitten being gentle doesn't help.  He still slams it on the floor.  At least it's learning to run the other way, but that's certainly not a solution.  My daughter thinks it's just a stage.  I have 4 grown children and 4 other grandchildren.  None have been this aggressive this young.  Any suggestions for me?  He punches, bites, hits, throws, and takes off running away.  Yes, 2 is challenging, but I feel this is beyond just  2.

JSMon... JSMontgomery

Stinkydog, as I state in the fifth paragraph, I recognize that actions between two toddlers are not bullying, that they have no words and are just communicating as best they can. But it got me thinking about the topic of bullying in general, and how parents handle it when it occurs. I appreciate everyone's feedback, especially since I am a first-time mom.

Stink... Stinkydog

 I'm going to disagree with you just a little because although you say that you recognize that what happened between your daughter and the 18mth old girl wasn't "bullying" you go on to use another 18mth old example i.e  the "bully in the making"  "the hitter" who "obviously learned it from someone," and you repeat that the behavior is learned--I just disagree with this whole assertion. If it isn't the point of your article (and I'm guessing it isn't), I question why the first several paragraphs had to go into it at all. If you want to get into a serious discussion of what to do about bullying--let's not start out by talking about situations where it clearly ISN'T bullying--it's distracting and I think drags down the rest of the content.  Off soapbox now. :)

Stink... Stinkydog

And Linda Morgan:  2 can be a VERY difficult age. I would definitely make sure to never leave your grandson alone with that poor kitten. Two year olds sometimes really don't have a sense of how rough they can be. Or maybe he's trying to get attention--and it doesn't matter whether it's positive or negative attention. I would have your daughter talk to her pediatrician and ask to see if they could refer you to an Occupational Therapist-- an evaluation might not be needed, but maybe it wouldn't hurt?

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