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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Renée McClure

I am having a similar problem with my 2 and a half year old (P) and her almost 4 year old cousin (A, my niece, whom I babysit).  A is extremely affectionate and clingy while P prefers to be a little bit more independent and likes her personal space.  When A is not getting the attention that she is seeking from P, she gets up really close in her face and holds P there, despite P's numerous, clear requests to "Stop, A" and "Nooo!".  P has reverted to hitting to get her point across and A out of her face.  I do not condone hitting in any situation and of course P is punished but I hate repeatedly punishing my child when I can kind of understand where she is coming from.  No matter how many times I explain to and demonstrate to A that her actions are undesirable and that is the reason P hits her, she either does not understand or simply does not care.  The part that really gets me is the fact that even after P swats her (a few times, not so gently I might add), A still does not stop, she just sits there and takes it!  I'm at my wits end, I can't realistically have these 2 toddlers in time out all day but I cannot seem to get through to them.

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