How can we stop our preschooler from bullying other kids? Our 4-year-old is a bright and loving child, but he's also quite strong willed. His teachers have already talked to us several times about his uncooperative behavior — interrupting, ignoring instructions, etc. But now something more serious has happened. He recently pushed one student to the ground and hit two others. His only explanation was that these boys weren't his friends and weren't doing what he wanted! We don't allow this kind of behavior at home, but how can we make sure that he'll follow our instructions when Mom and Dad are not around?
Your situation isn't particularly surprising. Many four-year-olds have difficulty controlling their emotions, particularly anger. When they don't get their way, it's not unusual to see them resort to tantrums or even start lashing out at others. As an experienced parent, you probably know this already.
However, when a parent reports that a child acts one way at home and a different way at school, we usually find that one of two things is happening. One possibility is that the parent is in denial about the child's true behavior problems. Their parenting style is more permissive, and they can't admit to themselves that their child is developing negative character qualities. They are shocked when they learn that their supposedly sweet little boy or girl is a holy terror at school or church.
The other scenario involves a child who really does behave well at home, but only to avoid punishment. His parents tend to be serious disciplinarians, but neglect to place as much emphasis as they should on relationship. As a result, the child never internalizes positive character traits. He simply obeys in order to stay out of trouble. Then, when he finds himself away from home in a less rigid environment, he shows his true colors by acting out in a variety of ways.
We'd encourage you to examine how you are parenting your son. Are you providing a healthy balance between love and limits? Are you affirming and rewarding him for good behavior as well as disciplining him for negative behavior? Are you helping him develop compassion and understanding for others instead of simply adhering to a strict set of rules and regulations? Are you and your spouse on the same page when it comes to discipline, or is one of you more permissive while the other is more authoritarian? Honest answers to these simple questions may take you a long way in the direction of solving the difficulty you're facing.
If you think it would be helpful to discuss your questions with a member of our staff, please feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.
How to Deal With Bullying