From the Mommy Files…

4 Year-Old Bully

Posted on: April 19, 2010

Girls are supposed to be made of sugar and spice, right? Unfortunately, not all of them are. My 3 year-old began preschool this past January. She loves school. She attends every day in the morning. In fact, she recently asked if she could stay all day. She’s learning a lot and we are pleased.

A girl at school, who is 4, has decided that my daughter is going to be her “pet project.” Well, this girl bullies my daughter so much, that lately she tells me she is afraid to go to school because she doesn’t know what this girl will do.

It started early on. My daughter is very easy going, and she doesn’t tattle. She lets kids bother her and won’t say a word. And, being the new girl, she was an easy target. One day my daughter came home and said “Angela (not the girl’s real name) said she was going to throw me in the garbage can.” I told her not to pay attention to Angela, that Angela wasn’t much bigger than her and couldn’t possibly throw her in the garbage can. I also told her to tell the teacher whenever Angela bothered her. She refuses.

As time has gone on, my daughter has begun to choose her outfits and accessories, based on what is acceptable to “Angela.” She says she can’t wear a bow or headband because Angela will take it, or she’ll keep pulling off her head. WTF? Again, I told my daughter to bring all of this to the teacher’s attention when it occurs. Nope.

For one week, Angela and her sister were sick and not in school. My daughter was so happy. Actually, I think that was the week she requested to stay at school all day. As soon as “Angela” returned, she began to not want to go to school, or would insist that I come at recess time so Angela couldn’t bother her. I sat her down for a little chat. I explained to her, that sometimes people are not nice, and when they are not nice, we should stay away from them. There are plenty of other kids to play with, and I told her that if Angela wanted to play with her, to politely say no and walk away.

Every morning we’d drive to school and my daughter would ask if I was going to be around at school (since I volunteer sometimes), in case Angela was to bother her. When I’d say no, she would get upset.

One day last week, we’d arrived at school a bit early, and the kids gather with all the teachers in another room until it’s time for class to start. In front of her teacher and Angela’s teacher, I tried to get my daughter to say something about what Angela does. Finally she said, “I can’t wear the bow Mommy. Take it home, so Angela doesn’t take it or throw it.” The teacher quickly dismissed it as kids’ play. I thought, for now I’m going to let it go. I love the teacher and the program. In less than 3 months, my daughter has learned more than I ever imagined. I don’t think she’d just blow it off, but if the bullying is not observable to the teacher and the child being bullied doesn’t complain, then what can she do? Since my daughter provides a daily report – and she’s expressing fear of this girl –  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it or try to do something about it.

On Fridays, I help prepare hot lunch. This past week, I witnessed Miss Angela in all her glory. I was holding my 13 month-old, and a bunch of the kids came over to see her. I squatted down so they could be at eye level. Angela came over, looked me square in the eye, with more attitude than most people I know, and said to me, “You go stand over there. I’m going to play with the baby!” I looked at her and said “Excuse me?” to which she replied, “That’s what I said.” Well, I thought I was going to lose it. But I blew it off. She’s 4 for pete’s sake. I encouraged the other kids to come closer to play with the baby. Angela was getting visibly upset and started telling the kids to move out of the way – even pushing them – because she wanted to play with the baby and they better move.  When she got near the baby I stood up and told her that we were leaving. She gave me the dirtiest look. It gave me the feeling that no one has ever told her no or not done as she said. I left there thinking, her parents are so nice. Her sister is so sweet. How does this happen?

One day last week, my daughter told me she was afraid to go to school, because Angela would be there. This afternoon when I picked her up, her teacher told me that my daughter was crying a little at lunch time, and a little apprehensive about playing with the kids, but then the teacher asked one of the kids to take her by the hand, and she went to play without any problem. I told her that this morning she didn’t want to go to school, because she’s afraid of Angela. The teacher again dismissed it, and said that the girl was not a problem. I told her that the girl is bossy and I have witnessed it for myself. She insisted that it wasn’t a problem. I don’t agree. I don’t want my daughter to be afraid to go to school. And you can’t exactly approach a parent about their child, because we all feel that our kids are perfect. I don’t know about you, but mine certainly aren’t. They’re kids for crying out loud! They’re trying to figure it all out. They’re learning to be independent, and pushing the boundaries whenever possible. They want to see how much they can get away with, but it’s our job to put them back in reality. And I don’t mean with physical force.

At the same time, I have to figure out how to get her to stand up for herself. How do I get her to not be a bully herself? I guess we’ll have to keep working on this one. There’s no answer. Hey, where’s the instruction manual? I wish it were as easy as saying we won’t play with her, but she goes to the same school. We can’t avoid her. All the other kids this year are nice, but there’s bound to be a bully next year, or in an activity she goes to. It’s inevitable – we all have to deal with bullies.  Someday Angela will get bullied, and she won’t know what hit her. Hopefully, when the time comes, she will do the right thing.

As of Friday, our bully was behaving for most of the week, though this morning my daughter said she couldn’t wear a bow in her hair because Angela will pull it out. Then she told me she might play with her at recess. Come on! I don’t get it. Is she a glutton for punishment?

In yesterday’s Sunday insert in the Chicago Tribune, there was an article on bullying. We read it with enthusiasm. We’ve read the book Purplicious, which is mentioned in the article, but I think the moral of the story is a little lost at this age. I guess all I can do at this point, is to keep telling my daughter to stay away from the bully – do not go by her, do not try to play with her – and if she bothers her to tell the teacher immediately. And hope the bully will grow out of this stage quickly.

I can always remind myself that there are only six more weeks of school left.

Why can’t we all play nice?

21 Responses to "4 Year-Old Bully"

Wow, this is really hard stuff to deal with. But I would caution you to not accept the old adage that ‘kids will be kids’ and that bullying is just the way that it is. There is much information out there and your daughter is not too young to learn how to teach people how to treat her. Angela has issues clearly and yes, maybe she has ‘nice’ parents which may mean that they have created a tyrant because they never say no to their little princess. Either way, your daughter does not have to take it. You have a great opportunity at such a young age to teach your little girl that there is a lot more to being a girl than ‘being nice’ and being liked. And as her parent, you are her advocate and have to keep trying to get through to the teacher and the school about this issue. Don’t give up! It’s too important. Good luck!!

That is something. It really does make you wonder how a child comes to behave that way. My daughter is 8, and she went through a similar experience, but she’s a lot older. I didn’t realize that kids were THAT mean at such a young age. I get not wanting to share, but it sounds to me like Angela has no concept of boundaries either. What shocks me the most is that she behaves so poorly towards adults. I hope things get better for your little girl. She sounds like a really sweet little lady.

Thanks. I can only keep telling my daughter that the behavior of that girl is unacceptable and we aren’t supposed to behave like that. We are nice and we share, and if someone treats us that way, we don’t allow it. I tell her to go to the teacher, cause I don’t want her to have a confrontation she doesn’t know how to handle yet. If I can get her to start telling the teacher, that will help, and they can observe the interactions a little more closely. I was bullied as a child, and my parents didn’t do anything to teach me to stand up for myself. I just took it and I think that made me an easy target. It’s a fault of mine which I fought hard to get over. I was taught to not complain and not to speak up. That got me into trouble as an adult, as I let people walk all over me. It was difficult to learn to stand up for myself. I want my daughter to know that it’s not right, and she doesn’t have to take it. Thanks for stopping by.

I understand completely. Parenting a bullied child can be so challenging. My son was horribly bullied in elementary school. We learned very quickly that his teachers/administrators were very limited as to what they could do, and in truth, you can’t change the behavior of others. You can only choose how you will respond to it. And how you respond to it will either motivate someone to continue to taunt you, or cause them to give up from pure boredom.

One thing I suggest for your daughter is something I taught my kids called the “happy bubble”. I had them hold up their arms and imagine they were holding a bubble full of happy feelings. It allowed them to choose to have a positive attitude, and if anyone tried to “pop” the bubble by being mean I taught them to say, “I am choosing to be happy.” After a couple of days of doing this, my son came home with a smile and said, “Mom, bullies really don’t know what to do when you’re happy.” That was 4 years ago. Today he is flourishing and every morning he still puts up his happy bubble. Last week I had a 9 year old girl who had come to one of my workshops, and has read the books, stop me in the parking lot of the school to thank me for teaching her the “happy bubble” because the boys who had been bullying her “just stopped in their tracks.” The thing is that it wasn’t that she “stopped” the bullies. It was that she chose not to let them impact her. The “bubble” just gave her a strong visual image that helped her understand. They became powerless over her.

The whole ‘parenting a bullied child’ experience was so emotional that I wrote a series of interactive children’s books (based on all of the exercises I taught my kids) to help kids develop the confidence and social skills to handle bullying behavior, while avoiding revenge mentality. I work with a clinical psychologist, just to keep me on track. I just finished my 5th book and barnes& just picked us up. Now I go from school to school, one classroom at a time, working with kids and giving them the tools to deal with challenging social situations. And I last week I was told that a little boy sleeps with his copy of “I’ve Got Plans: A kid’s activity book for a fun-filled future” — Feel free to take a look,
Good luck with your daughter. I’m sure you will do a great job with her. She’s a lucky child to have a mom who gets it, and cares so much.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert

Thank you Taryn, for sharing your insights. There are some good suggestions there, and I’m going to try the Happy Bubble. I’ll check out your books too. Congrats on getting picked up by Barnes and Noble!

Thanks! I hope the happy bubble works and feel free to contact me through if you have any questions. Dr. Jacobsen will be happy to answer them as well. Let me know how the happy bubble works out!

Thanks! I’m happy to report that our bully reformed shortly after my post. It doesn’t hurt to keep this at top-of-mind, because it’s very possible she could encounter another bully at some point. Hopefully she’s learned that bullying is not right, and no one has the right to treat you that way. Have a great day!

OM Gosh! That is terrible – Bullies at 4! What is she going to be like as a teenager? I feel really bad for your daughter and hopefully she won’t change in a negative tone because of it.

Kids that age shouldn’t have to deal with rotten kids. I wonder what her parents think of this child’s attitude?

Hang in there and I do feel for you and your daughter 🙂

hi from the mbc! ahh this post is scaring me! i have a baby girl and i’m so worried this will happen to her. well, actually based on her big personality, i’m also kind of worried she might end up the bully!

it’s interesting the way these dynamics start out at an early age. and it’s also interesting the role we play as parents. i wish you the best of luck in dealing with this situation!

I have two daughters one will be five next week and the other is two. They are complete opposites. My oldest is passive and soft spoken while my two year old is agressive and the bullying type. So I am trying to learn to correct both sides. I don’t want my oldest to allow others to bully her and I want her to stick up for herself, but I do not want my two year old to be the bully either.

The past several months I have witnessed my friends girls bullying my daughter. My friends ignore it and never get on to their child for being the bully. So that is when I step in. It’s like my friends think it is easiest for me to get on to their child for bullying mine, and I don’t feel that I should have too. But at the same time I can’t stand by and watch this happen and do nothing. I would never allow my child to bully or to start a conflict and the few times they have, I have corrected them. Why can’t other parents, particularly my friends have deal with their own bully?

A few months ago, we were at friend #1’s house and I witnessed her 9 year old daughter bullying my 4 year old as soon as my daughter stepped foot out of the car. She continued by not allowing my daughter to go outside with the other children and by saying mean things. Her mother was in the same room I was in when I witnessed it and she never said a word. Of course, being the over protective mamma bear, I stepped in and I told the little girl that she is not being nice and that she should not treat anyone like that. My talking to her went on and her mother had to of known about it because I wasn’t hiding it. I specifically approached her daughter in front of her in hopes that she would step in. That never happened.

Yesturday, we were at friend #2’s house. We spend a lot of time over there and our girls always get along. Well Friend #1 and her child was there as well. I then witnessed friend #2’s daughter and friend #1’s daughter approaching my daughter, in her face and yelling at her about a toy, whild my child stood there taking it. I looked around and saw a room full of parent’s and friend #2 Grandparents all witnessesing this. They all ignored it. Of course. So again, I went in and got in the middle and told them that they do not talk to anyone like that. I grabbed my child and told her infront of the mean girls that, “if those girls were going to be mean and ugly not to play with them and to find someone who is nice to play with.” Then I turned to friend #2’s daughter and said, “Molly (not childs real name), if this is how you are going to treat Katie (my child, not real name) then we will not have anymore play dates. Well Molly started to talk back to me with an attitude. Still her parents or grandparents did nothing, so I told Molly that she will not speak to me that way either and I got my kids and left.

I am just shocked that my friends never jumped in. If it was the other way around I would have never allowed another parent to get on to my child while I was there, ecspecially in my house. I would of stepped in and dealt with my child myself. There is no reason that another parent should have to do what I had to when I am around.

What is wrong with parents these days?

Well the main thing I am worried about is my daughter. That night on the way home I decided to talk to her about what happened. I asked if those girls were nice to her and she said, yes. I then said, no they were not nice to you, that I saw them being mean. I told her that when anyone is mean to her to tell them that “mean girls never win” and walk away and when they want to play with her to tell them that she does not play with mean girls. She doesn’t get it. She is nieve to the situation and I wonder if she even realizes what’s going on. My two year old will bully her and of course I get on to my two year old, but my oldest still will not stick up for herself. It is heartreaking to me and I do not know what else to do.

I worry because of all the teens killing themselves because of bullying that I don’t want that to happen to my child, so I am trying to teach her to do something about it now.

So frustrating.

Hi Mamma Bear. Thanks for stopping by. It’s unfortunate, I see a lot of passiveness on the part of parents these days. I don’t know what it is. Bullying should never be tolerated. One parent may blow it off as child’s play, but what does this child grow up to be? I believe the bullying has to be nipped in the bud. I have seen a lot of parents sit idly by like it’s social hour and let the kids run amok. Stick to your guns, and keep reaffirming to your child that this is not acceptable behavior. She deserves to be treated better and there’s no reason she should ever sit and take it. It is a lesson that you will have to continue to explain to her, as it sounds like she may be a little insecure. She needs to build up her confidence so she can tell these mean girls (and any future bullies – it’s inevitable she’ll come across another one at some point) that that behavior isn’t acceptable and to walk away. I have taken to not inviting certain people over for play dates because their kids get pushy or they don’t follow the rules, and the parents don’t do anything. Don’t be afraid to leave a play date or to discontinue any future connection because of this. Set the good example for your daughter. You’re doing great!

Wow! I’ve been watching my daughter go through the same experience. Sorry to say the bully never changed, yet her ways got more and more ‘fine tuned’. No, parents are blind; no use talking to them. If teachers are same, don’t take your kid there. Remember, you took her there to learn. Which she did, along with constant harassment. Most things the school teaches could be learned at home with a coordinated plan. We take the kids to pre-school to learn social skills too. All she learned is how a bully is picking on her day-by-day. She doesn’t see protection from you, yet she’s crying out for it. Don’t worry how Angela feels or develops. Sounds like she’ll be just fine, your daughter on the other hand will start believing that’s the norm, being bullied. Later in real school she’ll be much too worried about how to find friends, how to be accepted by others if Angela cripples her self-esteem, and will pay less attention to her academic development. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT WHILE YOU CAN!!!

Babs: Thanks for stopping by. We are very fortunate that the bullying stopped after a short while. Fortunately, my daughter learned that no one should treat her that way. I’m sure she will encounter a bully again at some point. Parents have to be mindful of these things. Our kids are not perfect. You now see kids committing suicide because they are bullied. Parents have to look at their kids with open eyes. If their kids are bullies, they need to do something about it – and quick – not turn a blind eye. Kids are always pushing the limits and it’s up to us to remind them the limits are there for a reason and they have to stay within them. Some behavior just is not acceptable. No one said this was going to be easy. Have a great day.

Wow, my daughter is about to go through the same thing-I can see it happening before my eyes. My daughter is going to be 4 and these are church kids…..I agree, I allowed my daughter to see that I did not protect her one time and I felt aweful. I said I would NEVER let that happen again and I will not. I am going to speak to a Leader about the situation and if it continues, we will move on. But my goal is to help my child deal with it realistically-my goal is to teach her that what that other child is doing is not right and she does not have to tolerate it. That she has plenty of other friends and that does not have to be her close friend. But Its important that she understand she cant hate the girl-Jesus said to love the individual but hate the sin. So I am going to work with her to deal with the girl and to keep her heart right and covered. I think its hurting me more then its hurting her….I have been crying since it started so I am glad that I found this conversation and we can encourage each other. I will be praying for your child and mine.

Hi Angela. Thanks for visiting. I’m sorry that your daughter has to go through this. Sometimes I do think it’s harder for us to watch them go through it. I agree, it’s important not to hate the girl, but it is best to avoid her when possible. Perhaps the approach is that “you stay away until the girl learns that that isn’t right,” and at some point, hopefully she will. I think what’s even more troubling is when the parents of the bully will not accept that their child is a bully and won’t do anything about it. My daughter was bullied at her parochial preschool, so even these places connected to church are not immune to bullies. I let the teachers know and they began to watch for the behavior. Only one time did they have to intervene, as fortunately, our bully reformed herself not long after. I have to say I was very wary of her after that, just cautious as to what her behavior would be. I did see similar tendencies in her younger sister. I never told my daughter not to play with her. I simply tried to encourage her to play with some of the other girls, though I never spoke ill of those girls. It’s a shame that our kids have to go through this. I was bullied too as a child, and there just is no reason for it. Unfortunately, this is how some people – I say people because some adults are bullies too – behave this way because it makes them feel powerful or stronger, but there are other ways to empower oneself. Good luck! Let me know how things go.

HI, I am glad to be here! Sad thing is that bullying is getting worse. I didnt have to deal with this myself as child, so I am struggling with the whole thing. I agree with you totally and will keep you posted.

my granddaughter is going through kinda the same thing..except the bully is her step sister granddaughter just turned 6 and her step sister will be 5 shortly. the 5 year old is not taught how to play or interact with others she is taught that if she wants something she can have it. If she was to hit spit kick or whatever she wants to do she can do it. My granddaughter tells her dad or whoever is around when something happens but the bully could care less when she gets put in time out now. she is this way to all kids, even kids alot older than her. She will just walk up and pinch them. When ever I say something they (my son and his new wife) think I’m picking on the bully. The bully child is fixin to start head start so we will see how long that last. I’m at my wits end with the situation. She even tells Adults what she is doing and how she is gonna do it and argues with adults. Her mom and dad and other grandparents know their are issues but they don’t do anything about it??

I’m so sorry to hear about this. There’s nothing easy about it, especially when the bully’s parents are in denial about the whole thing. Perhaps you can videotape an interaction or two to prove to your son you’re not picking on his stepdaughter. Unfortunately, many adults don’t take it seriously. I think sometimes teachers are at loss too, and this results in the behavior continuing. This past year my daughter had to deal with another obnoxious child. He didn’t bully her, but his actions toward her were, let’s just say, not good and since he wasn’t reprimanded, she thinks that obnoxious behavior is acceptable, though I tell her it isn’t. It sounds like the teacher did nothing to keep him away from her or to try to put a stop to his behavior. Now that’s school’s out, I’m slowly learning more and more. Try to teach your granddaughter that no one should treat her like that. She is in control. She should tell the bully that this is unacceptable and until she can act better, they can’t play together, and then just go away. If the bully persists, she needs to see her father and tell him how this hurts her. Merging families can be tricky. Sounds like your son may see it, but he is afraid to say anything to his wife. I wonder if this is the stepdaughter’s way of setting her turf – she’s not going to let a new kid get close to her mom or get any attention. Your son needs to see how upsetting it is to his daughter, and what effect this has on her. Best of luck to you!

She does it in front of who ever is around, her mom knows it and will actually admit it but still really does nothing about it..this past school term the child was in pre school and was choking some kids and told them she was going to kill them..her punishment was basically she got taken to chuckee cheese. they all know it, my son and his new wife discuss her behavior, one of the problems is her mom feels guilty for disciplining her. She thinks her daughter will not love her if she gets on to her. She also has a 2 yr old son who acts out sometimes and they get on to him. My son does get on to his step daughter (time out). She is supposed to be going to counseling but they aren’t going like they should be..again denial.. I actually babysat these children before my son and the mom starting to see each other, there were issues there then. these children are my grandchildren now and I want to love them with all my heart, but at the same time I don’t want my oldest granddaughter mistreated. My husband says to just hand it over to god and everything will work itself out. I just have to pray that it does. I’ll pray for your daughter as well. thanks for the quick response it does help to talk about it. thank you again

I wish I had the easy answer for you. I hate that kids have to endure this. I wish the parents could see what a disservice they are doing to both of the kids. Perhaps all you can do is coach your granddaughter and teach her that it’s not acceptable for people to treat her that way, what to say and how to walk away when the bullying starts. And pray. Good luck!

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