Dear Tulum,

Help! My 3 1/2 year old daughter is bullying her classmates at preschool. I am mortified to see her pushing, hitting and being mean to her little friends! I’ve tried to reason with her and she nods in agreement and them goes right back to it!. What can I do?

—Please Help!

Dear Help,

Start by having a good cry over how terrible you feel about this, really try to get in touch with your feelings of powerlessness and fear that your daughter will be this way forever (she won’t). Now look at any other issues you have that may be getting triggered by the situation. I recently heard a mom comment, “When my child hits I feel like I’m the one doing the hitting and when my child gets hit I feel like I am the one whose been hit.” Yes, we are so connected it is hard to keep everything straight. Once you move through your stuff though you’ll clear the path for solutions. Next, take a deep breath and get set to go to work.

Examine your relationship with your husband, parents and in-laws. Children learn their social behavior from how us adults treat each other, not how we treat them or their siblings. Since kids always have their radar on and pick up on the most subtle things, your daughter might be acting out some unspoken stress that’s going on between you and ____. Children express what we repress. And if you can’t find the time to spring clean your mental and emotional attic for yourself, fine, do it for your kids instead.

Get some counseling, take a class, join a 12 step program, get a self help book, DO SOMETHING to move through your relationship issues with yourself, your spouse and your parents. Otherwise you’ll keep repeating your patterns and attracting the same type of people into your life while your children continue to bring the issues to the table by acting out your stuff until you finally give up and deal with it. There is certainly something to be said for getting so fed up that we finally throw in the towel and get the help we need!


Now, here’s what you do in the meantime while you’re wading through your personal stuff.

Set some boundaries:
Establish a zero tolerance policy. Once aggression emerges the show is over. Have the preschool call. Leave the school, play group, park, play date, WHATEVER, IMMEDIATELY. NO REMINDERS, NO NAGGING, NO NEGOTIATION!!!!!

Tell your child what you will do NOT what you will make her do! Tell her ahead of time, “When you do ____, I will control your body and we will leave. I will not be available to speak with you until we get home and have dome something to help ourselves feel better.” Once you arrive home do something together until you feel better. Read a book. Rock in your rocker while holding each other. Dig holes in the garden. Weed. Drum.....

Once calm have a friendly chat. Share your feelings. Look for solutions together.
Take time for training. Play games on how to deal with social situations out in the world. Role Play. Give her the words she needs to use instead of her body and practice them over and over. Make it fun. Make it short. Leave her wanting more.
Call the parents of the children she’s bullied and apologize. Agree on how you can work on these issues together.

Write the children she’s harmed or been disrespectful to apology note:
“Dear _____’
I apologize for_____. Next time i will do ______instead. To make it up to you I would like to do _____for/with you.”

Present a unit on “Bullying” at the preschool. Ask for the teacher’s help. They are as eager as you to resolve it .

Get books from the library on “Bullying” and explore together how the characters have solved their issues.

Have family meetings to discuss situations and find solutions.

Use affirmations: “You now are using your words to get what you want and need. It is getting easier and easier for you to solve your problems with other children by talking it through. You now are kind and gentle to everyone. You have all the tools you need to be successful with other children.” Follow the rules for affirmations. Use the present tense: “You now are___. You now have____.” Say it as if it were happening now. Say each affirmation at least three times. Consider making a tape or CD of you saying the affirmations (three times each with soothing music in the background, using your mellow voice) and let your child go to sleep with it on.

Remember that from 3 to 6 years your daughter is learning her social behavior. Part of that learning will occur in the form of experimentation. Help her learn what is appropriate behavior. When she tries a behavior that is inappropriate take her aside and let her know, kindly, how to act and what to say. For example, “When we want to play with someone we ask first like this, May I play with you?”. Treat her and speak to her as you would a dear friend and she will become one.

Children are our greatest gifts. They hold up the mirrors we need to examine our own behavior. They model the willingness to try new ways. They tell the truth about what is happening for them. They celebrate their emotions. And they always show great courage as they travel through life. May we follow their lead.