Pre-School

Is anyone worried about bullying?

I read an article about bullying in preschool, and now I'm hypersensitive to it. DD is an introvert and make come across as unfriendly to some. Other kids may see that as her being rude or not nice and may treat her poorly b/c of it. She has already been pushed and spit on in her preschool class this year. I didn't make a big deal about the pushing b/c it was another girl who did it, and I figured it was normal 4-yr old behavior. But, for the spitting I told her she needs to tell the teacher when that happens (according to her the teacher did punish the student, but it's hard to tell what really happened from DD's stories). 

I'm struggling with what is normal behavior at this age group vs. bullying, as well as how to get DD to understand how to react to it. I want her to stand up for herself, but I don't want to tell her to push/fight back. 


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Re: Is anyone worried about bullying?

  • I definitely worry about it, though from both points- I worry about them getting bullied but also worry about them doing those behaviors. When you say 'spit' do you mean literally spit on or the tongue pbbbbbtttt spitting thing? B/c in our pre k pretty much all the kids do that at each other & my kids both do it at home a lot...I think that is typical of this age & I can't really say I'd call that a bullying behavior.
    My DD got 'picked on' when she wasn't even yet 3 and moved up to preschool- there were some girls in there who had already turned 4 but hadn't been moved up just yet and they kept making her & another smallish girl be the 'baby' and htey were the moms... told them they couldn't walk or talk, etc... DD came home talking excitedly about it the first time & then the tone changed to sadness over a week or so, I spoke iwth the teacher and she said they had already addressed it w/ the older girls...again, I really don't classify this as bullying b/c of their age but I do think those types of play behaviors nad perhaps older or bigger kids exerting some sort of dominance can start at an early age. We did a lot of role playing about what to say to them and to walk away when other kids are playing a way they don't want to, etc. It was sad to see her feel that way for sure and I wasn't too sad when the one particular girl finally moved out to pre-k, but now DD is in pre-k and has a little group of girlfriends in there & I worry that they could be doing things like that to other kids for all I know! :(

    I think just keeping the lines of communication open is the most important thing- I read an article about it recently taht in the school years you should keep on them about it (from both views- they might be getting picked on or might be not so nice to others) just like you do w/ all other things, homework, activities, etc.

  • Thanks for the advice! As for the spitting, from DD's account I'm pretty sure it was actual spitting, not the tongue thing you describe. DD knows the difference, and also the child was disciplined by the teacher and I don't think he would have been if it weren't actual spitting. To me, that is demeaning and unacceptable. The pushing, etc. seems more normal. 

    Either way, I want DD to know she doesn't have to sit there and take it. On the other hand, I don't want her to become a tattle tale. 


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  • To me, bullying means a child is systematically singled out by another (or a group) with violence or the threat of violence for the purpose of giving the bully a sense of power. Most preschoolers are not developmentally capable of being bullies because they lack the understanding of how their actions impact others. The ability to really bully begins about age 5 or 6.

    I think the words bully and bullying are becoming overused in our society. I definitely think it's a problem, and a serious one. When kids are being bullied to the point of suicide, it's tragic and serious. But using the word when it doesn't fit kind of trivializes the real serious issue IMO. A child spitting at another child is not bullying. A child hitting another is probably not bullying either. They are still learning to keep their hands (and bodily fluids) to themselves until 5 or 6. And trust me, when my child started spitting at teachers, I definitely reacted so I'm not saying it's "ok" to spit or hit before 5 or 6, just that it's developmentally normal.

    I would be interested in reading the article if you can find it, but I really wouldn't be concerned too much over an occasional story from preschool. If there is a pattern of violence or threats of violence from one child to another child, and not kind of spread around, then I would definitely be concerned and address it with the teacher.

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  • This was the article- it is not a research article but an opinion/blog type thing- I just liked her point about keeping it sort of in your toolkit of stuff to bring up & talk about regularly & keep an eye out for (both sides of the bullying)... The writer was definitely a victim of true bullying and targeting of they type we unfortunately hear about on the news :(.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anastasia-basil/is-your-daughter-a-bully_b_3990142.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

    Social media obviously brings a new element to the bullying mix when people can hide behind a computer and attack and I would imagine (haven't read much about it) that is why it is more prevalent and seems to be unrelenting for some kids- they can't even escape when they leave school....
    But i do agree that the word has been getting thrown around so much lately that people seem to be applying it to any mean or ill spirited behavior that a kid does. If that were the case, I would venture a guess that 95% of people did some 'bullying' behavior at some point in their childhood/adolescent...I know I was not an angel to every kid 100% of the time and they weren't to me either...



    fredalina
  • That is a really powerful blog post, and so true! I will take it to heart. I will change some of the things I say to highlight kindness. (We already do kind things; I will use words like "I like to show people kindness". And encourage her to do the same.)

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  • It's so heartbreaking to re- read that and imagine that so many kids out there both do/say those things and are on the receiving end... I remember one time my parents overheard me on the phone in maybe 5th grade saying to a friend of mine how we were not going to hang out w/ so & so anymore... they went OFF on me and I still remember it (not the exact words but the total shame I felt) and I truly do think it affected me, so I do think parental involvement/intervening can make a difference...though I was not in the category of cruelty of the people mentioned in that article or even close, so I guess I don't really know how it works with kids like that.
  • Actually, this is the article I was speaking about:


    I absolutely agree that the term has been marginalized. I was just talking to DH about that a few weeks ago. The way it is defined by some people today, we were all bullied just because someone called us a name or pushed us in line! The only reason I used the term is b/c of what I read in the article, that it is actually happening in preschools. The article does discuss what is normal behavior for the age group. 


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  • groovygrl said:
    This was the article- it is not a research article but an opinion/blog type thing- I just liked her point about keeping it sort of in your toolkit of stuff to bring up & talk about regularly & keep an eye out for (both sides of the bullying)... The writer was definitely a victim of true bullying and targeting of they type we unfortunately hear about on the news :(.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anastasia-basil/is-your-daughter-a-bully_b_3990142.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

    Social media obviously brings a new element to the bullying mix when people can hide behind a computer and attack and I would imagine (haven't read much about it) that is why it is more prevalent and seems to be unrelenting for some kids- they can't even escape when they leave school....
    But i do agree that the word has been getting thrown around so much lately that people seem to be applying it to any mean or ill spirited behavior that a kid does. If that were the case, I would venture a guess that 95% of people did some 'bullying' behavior at some point in their childhood/adolescent...I know I was not an angel to every kid 100% of the time and they weren't to me either...



    Thanks for posting that article, but I just wanted to clarify that is NOT the one I was referring to in my original post. 


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  • That is annoying but normal preschool behavior. I have been subbing at my DDs preschool for lunch and I can tell you te kids in her class are generally good kids but if I punish the kids for every time they put their hands on each other they would all be sitting in chairs. I judge what is more serious and discipline for that. I had one kid spit on another and I sent him inside though.

    As for bullying I worry a lot especially since my son could easily be a target.
    Jen - Mom to two December 12 babies Nathaniel 12/12/06 and Addison 12/12/08
  • OK, we'll I strongly disagree with that article's definition of bullying. In order to really be a bully, a child has to understand the impact of their actions, which really is twofold. They have to recognize that someone else has feelings and their action hurt the other child, and they have to get a sense of satisfaction from it and repeat it regularly.

    Now, some kids DO get a sense of satisfaction from hurting another kid. But it's often cause and effect, like when they say something funny and you laugh so they repeat it. They are learning that when they push, the other kid falls. And cries. And, to them, that's funny. But they don't realize yet that the other child is a REAL person with REAL feelings different from their own thoughts and feelings. That part is part of developing empathy called "Theory of Mind". This develops starting around age 3 or 4 and empathy continues to develop to around age 7. Empathy and theory of mind work together and as they are both developing typically, most kids will become aware of the two ingredients that are IMO necessary for true bullying around age 5-7. Also the age they start to really understand others picking on them, by the way. When a big kid gave subtle insults to my kid when she was 3, she was clueless. You'd have had to say something obvious like call her "ugly" or "stupid". Now I see that starting to develop more. I do think some 4 or 5 year olds are truly capable of bullying, but they are unusual and tend to be very bright and socially developed.

    I do agree with the steps the article gives though. Parents should be informed, communicate with schools, teach their kids bow to respond when others are mean, etc. And on the other end parents of kids with aggressive tendencies need to be aware as well. However I do not believe a kid who is aggressive at 3 or 4 is necessarily destined to be a true bully at age 10, even without those steps.

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  • Sorry, wasn't sure who fredalina was referring to when she asked about the article (I don't think I realized you referenced article in the OP!) so I posted mine lol...now I have to go look at yours!
  • Hi -- mom of older kids, visiting from school aged kids board.

    People are, appropriately, very sensitive to bullying these days.  Anti-bullying initiatives are all over schools, and this is a good thing.  That being said, in my experience there's a difference between bullying and inappropriate preschool social interactions.

    Preschoolers can do things to each other that are hurtful.  But when this happens, it's usually fairly random.  Either a child is just routinely nasty to other kids because he/she doesn't know any better, or a child who is generally a well-behaved kid makes a mistake and does something hurtful.  In my experience, one preschooler doesn't generally mark out a "victim" and engage in a systematic attempt to hurt that victim with words and actions and to turn other children against the victim.  Preschoolers just don't have the capacity to stick to a campaign of bullying. In my non-scientific observations of kids, the capacity to truly bully kicks in around 2nd grade.

    That being said, I think you should DEFINITELY talk to the preschool teacher and/or director about your concerns.  Whether it's systematic bullying or just bad kid behavior, no kid should be spitting on another child or pushing another child at school without an adult intervening.
    Secondary English teacher and mom of 2 kids:

    DD, born 9/06/00 -- 8th grade
    DS, born 8/25/04 -- 3rd grade
    fredalina
  • Bullying by law definition does not have to be repeated, it can be done once and have the same intentions. But I totally agree that if a kid is too young to understand then it is not bullying.
    Jen - Mom to two December 12 babies Nathaniel 12/12/06 and Addison 12/12/08
  • Lurker popping in.

    I worry about this constantly.  My daughter has ASD/SPD.  She has some behaviors that don't make sense to typical children.  Like touching other's faces, for example.  She doesn't speak much and when she does it can be impossible to understand.  She is in a classroom with children who have special needs and children who are also "normal".  So far she seems to be pretty popular and well-loved by her classmates, but they are four.  It's later that I worry about.  I have no idea what to do when/if it happens.
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  • Here's an op ed piece I kind of like. It defines bullying as physical or verbal abuse, repeated over time, and involving a power imbalance. I think there are probably instances where it can be one time only but still qualify, but that would fall outside a school setting as one time would become multiple in a school setting if left unchecked. The power imbalance part is pretty important and nobody has mentioned it specifically yet. And that's another reason it seems less likely to begin in preschool as they USUALLY don't have a power imbalance yet, or they don't recognize it if they do.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/12/opinion/defining-bullying-down.html?_r=0

    One thing I think is good about the shift in thinking about bullying is that now parents can be more involved and know it's happening and teach their kids how to respond. I was always picked on by my older siblings and kids in he neighborhood (FWIW I do not define being picked on as real bullying). It hurt my feelings. My parents' response? "You're too sensitive." (Which is true, and I still am). This became part of my identity, and it set up the negative social interactions large and small to be MY fault. I caused them because I was "fun" to pick on because I was "too sensitive". So when REAL bullying started in late elementary and middle and high school, do you think I told my parents about it? Ha!

    Also in their reactions, I never learned how I SHOULD respond. I never got the "oh yeah, shut up" thing lol. That might have made the kids back off of me as a target, equalized SOME of the power, before it got to bullying. Now when someone does something mean to Charlotte in front of me, I tell her what to say. Now, in all fairness Char has more aggressive tendencies than most of her friends, something time is definitely improving, but negative things do happen. One time her very mild best buddy pushed her down when she was about 2. She stared at me, probably in as much shock as I was. I said, "Tell him no, I don't like that." She did. As she gets older, interactions get more complex; I just hope I have the right answers as clearly from my own childhood I'm not very good at this lol. But hopefully it will set the stage that she can come to me about it and I will try to help and not blame her.

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  • All great input, everyone. Thanks for your comments! I agree that the raised profile of bullying is a good thing because it means there are more conversations taking place on both sides. 

    I will say that my DD does have the ability to empathize and it does bother her when she gets pushed or whatever (she told me it hurt her feelings).  I do think some kids as young as 4 understand when they are causing pain and know that it isn't right. There are others who truly don't mean to hurt, but they just do it to get what they want (like the child who pushes someone out of her way simply b/c she wants to get to the swing or whatever). The difference is the intention. If a child pushes b/c she doesn't like the other child or she is jealous, etc., then that is concerning. I don't know if it's officially defined as "bullying," but it does need to be dealt with. 


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  • Here's why the label bugs me to no end. It is typical development to still be learning to keep hands to yourself until age 5 or 6. I have a friend who we call "Jenny Sunshine". She is beautiful and so freaking sweet that talking to her for 5 minutes gives you cavities :). She has the sunniest, kindest disposition in the world, and none of it is fake. She has a son, we'll call him John, who has Williams Syndrome, which is a genetic disorder that causes loss of cognitive function as well as some physical things. John went to a special developmental preschool, and he started kindergarten this year in a Special Ed classroom. John is a really sweet kid too. He takes time to warm up to people and new environments. Almost all the kids in his k class are new to him, as is the building, the teachers, the routine, etc. In his first 2 weeks in school, John pushed someone else (not the same person) once and hit twice. His teachers notified the mom that they were changing his IEP and school file to mark him as "violent". That crap could stay with him for life! So Jenny Sunshine objected and now she's "that mom" and the teachers won't even talk to her when she drops him off.

    "Bully" is a serious word, with serious implications. Best not label young kids with such language when it could stick with them for far longer than the behavior does.

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  • fredalina said:
    Here's why the label bugs me to no end. It is typical development to still be learning to keep hands to yourself until age 5 or 6. I have a friend who we call "Jenny Sunshine". She is beautiful and so freaking sweet that talking to her for 5 minutes gives you cavities :). She has the sunniest, kindest disposition in the world, and none of it is fake. She has a son, we'll call him John, who has Williams Syndrome, which is a genetic disorder that causes loss of cognitive function as well as some physical things. John went to a special developmental preschool, and he started kindergarten this year in a Special Ed classroom. John is a really sweet kid too. He takes time to warm up to people and new environments. Almost all the kids in his k class are new to him, as is the building, the teachers, the routine, etc. In his first 2 weeks in school, John pushed someone else (not the same person) once and hit twice. His teachers notified the mom that they were changing his IEP and school file to mark him as "violent". That crap could stay with him for life! So Jenny Sunshine objected and now she's "that mom" and the teachers won't even talk to her when she drops him off. "Bully" is a serious word, with serious implications. Best not label young kids with such language when it could stick with them for far longer than the behavior does.
    Yes,yes, a million times yes!! As a school counselor, I can't tell you number of times a kid or parent comes in my office to tell me their child is being bullied. Most of the time it's teasing. Kids are going to say things or roll their eyes, etc. That is not bullying. There has to be an imbalance in power ( a regular ed kid picking on a SPED student, a 8th grader intimidating a 6th grader, a more popular person telling everyone else not to be friends with the geeky or not as attractive person). Does bullying occur- yes. Does social media make it worse, absolutely. The best thing we can do as parents it teach our children to speak up, report things (whether it is happening to them or a friend), and learning to be assertive not aggressive. Role playing is an excellent way to model to your kid how to handle themselves in certain social situations. Give them the right words to use, responses that are rehearsed, and most of all give them the courage to speak up to an adult to seek help and realize that the difference between reporting (sharing information to make the unwanted behavior stop ) vs tattling (trying to get someone else in trouble). And now I will get off of my soap box.
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  • And fred- your friend needs to request that the school's IEP coordinator sit in on their next meeting. Sounds like the teacher is frustrated and using powerful words that have a big impact on that kid's future.
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  • Actually, I put my friend in contact with a special needs education advocate. John will not be labeled, but the teachers still treat Jenny as though she were the annoying mom. She, of course, is killing them with kindness. That's Jenny Sunshine for you!

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  • groovygrlgroovygrl
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    edited October 2013
    I am conflicted about "intention" in this age group when it comes to behavior like name calling, pushing, spitting...none of them are acceptable and should be addressed by an adult but if we consider it bullying then my twins bully each other constantly. They call each other names on purpose, knowing that it will hurt the other one's feelings, the push and hit when they get in an argument or fight over a toy, etc.... The other one frequently gets upset and I have to address it w both of them. They both can clearly express their feelings of hurt and also can express empathy. They don't do these things oblivious to the effect on the other, but they are not "bullying" each other ... So I have a little trouble saying that kids in pre k who push or say mean things to another kid are some sort of threat unless there is a bigger context or situation....
  • meg1974 said:
    Thanks for the advice! As for the spitting, from DD's account I'm pretty sure it was actual spitting, not the tongue thing you describe. DD knows the difference, and also the child was disciplined by the teacher and I don't think he would have been if it weren't actual spitting. To me, that is demeaning and unacceptable. The pushing, etc. seems more normal. 

    Either way, I want DD to know she doesn't have to sit there and take it. On the other hand, I don't want her to become a tattle tale. 
    Fours are feral.  You can't apply your adult sensibilities to spitting as demeaning because the perp in question doesn't have that level of bandwidth yet. In the world of fours, spitting, shoving, hitting, ignoring is all kind of the same.

    The other piece to look at is your DD. What can you do to support her socially so that she can be engaged socially when required and to deflect invitations when appropriate without hurting/frustrating others. In some preschool situations, refusing to play inclusively is seen as an offense on par with other kinds of unkindness. I'm not blaming your DD for her disposition, but if this is how she is, she'll need to learn to stand up for herself without hurting others going forward. 

    I have lived the bully experience. 

    It's really hard to say exactly when a child becomes fully responsible for the content of their actions. DS had a classmate, Richie T., who used to wait in the cloakroom and rough him up each morning when he hung his backpack and jacket. DS is an odd kid (he has Aspergers which makes him the ideal victim) and very appealing to bullies. It took a while to get to the bottom of the situation and for the teachers to monitor the situation better. Fast forward to 11th grade and DS is telling me about his friend's truck when we pass T's  auto shop in town. They took a car class and ate lunch together a couple days a week. He asked me to pull in so he could see it. Rich T was there and he introduced us- yep Rich is Richie all grown up. Neither of them remember being in preschool together or the bullying.

    My son has come home from school covered in bruises in 6th grade from another kid with ASD who weighed 150 lbs more than DS. The school tried to assure me my kid wasn't being "bullied" but until I said I would turn up with the police and ask for a protection order/assault charges they did nothing. Said boy had developed bipolar and was off the chain. My complaints got him turfed to a RTF which fully dx'd him and tweaked his meds. He came back for high school and is now at the local college.

    DS got physically attacked a couple times in middle school, but they were very proactive about dealing. In high school, one of his bandmates made insulting videos he shared on you tube and facebook. It was awful. I did share with the school's band director since this was limited to his crew. The incident derailed the chance to be drum major for the main instigator. He was crushed. He needed to be. DS told him that he needed to take the videos down because I had seen them and was after his ass. They came down on the public sites.

    It was doubly awful because this boy's brother is also on spectrum and his mom would have been devastated had she learned about it. It also hurt that some of his fellow scouts piled on. I was at their Eagle Boards of Review and shared screen shots of their participation I had made at the time. They were shocked I knew and had evidence, but being geeky themselves they threw DS under the bus to elevate their own standing with the charismatic bully. 

    It's hard being a kid.


  • I'm so sorry for everything you & your son went through auntie! It is awesome that you were able to advocate for him and actually in turn advocate for the kid doing the bullying...that is  a really interesting viewpoint, to consider what is going on w/ the bully & that perhaps there is something that child needs other than a good talking to, etc.  

    Interestingly, yesterday my kids out of nowhere in the car told me that 3 particular boys in their class have been calling another boy a baby. The victim of name calling is unfortunately an easy target, as he was quite premature i believe, and is small and developmentally behind in terms of speech, PTing and also has had some feeding problems I believe, but the parents want him in a class w/ kids his age part of the week so he goes to our school part time ... I feel so sad for him because I suspect this is something they will be dealing with for a long time... so I tried to assess whether either of my kids had been involved in this (as I know DS sometimes plays w/ said boys, but they are on the older end in the class & he is on the younger end) and they both insisted they didn't so we talked a bit about calling names and then I tried to focus on the concept of sticking up for our friends and other kids and asking them to tell me ideas of what to say next time they see those boys calling him a baby, that (X) is the same age as the rest of them, he is not a baby, it's not ok to be mean to other kids, etc... I don't know if they will/would actually do it, though I think at this age they are young and green enough that they wouldn't really feel intimidated or even know to feel intimidated??? (esp DS who is not shy to speak his mind).  It made me think of this post immediately.

    But I will say I still don't know if it is 'bullying' or just older kids exerting their normal behaviors over a kid that appears to be younger... though the fact that it is 3 of them and depending on how often it happens, I don't really know (and obviously 4 yr olds are not the best sources of accurate info...).  I am wondering if I should ask the teacher about it to be sure my kids are not involved and also if they have suggestions for ways to talk to my kids about it that will supplement things they might already be doing in class?
  • I would talk to the teacher. Whether it is labeled bullying or not (and the power imbalance is there but they may not really have the empathy and impulse control to understand what they are doing), it isn't ok and the teachers need to be aware, and yes I'd want to know my kid was involved.

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  • groovygrl said:

    I'm so sorry for everything you & your son went through auntie! It is awesome that you were able to advocate for him and actually in turn advocate for the kid doing the bullying...that is  a really interesting viewpoint, to consider what is going on w/ the bully & that perhaps there is something that child needs other than a good talking to, etc.  

    Interestingly, yesterday my kids out of nowhere in the car told me that 3 particular boys in their class have been calling another boy a baby. The victim of name calling is unfortunately an easy target, as he was quite premature i believe, and is small and developmentally behind in terms of speech, PTing and also has had some feeding problems I believe, but the parents want him in a class w/ kids his age part of the week so he goes to our school part time ... I feel so sad for him because I suspect this is something they will be dealing with for a long time... so I tried to assess whether either of my kids had been involved in this (as I know DS sometimes plays w/ said boys, but they are on the older end in the class & he is on the younger end) and they both insisted they didn't so we talked a bit about calling names and then I tried to focus on the concept of sticking up for our friends and other kids and asking them to tell me ideas of what to say next time they see those boys calling him a baby, that (X) is the same age as the rest of them, he is not a baby, it's not ok to be mean to other kids, etc... I don't know if they will/would actually do it, though I think at this age they are young and green enough that they wouldn't really feel intimidated or even know to feel intimidated??? (esp DS who is not shy to speak his mind).  It made me think of this post immediately.

    But I will say I still don't know if it is 'bullying' or just older kids exerting their normal behaviors over a kid that appears to be younger... though the fact that it is 3 of them and depending on how often it happens, I don't really know (and obviously 4 yr olds are not the best sources of accurate info...).  I am wondering if I should ask the teacher about it to be sure my kids are not involved and also if they have suggestions for ways to talk to my kids about it that will supplement things they might already be doing in class?

    I think it is normal at this age but if no one teaches them differently they will not learn. I would ask te teacher and it will also let her know you are not ok with it and either are your kids.

    Jen - Mom to two December 12 babies Nathaniel 12/12/06 and Addison 12/12/08
  • Thanks all...! Their teachers are pretty on top of that stuff in general & they have already had bullying teaching segments and guest speakers from teh martial arts class in talking about bullying & dealing w/ bullyies, so I would be surprised if they're not aware of it and I would assume they're doing something about it if they are- I guess the question is, do they say anything to the parents of the kids who are doing it? (again, assuming that it was not something the kids did one time b/c I would never expect teachers to tell parents every single thing a child did in class that was not nice to another kid, they'd probably have to talk to 50% of the parents every day...).  I'll bring it up just to be sure & also let them know that i'd like to know if my kids ever do that type of thing in a repeated or directed fashion....  I know when my DD was being called a baby in the last class, they didn't tell me about it but when I brought it up, they said yes it had happened several times w/ certain girls & they were talking to the older girls about it and putting a stop to it... but that was the last class, different teachers now.
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