Toddler Bullying & Teasing

Archived Q&A and Reviews



My toddler is being labeled a bully

Oct 2008

My 16 month son and I attend a regular toddler enrichment activity. This is tremendously fun for both of us and we have made some great friends here. Unfortunately, my son has developed the habit of hitting other children on the head or face. This generally seems to happen when he gets excited and happy. He never hits in response to having toys taken from him or as a retaliation. The general reaction of the other toddlers to being hit ranges from an occasional frown or brief tears but more often than not it is usually a blank stare and a quick return to play. My son has frequently been hit, bumped into, knocked down and has had toys snatched from him on a daily basis. It has never crossed my mind that any of these children are headed down the road to brutal delinquency.

About a month ago, my son hit a little girl in the class twice in one session. I was very embarrassed and made sure to apologize profusely to the mother. This child was not someone we had met before and she reacted with very intense, prolonged tears. I am a first time mom and I am not perfect. I didn't quite know how to cope with this beyond apologizing. This was the first time that a child reacted with such intensity and I was truly at a loss.

Since this incident I have been upped my vigilance about keeping a very close watch on my son. We encountered the duo a second time, during which I made sure that he had no contact with her whatsoever. I assumed that the incident had boiled over.

I was approached by the teacher yesterday in front of all of the other parents at the end of class and was told that this mother emailed the director of the program and told her that my son was a bully. The teacher was kind about it and said that she defended my son as a sweet boy. However,I am a bit disturbed about the way the whole manner was handled (this director never contacted me and then it was brought up in front of the other parents).

My knowledge of child development leads me to believe that children at this age have not yet developed a sense of empathy. I don't think it's possible to be an actual bully- is it? Am I completely in denial here? Does it sound like a case of true thug behavior?

I would really appreciate some constructive feedback about managing this behavior. My approach to date has been a firm no, a soft grabbing of his hand, and ''gentle, gentle'' with some redirecting. Does anyone have any other suggestions? -Publically labeled as brutes.

I don't think your son is a ''bully.'' However, he's also not an ''infant.'' He's a toddler with normal toddler tendencies. All you can do is keep working on him, firmly telling him ''no hitting'' and ''gentle, gentle'' every single time. If he hits, remove him from the situation immediately. Don't overreact, but make it not fun. Eventually he'll realize that when he hits, the fun is over. This might last for months and months, but eventually it will stop. Socializing children is hard work, but since you're so aware of it and are trying hard, it will happen! It might also help to explain to the other adults that you're working on it and feeling frustrated, perhaps even ask for their advice. Then they'll know you're aware of the problem and are trying to fix it. Good luck! This, too, will pass!

At 16 mos. kids have NO concept that hitting is wrong. They barely even understand that what they are hitting is another person. So this is very very young for what most of us think of as discipline.

Say no and remove him from the other kid. He won't totally understand yet but you are teaching, not punishing. He does have to start hearing the word 'no' at some point (at the opposite end of the spectrum is my sister's 5 year old who cried when I said 'no' to her because no one had ever said that to her).

Apologize to both parent and kid -- after all, you're the one who let this happen, even if it was an accident. Personally, if the victim seems to be overreacting I would focus my apology on the parent.

You have to watch watch watch CONSTANTLY. But don't feel too bad when you miss something - you just won't be able to prevent everything.

I totally know how you feel. Certain moms with these sweet little girls who cry at the drop of a hat when touched by someone half their size can drive me insane. (Thankfully, many moms of sweet little girls are extremely understanding. Love them.)

Real discipline starts later than 16 mos. And I am a mom who is 'strict' by most standards. (Remember, I said 'no' to the 5 YO). There is no such thing as a 16-month old bully!!

Hm, your post didn't say anything about you disciplining your child when he hits others - you only shared how the kids don't seem to react to his hitting, even though some do cry - but you said ''briefly.''

It does sound like you are in a bit of denial about your kids behavior. It doesn't sound like he is mean spirited or out of control - but it DOES sound like he needs consequences and discipline.

EVERY time he hits another child, you should immediately tell him not to do it, apologize to the other child and give him a time out. Apologizing to the parent of the other kid doesn't make the kid who was hit feel any better. And if your son can't/won't apologize to the child, you should apologize for him, so that your kid sees you model appropriate behavior and the child who was hit feels better. Your kid will catch on.

But if you just let him continue negative behaviors and think just because he is ''young'' that it's ok, you'll have a handful to deal with when you wake up one day and realize your kid is a nasty teenager who won't listen to you or is not empathetic to others.

Even if other parents aren't doing that for your child when he is hit or pushed, it doesn't make your lack of intervention ok. And, if they do hit or push your child and the parent doesn't do something, say something, it's fine to tell that child it's not nice to hit or push others... take responsibility

I'm the mom of a girl who was the ''hittee'' as a toddler, and now a 16-month old boy who hits and whacks other kids from time to time. Same non-violent household - different personalities. You sound like a fantastic parent. Keep doing what you're doing. That other parent was totally overreacting and the staff handled it poorly. Write the director a letter stating your disappointment. Your son will eventually move past the hitting stage. Mom of two great kids

Calling a one year-old a bully is insane. There is no such thing. Your methods are fine. Always tell the child 'no' firmly and then remove him from the situation (i.e., redirect the child or distract him). Don't let this weird mom who labels your child inappropriately get you down. Anon

Your 16 month old is NOT a bully. He's 16 months old! They hit, they bite - they don't speak english therefore they don't know the rules. I started with rules and discipline around 18 months. Prior to that it was redirection. The toddler group leader is a moron. My son did all that stuff, and he's now a very sweet and respectful nearly 5 year old. He's certainly an alpha male, but he loves playing with little girls and is genuinely nice most of the time. He knows when he can play rough, and knows when to tone it down for the little kids and the ladies. I used regular time outs, consequences and removal of privileges/toys if he showed bully behavior, and I can honestly say he's a great kid. Today he told me that the assertive girl in his class is his favorite friend. One thing that I think is important is I give him an outlet for his aggressive tendencies - swords, blasters (star wars guns), and superheros all figure in his play and are welcome in our home. Mom of a strong boy

My daughter exhibits similar behavior. When she's excited about something or someone, she immediately hits, usually in the face unfortunately...but never hits when she's upset or mad. It sounds to me like you're handling the situation as best as you can. My only suggestion is to actually show your child what he should do instead of hitting. With my daughter, I try to get her to give a hug instead. She's almost 18 months now, and I think she's finally getting the picture. Your child is NOT a bully and you know that. It's a shame that this situation was treated as it was, but just remember that every parent is different and we all overreact about things. I know it's hard not to take it personally. Just keep doing what you're doing... anon

first off, I've been in your shoes but your son is not an infant, he is a toddler. and unfortunately some toddlers hit (bite, pull hair, push...). My son was also a hitter (he is 3 and a half now). It sucked. I am not sure if I could have done more to change things -- as he got older I would remove him so he knew if we were doing something he liked -- like going to the park with his friends -- and he did something, we'd leave immediately. Luckily most of the kids we interacted with were ok but it was not always ok and sometimes I would be in tears. And some kids have huge reactions - some don't. I don't think its appropriate for the teacher to talk with you in front of the other parents but I was constantly seeking advice from any ''teacher'' figure in our lives when my son was 18 mths - 2+ yrs. And no, you can't always catch it before it happens. But I really came to know what times/situations/other kids would set him off and got much better at ending things, moving on, etc before that happened. And unless you have had a kid that hits (bites, pulls hair, pushes) you have *no* idea what its like to be on that side of things - hence the less than understanding parents. good luck

How embarrassing and awful. Two suggestions. Amazon can quickly mail you a wonderful boardbook for toddlers called Hands Are Not For Hitting. I doubt your toddler is a bully, but he does need help to learn to stop hitting. The situation you are in and the accompanying humiliation are something else. May I suggest that you approach the teacher the way you wish you had been approached, and tell her that you wish she had told you in private, as it was humiliating for you. Consider telling the terrified mother (who perhaps has not returned) that you recognize that your son, like all toddlers, needs help to contain himself and that you are working on it. If you are able to get to the point where you can be clear and non-defensive in your communications, you will salvage whatever reputation you may potentially have lost. However, I doubt that the mothers who know you and your child have misconstrued the situation. Another mother

Hitting is normal toddler behavior, it sounds like your actions have been very appropriate. Continuing to monitor your child, encouraging gentleness, and redirection are really all you can do. Based on your version of events, the other parent is totally overreacting. I would not let the accusation upset you. anon

You are right. 16 months is WAY too young to be labeled a ''bully''! I've seen kids display bullying behavior as young as 3, but at 16 months they're in such a totally different developmental phase! Redirecting his behavior, staying close and guiding him when necessary, trying to avert these instances before they happen.... that's what you can do.

I would say get yourself out of that enrichment program. The teacher and the director both displayed extremely unprofessional behavior. I would never stand for that.

Don't worry. Most likely in a couple month your child won't be doing this anymore (but he'll probably have a new and equally baffling new behavior ;) MomOf2

I have 3 & 5 year old girls and we are working on the concept of the power of words (tattling, stupid, etc). Bully is a VERY powerful word. I work in childcare and have seen a huge range of children and behaviors and have never actually used the word 'bully' describe a child. I am not saying that they don't exist. I just haven't had the opportunity to work with one (I see plenty of frustration and its outcomes, but I have never seen bullying. The age group that I work with is 0 to 5). Bully doesn't sound like it applies to your son at all. He sounds quite normal.

I do understand the frustration of the other parent. It is horrifying to see your sub-2 child hit by another child just as it is mortifying to see your sub-2 child hit another child. I remember thinking every awful thought in the book about another child at the playground who hit my then-18-month-old. The shoe was on the other foot a year later. Kids react differently. I am fortunate not to have drama-queens in my household and am always shocked to encounter them, but I do understand...the child was reacting more from surprise than hurt. But, it is withing her right. The Mom will reign that in at some point.

Regarding the preschool...I am not surprised that the director didn't say a thing to you. I frequently hear how horrible this child is or that child is...parents have no problem criticizing others parenting while breaking their arms patting themselves on the back for their successes...I ignore it. I see the children, spend time with the children (often more waking hours than the parents themselves do) and have a pretty good idea about how kids act and what is going on...just the other day I got to listen to some parent criticize the parenting of another and throw names at a child (acts like a baby, obviously no discipline in the home, etc) who is five and under my care. Whatever...I have no need to tell her that the child is autistic. I just told her that the kid is awesome and I love him very much and that each kid has her own bag of tricks. To your point. I never comment on another child (except positively) to another parent. So, I wouldn't expect the Director to comment. I am very surprised that the teacher did this to you in front of other kids and I would talk to her. Let her know your embarrassment and let her know that you felt it was unprofessional (she probably already knows...I have wanted to eat my words on the very rare occasion myself. We are all human.) If she defends her behavior then talk to the director. But, my guess is that she already knows that she said something stupid.

And, regarding the behavior sounds like you are on the ball and doing your best. Keep it up. Model, model, model. Remove from down periods as necessary. Do keep an eye on it...I just heard a story about a lovely 5-year-old who had integration issues. I never would have known that she used to be the 'hitter' on the playground from 18-months until 3. Turns out that she had space issues (and other things) that have been worked through with an occupational therapist. -anon

I do not believe your child is a bully at all. Our daughter hit when she was that age. It was usually mom or dad that she hit, not other kids, so a little different. I think at that age, the kids are so fully of emotions that they don't really know how to handle them. It's important not to correct aggression with aggression, so be gentle with him when you are telling him to be gentle. When our daughter would hit us, we would walk away from her after telling her that was not ok. She didn't like to be left alone So, I would think you may want to remove your son from the room when he hits, at least for a few minutes, just to let him know it's not ok. Another mom

Hi I am so sorry. I have to say, I am with you here. I have had the same reaction from someone who comes to my house for play dates (since recently have ended). I have a 20 mo. old and the same thing has occurred. My son too gets very excited about running with another child and when the child stops, he runs up and pushes to keep the game going. Well, inevidently pushes too hard and the other falls down and starts crying. I posted a while back and other parents exclaimed that they need to protect their children from being ''bullied''. Here are my two cents. I hardly feel that a 18-20 month old knows what they are doing. You have done the right thing, by being arms length, apologizing to the other child and removing your child. I ended my somewhat ''mommy friendship'' by ending the play dates. I am sorry you feel bad, I did also, but know that your son will grow out of this stage (which is normal). I understand the other mother, but she clearly has no idea how this could affect you. Again, she is probably protecting her own. I sought advice from a woman who deals with toddlers daily and she suggested to remove him from the enviorment and find a playdate who can handle the pushing/excitement stage in your son. Then when he is over the stage, go back to the class. Good luck and try not to worry too much. Everyone parents their own way. I just try to feel confident in my choices, seek out advice from others (like you are doing) and breathe. We will always have to deal with situations like this and there will always be someone who you can relate to. mother of a sweet child

My son at 14-16 months did the same thing, mostly to me and other kids he knew to get a reaction, to test. Like your son, he did it while playing, not as a defense, nor over toys, nor while crying or upset. The good news is, that behavior will stop. My son is now 18 months and hasn't acted that way for a while. It is inappropriate to label babies ''bullies'', although I know it is painful for a parent to hear. Try not to be disheartened by this and know that this time will pass. I think what you are doing to teach him is right on target. I did the same things you described and he has seemed to outgrow the behavior. A friend of mine's son was over recently and did the same thing to my son, but I didn't think of him as a bully. He is just a baby learning how to be social. understanding mom

I read the posts in response to your question and I wanted to add my two cents. I have my doctorate in child development and think that your problem is not uncommon at all (neither a young child hitting, nor it being handled poorly by staff). Yes, 16 months is TOO young to be labeled a bully. You are right, children do not have true empathy at this age. We see that empathy emerges in toddlerhood, but more from the perspective of the child (example: a toddler might see that someone is upset and offer her his favorite blanket -- this is sweet, but may not help the girl, still very important in his learning, though). At 16 months he has not even developed a sense of self. All of this being said, it is still important that he learn that it is not OK to hit.

Some parents offered good advice about removing your son from a situation when he does hit, though. It is absolutely important to start teaching him at this age that it is not OK to behave that way. You may also want to explain why (something to the effect of: you didn't like it when (insert child's name) hit you, (insert child's name) doesn't like it when you hit her, either). He may not get this concept yet, and he won't internalize it for awhile, but at least he gets used to hearing it.

Hope this helps. Keep up your vigilance when he is playing and ask his teachers to be consistent with your method, as well. Melissa

NO child should be labeled a bully. But here is an excellent opportunity to teach your son better ways to interact when he is happy and excited. (And it sounds like his playmates who knock children down and snatch toys could also use some help!) I would love to do a workshop customized for the needs and interests of your group's staff and parents: Here are a few ideas to work on.

1. (Most important) look at what happens just before and after hitting and try to figure out if he is trying to get the child's attention, play with the child's toy, get adult's attention. And did he succeed?

2. Instead of reproving your son, model empathy: Turn first to the other child and briefly comfort her saying words like ''I'm so sorry. You don't like hitting.'' Afterward turn to your son: ''You didn't want to make her cry. Can you pat her hand gently to make her feel better?'' (Guide him. Praise him as he tries to follow even if the other child isn't comforted.)

3. Teach a different strategy. Describe what you think he wanted to achieve, e.g. ''you wanted to play, too.'' Model what your son could have done, like clapping, or saying, ''hi!: or holding out a hand and saying ''please,'' or offering the other child a toy. (If the other child does not respond, say ''You tried. Let's see what you and I can do instead'' and model how to join a different child's play.

4. Spend more time with your child in the play group, anticipating problems and modeling better solutions. Don't take over play, just assist in what they initiate.

5. At home create similar situations and make a game out of them: Enter the room with a big ''Hi!'' When happy, clap. In play,''your turn, my turn.'' When frustrated, ''What else can we do?''

6. Finally, be on the lookout for nice behavior, clap, and DESCRIBE and COPY what he is doing right. What your son has is mistaken behavior, not misbehavior. Good luck with teaching him more successful strategies. I'd love to hear from you. Pearl

My 19-month-old is being bullied at the playground

Sept 2008

My son is 19 mos & has a language delay + some issues with eye contact. My Mominlaw says it is B/C he does not go to daycare and interact with children enuf. So, for several mos, I have taken him to the parks/ play areas to socialize. But, it goes awfully (esp. the less babylike he is)! He is hit/shoved/yelled at nearly every outing, usually more than once!!! We try so hard to prevent it too. My son has lost interest in the play structures & instead likes to sit and pour wood chips on himself, or hang at the edges now.

The bullying happens when someone takes an interest in my son's independent play and approaches (often there is no toy involved). I am always nearby and when they bully, I calmly ask the child something like ''are you wanting to play?'' This fixes the problem momentarily, However, often the child returns & more urgently ''punishes him''(shoving, hitting and shouting at my son). My son never resists.

Sadly, the other moms do nothing- or act like it's a ''sharing issue'' (like it's ok to hit if you havetrouble with sharing??). Thus it often happens more than once in a visit. Last week my son was sitting in a toy boat when a boy climbed in & sat beside him. Plenty of room for both. I hoped for sharing glances, but the child suddenly grabbed my son by his shirt & pushed him down into the foot area & hit him. The other toddler's mom came over & lifted her child up, which set off a kicking fit, & the child tried to grab my kid again in anger (didn't want to be removed from the boat) My son had done nothing but just sit quietly in the boat. In August, a 3 year old tried to shove my son, who was at my side, into a fountain!! My son had ignored the child's earlier advances/ no eye contact ..and so I think the kid was mad. I had to practically fight the kid to get my son out of the water.

I've tried hanging back, tried standing right there & chatting w/every child as they approach. But it just keeps happening and I don't know what to do. We are heart broken.

Worse... at the park today, I put my son in amongst a small group of kiddos and babies. For a while he sat still with a worried look on his face, and then suddenly became excited & ran over and swung at a baby and was almost giddy dancing as he tried to stomp her!!!

What should I do? I would love to have anyone's input, but espec. any input from ASD mommies with regard to bullying lola

My son was the same way at that age (now dx'ed w/autism) but I don't know what kind of parks you're going to, we didn't have quite as many encounters as you have! That has to be really hard for you, I'm very sorry.

You might want to try finding one or two more mellow boys his age and set up some 1:1 playdates at your house, where you can guide the interaction and give your son a chance to ''practice'' his social interaction in a safe place. I put signs up in various parks around me (and a notice on BPN) and found some really really great playmates for him. Maybe also find a social skills playgroup with kids his age. The more he can practice in a safe setting, the better he'll be able to do it out in the ''real'' world. Hope that helps! Jill

My now 4-year old son (who was diagnosed as having ASD shortly before he turned 3) could say about 15 words at age 2. And he was really mellow -- kids could come up and take toys away from him and he didn't care, just walked away. It bugged me a lot but never bugged him. Then we had a second kid, 2 years younger, who engaged in lots of undesirable behaviors -- stealing toys, hitting, biting. Our older son finally started to react -- first by coming to us and now by saying ''it's not okay to whatever.'' This seems to have helped him a lot with his social skills because now he has lots of friends in his preschool whereas last year he didn't.

I think a lot of parents take their kids to the park and then check out. I've had kids push my kids off slides, hit, steal toys, etc. and (some) other parents just don't care. So I am vigilant. When another kid approaches your kid, you might want to go one step farther in engaging them in play. Instead of asking ''Are you wanting to play?'' you could ask ''Do you want to pour woodchips into a pile too?'' to help them get started.

I think you are ascribing too much thought to other toddlers. I really doubt they are targeting your kid because of some slight that occurred earlier in your outing. Little kids don't always know (or remember or care) good ways to interact. Also, kids engage in parallel play until they are ~3 years old. Instead of going to parks/on outings, you might want to join a mother's club or a co-op so he sees the same kids each time.

Incidentally, I no longer think my son has ASD. He talks like a champ, reads, is into imaginary play, and has lots of friends. I think he was just a late-bloomer and needed a little extra help and guidance in making friends. Anon

What about ASD daddies? If your son is diagnosed as being on the spectrum, are you getting any therapy? Respite care? I would get into the system now if you haven't already -- contact RCEB for more info. The scenarios you describe in which your son is minding his own business and some other kids comes over to physically abuse him are just plain weird -- so weird that frankly, I have a hard time believing them. Once or twice, MAYBE... but as a regular thing? Weird...

Your mother-in-law, by the way, is dead wrong if she is suggesting that your son has autism because he doesn't get enough social interaction. What should you do? Get in touch with the RCEB and a local ASD support group. You think you can do autism alone? Maybe, but it's going to be hard enough -- why make it harder? kevin

Poor kid. Try going to a different playground. Sounds like there are some unacceptable behaving children at your current playground. And stick to your child until he gets his confidence back. Don't even give the other kids a chance to approach him at this time. He needs to feel secure and protected by you before he can venture out on his own. And don't be afraid to speak up for your child in front of the other parents. If you child doesn't see you stand up for him, how is he to stand up for himself? Crystal

At 19 months, your child is still a baby and needs your constant protection and vigilance so be at his side and be kind but assertive with children who become aggressive. A little reading might help you be aware of what social expectations to have for young toddlers. Ask your pediatrician for advice or referral to resources that might help. anonymous

Where are you taking your child!? I certainly would never want to go there with my 20 month old! I wouldn't take the bullying personally - it sounds like you have had some horrible experiences, but I don't think it has anything to do with your son specifically... If you are in Berkeley, there are a few low key tot lots like at Terrace Park, or King Park that have fewer kids at any one time, and generally pretty hands on caregivers/parents, who would empathize, and not blow off hitting or kicking. I realize this wasn't the intention of your post, but you mentioned your MIL's ridiculous claim that your son's speech and eye contact issues stem from not interacting with children more. Please ignore her nagging and instead look into an ASD parents group where you can both get better information and tips as your son grows. mom to a toddler too

My one-year-old is being teased by kindergarteners

Nov 2005

Yesterday I was in the checkout line at the grocery store with my one year old and two boys about age five started teasing him because he was in a diaper without pants over the diaper. I'm sure my son didn't know exactly what was going on but he seemed a little perplexed by their jabbings (they were pointing at him and saying: ''look, he's naked and then they would laugh''). Their mother seemed oblivious to their antics and I was in the middle of checking out so I let it go. However, I felt myself becoming really angry at their behavior and I wondered how I would handle such a thing if it happened in a year or two or three when my son is old enough to be hurt by their words. I may be overly sensitive but I HATE teasing and I was a school administrator in a school where we had a no teasing, or meaness policy. Any advice? My thought in retrospect would have been to say to the boys in the moment to stop teasing my son as I don't tolerate teasing of any kind in my family. beth

Your post reminded me how huge the gulf is between parents of babies and toddlers and parents of school aged children. I remember that when my first child was one, older children seemed dangerous and monstrous to me. But I have to tell you, that from your description what you experienced was not teasing, nor was it malicious. The boys were not trying to get a reaction out of your baby, or to make him feel sad. They are five year old boys, and five year old boys find anything having to do with diapers, butts, poop, nakedness, penises, etc absolutely hillarious. So they saw your son's diaper and were laughing together. There was no malicious intent, and I'm sure there was no emotional trauma for your child. If your kid were older, and you thought his feelings were being hurt, you could say to the boys, ''Please don't make him feel bad about his diaper,'' or words to that effect. But in the meantime, I urge you to grow a thicker skin, and not encourage your child to feel victimized by the playfulness of other children. I find that school-aged boys are often characterized as mean or wild or vindictive when they are simply playing or talking happily, with no idea in the world that anyone is listening to them. When your son reaches this age, you will find yourself being horrified by how quick mothers of smaller children are to presume that he is scary and bad or mean, when he is just being his sweet little boy self. mother of boys

How Horrible! I would have said ''that's not very nice, he's just a baby''... which I have said before when my son would get baby toys taken away at a young age at the playground by 6, 7, 8 year olds. I don't care if it stunts his ability to ''stand up'' for himself... if this happens with even-age kids (ie, another young child takes something from him) no big deal, it's a social necessity. But older kids who should know better? Yeah, they need to be told that it's not nice, since their parent(s) dropped the ball on a potential life lesson opportunity. sarah

Personally, I have no problem requesting that other people's children treat my kids with respect ... especially when it's older ones being unkind to little ones. I am extremely polite, but I do address the kids directly, and it seems to make an impression (probably more of an impression coming from me than from their own mom).

Also, I would have no problem with someone else addressing my kids the same way if they were the ones causing the problem. But if you do run into a parent who objects, stand your ground. You have an obligation to protect your child, and as long as you are polite and reasonable, you are totally in the right. Sara

I'm sure the boys were not being mean, they were being silly. Furthermore they are not in your family - so you not tolerating it in your family is kind of irrelevant to them. None of us really has much control over what other people do, only how we deal with it. Telling the boys to stop their behavior because it makes you angry or have past issues is not going to prepare your son for handling teasing in the future. It will happen and you won't always be around to protect him from it. My recommnedation is to 1) Separate your issues from his 2) If it doesn't bother him, don't make it bother him by getting upset about it. 3) If it bothers him (now or in two years) handle it with humor so he can learn to handle it with humor.

I would have laughed and said to my son (if he had noticed) look at those silly boys, they must not remember when they wore diapers, then I would have smiled at the boys.

Children take their cues from us. When my son didn't know how to handle something, he'd look at me. For teasing and general sillyness I'd just roll my eyes and smile, then he'd roll his eyes and smile. learned the hard way

What an unpleasant experience! Based on your description, I think I would have gone for a mild reproof/correction of the two boys. Something simple and along the lines of ''Do you think your teasing could hurt the baby's feelings? It it too bad the mother was so clueless and insensitive as to not correct her own children. If you had said something to her, she probably would have gotten defensive. Best, Jan

Other parents letting their kids bully my 2-year-old

Sept 2005

Whenever I take my 2 year old son to the toy store or the playgound, other rude children will come up and snatch toys from him or try to bully him. My son has a calm and gentle temperament and doesn't seem to mind, but I often have to remove my son after awhile because some of these kids would just keep following him. I don't feel that it is fair for my son to give up his toys or space when the parents of these rude kids just sit there and watch their kids getting their way. What is the best way to handle this, should I speak nicely to the rude child or to the parent? Fed Up

Actually, this is an important life lesson for you and your child. I would not look outside of yourselves to resolve most problems. He really needs to learn how to hold his own in life because you will not be able to be there by his side forever. So use these opportunities to connect with YOUR child, giving him skills he can use to be fair to himself as well as others.

Make him practice, not only while in public, but by roleplaying with you at home. I know he's only 2yo, so keep it simple for now and keep working on it with him over time. Good luck.

Dear Fed Up, I could have written your posting. I too have a calm, laid-back 2.5-year-old boy who frequently gets communal toys snatched from him. Even babies crawl over and take his toys, and like yours, he doesn't seem to mind most of time. I don't know that I have much advice. I've tried talking nicely to parents -- one father on the playground told me that my son has to learn to be more agressive and should just snatch the toy back. I sometimes find another toy for the offender if my son is upset, and I've learned to say ''he's playing with that,'' and take the toy back if there is no parent around to intervene, but I'm not always comfortable doing that. I also try to remind myself that I seem to mind much more than my son does and that I may be projecting my own anxieties onto him. Yet I dread the encounters in the playground and toy store, and I too am tired of watching other kids bully mine. You are not alone. Anon

what about walking up to the ''bully'' with your child and encouraging him to politely ask for his toy back? it seems the example of good manners is needed my many. anon

First of all, try to check your judgment -- your mild-mannered angel will, at some point this year or next, start taking toys away from other kids. Maybe not as much as these horrible monsters you describe, but enough so that you are mortified. Second, if someone else isn't parenting their kid and their kid is bullying your kid, you get to step in. If a toy is getting grabbed from your child's, you can go over to the child and very firmly say, ''FiFi wasn't done with that, you can have a turn when she is.'' Or: ''No grabbing.'' Say it loud, and it may rouse the parent in charge out of his or her stupor. nelly

Hi, I also have a kind of meek toddler and I consider it my job to help the kids work things out. My rule of thumb is that if someone is holding a toy, it's theirs until they are done and put it down. I say this to the kids (mine and others). Sometimes I reflect to them (if they are looming) ''Hey, that ball sure looks interesting, but she is playing with it right now. You can play with it as soon as she's done.'' Sometimes I even offer to bring it to them as soon as it is free. JM

Our daughter was also very gentle at age 2 and the more aggressive kids certainly followed her around as well. Like your son, she didn't seem to mind when a toy was taken away either. What I began to do was to keep an eye out for kids that got close to her. When they got closer, I gently let them know that my daughter was playing with such-and-such toy and that they could have a turn when she was finished. It put the kids on alert that a.) I knew they were coming in for the 'grab' and b.) that I did not like that. It also (I hope) showed my daughter that it was not okay for other kids to take things from her and that it was okay to defend yourself. My guess is that the parents of these kids have the philosophy that the kids should work it out for themselves. I personally never agreed with that theory because kids in the 2-3 year old range seem to still be developing a concept of sharing. Anyway, our daughter is now a confident 5 year old and has a very good sense of fairness and sharing. Good Luck. - anon

The way I would deal withthat situation is how I would deal with it if I were still teaching kids and they were playing. I would try to keep it light hearted and give the other kid the benefit of the doubt that maybe he/she just doesn't know better. A quick ''Oh, he's still using that toy, but you can have a turn when he's done (if it's a community toy).'' or ''Oh, that's his special toy and he really likes to play with it.'' or something of that nature. I think it would create a bigger deal by addressing the parent over the issue unless there is a real problem going on where the other child is being mean with intent and/or someone could get hurt. It is irritating when this happens and the other parent isn't on top of it, but a ''friendly'' reminder to the offending child could be a way of letting both the child and the parent know in a non- confrontational manner that it is not okay. cb

I don't know how old your child is, but try and be careful with the language you are using - a child who takes something from another child is not being rude (as would be the case if it were two adults). Rather, that child is being a child. It is so normal, especially for toddlers, to take things from each other. They like the rise they get from other kids and adults, they are learning and testing boundaries, they are learning how to get along. Now, you can definitely step in and set boundaries - gently asking that child to please not take the toy your child is playing with. And if the child keeps doing it, ask the parent to please get involved so that it doesn't happen again. But try and approach that child and parent not as rude, but as normal. My daughter will burst into tears when another child takes something from her, and then a few minutes later will take something from another child. They don't have the reasoning ability to make a connection at that age. I try to encourage my daughter to share, to play together with the child who wants her toy or whose toy she wants - explaining that it can be a lot more fun to play together. Mom of a regular little toddler

I just responded to the first ''Other Parents...'' posting, so I figured I will balance with a response to you.

First, I would say that that your child should not have to be the target of bullying kids of parents that allow aggressive behavior. What I would do is say something like, ''Excuse me, my son was playing with that, so please don't take it.'' If you need to, gently remove the toy and say, ''Let's give it back to Ben, since he was already playing with it.'' I do believe it takes a village, and if you are doing it nicely (not an angry mama bear) both children will get something out of your intervention.

However, the other thing I would say (or ask) is, Are you being overly sensitive? You may feel that because your son is calm and gentle, he is a victim waiting to happen, and so are looking for every possible infraction on the part of other children. I would say that you also don't want to set yourself up for being your child's hovering saviour. Something to be in tune with is finding a way for kids to get along on their own, yet guiding them through it.

One thing I did want to call out is it also might be an appropriate way for your son to learn how to share. I was once in the sandbox at the Montclair playground and was floored when a grandma was standing guard over a cache of sand toys that she had brought for her child. Obviously, other children saw them all and wanted to play too, and she kept saying, ''Give that back, that belongs to Emma.'' I thought it was a pretty poor choice to bring those toys and not use it as an opportunity to teach her child to share. It would have been easy enough to say, '' Emma is playing with that now, if you want to wait a few minutes, you can have a turn.'' Everyone wins. Maybe this is something you could try.

I would not say anything to the other parent (people tend to get sensitive and turn defensive) unless the bully child is really hassling yours. Then, maybe I would say, ''It looks like your son is being a bit aggressive with mine. Could you help make sure he doesn't keep grabbing from my son? Thanks SO MUCH!'' If you do not act like the child is a problem, just acting in an inappropriate way, then your sincere words should go a long way. Elizabeth

As much as the parent who posted the previous question in the digest might hate to hear my advice, I'd suggest you speak nicely to the child. Some gentle guidance is what a preschooler needs. It's too bad other parents aren't doing this for their own kids. I spend alot of time redirecting my child in these situations as she hasn't learned sharing very well yet.

Along those lines, I don't think that two year old are capable of being rude, I think they're being two. Toy snatching is a pretty common activity at that age. I don't know that bullying is really what is happening either, as that implies some intent to be mean and hurtful. Most preschool age kids take what they want, end of story, until redirected by an adult. Now if these other kids are much older, there's a whole different problem, but I assume you're talking about kids of similar ages to yours. Mom of grabby three year old

I just wanted to second what one of the other responders said -- your mild-mannered 2 year old may, much to your surprise, one day turn into an aggressive 2.5 or 3 year old. You may not believe that now -- I don't think I would have either -- but that's definitely what happened with my son. When I first started taking him to playgrounds as a new walker at the age of 15 months, and up until about the age of 2, he was very mild- mannered and non-aggressive. Like your son, he didn't generally get all that upset when other (usually a bit older) kids snatched toys from him. I worried that he was so mild- mannered that people would be walking all over him later in life. Like you, I was annoyed at other parents for not correcting their child when they snatched things from him -- though, since my son wasn't upset, I generally just decided to let it go.

Just after his second birthday, all that started to change. He started objecting if other kids tried to grab something from him, and would sometimes push or hit them to keep them from doing so. That's bad enough, but he also became a toy-snatcher himself, and would shove or hit if the other child resisted. This behavior seemed to peak around 2.6, and is still an issue at 3.4 -- even though I *do* correct it.

And I'd like you to know that, at least for me, it has been way way WAY more difficult to deal with being the parent of the aggressor than being the parent of the child being aggressed upon. Not that it's easy to see other children mistreating your child, but at least you get to rejoice in what a wonderful, well-behaved child you have (while perhaps feeling a bit superior to the parents of the ill-mannered hooligans, who clearly are just not properly parenting their child!). It's far worse when you find your own child's behavior mortifying, but have been having difficulty stopping it. We continue to work on it, and I do think there's been some improvement lately, but let me tell you, it is absolutely exhausting mediating all the squabbles my son gets into. And I'll confess that, especially when he first started snatching things from other kids, I would sometimes look the other way if the other kid wasn't upset -- not so much out of indifference as from sheer exhaustion! I eventually decided that I have to correct the behavior all the time, even if the other child doesn't object, because otherwise I'm sending my son a mixed message, but let's just say I'm now much more sympathetic to other parents who don't always correct their child for this behavior.

So, I guess the main point of this post is to let you know what it's like to be on the other side of this problem -- I'm hoping this will help you to be less judgemental and more compassionate towards the other parents in this situation. For all you know, you may be in their shoes 6 months or a year from now -- and even if you're not, I think it's always a good idea to try to understand the other person's point of view. Diane

I wasn't going to respond to this topic until I saw the responses yesterday. Since it bugged me overnight (I know! Get a life!) I thought I should write in with another perspective.

The parents who let their kids ''bully'' your kid - if taking a toy away could really be called bullying - may just be more laid back parents than you, or possibly the kids could be at the park with thier nannies. Whatever the case, there are some of us, apparently few, who think kids need to develop their own negotiating skills. Kids of a certain age get toys taken away - mine did. Then they get older and they are the toy grabbers - mine did that too. The grabees don't seem to mind.

I think it's the parents who mind, and if that's not projecting, I don't know what is. Toddler play is not like adult interaction, where we'd be upset if we were reading Vogue and some other woman came up and grabbed it from us. Toddlers sort of grab and give up toys in a circular fashion, and that's just normal. As I read all these comments about how dang UPSET some moms get when their kids have toys taken away, and how they feel they need to jump to thier child's rescue, I wonder if these moms are going to attend elementary school with their kids to fight their battles for them. And I wonder if it would even BE a battle if the moms didn't make it one.

There's this competitive motherhood thing around here that I don't even get, so maybe I'm way off base. But I thought it might be helpful to hear from someone outside the choir. why I dread going to the park

First, I would like the parents of more aggressive children to realize that:

I am not judging your parenting. I am worried about my own. What do I do when your kid bites mine, or pushes him or grabs a toy and he bursts into tears? How many times do I say about your child, when mine looks at me, hurt and bewildered, ''he/she didn't mean it'' or ''he/she is having a rough day?'' And what do I do when my child becomes more introverted because he is always picked on?

I understand it is difficult to raise a ''spirited'' child. But as a parent of a child who is gentle and shy, I have put up with all kinds of comments about him ''not being socialized'' or ''still stuck on mommy'' or even ''slow to develop.'' Can you imagine how this made me feel about my own parenting skills? I understand you are embarrassed and exhausted by your child's behavior, but your defensive attitudes drive a wedge between us at a time when we need each other the most.

Secondly, for us, the solution was to stay away from the park and find a small preschool with children of similar tempermants. My son is now thriving and no longer shrinking once I limited his exposure to more aggressive children and their defensive parents. happy at last

Mainly I lurk here but one of the responses -- ''kids will be kids, if it bothers you, you're projecting'' really bothered me. Our kid doesn't stand up for himself. We have to work with him on this, just as parents whose kids assert themselves a little too much do. We have been advised by teachers to remove him from certain situations, even if he objects. Message: it is not acceptable to be treated this way.

Some situations, like when kids are pretty evenly matched, may indicate it's appropriate to let them work it out. Sometimes, especially when the kids were younger, I helped them find the right words/solution. But when one kid is always at the short end -- emotionally or physically -- I don't agree that they should work it out alone.

In fairness, how can I stop him, if he doesn't see me stop it directed at him? Teasing and exclusion are pretty normal developmentally. I've even heard people excuse exclusion of other children (''it's hard for children to expand the group in the midst of play''). How can we accept behavior that makes a child feel so bad? Why do we accept hurtful behavior so long as it's not physical?

This is less about shielding a child from even being exposed to such behavior as letting him know that it's not ok, even if it happens. anon

Our child is the bully at daycare

Help! I have just learned that our 18-month-old son is frequently unpleasantly aggressive with the other children at his home-based daycare. He has had a problem with biting in the past, but this apparently goes beyond that, and includes taking toys, pushing, trying to push other kids off of chairs, and ignoring his daycare provider when she remonstrates with him. She's had a lot of experience and is quite competent, but it's clear she finds his behavior difficult. The other three children are all girls, and range from 21 months to about 2 1/2. Despite the fact that they are all older and some are quite a lot bigger, he is very strong and is apparently more than able to hold his own physically. Some of the kids are starting to avoid him. I should point out that we have not really seen too much of this behavior ourselves, as it does not really manifest itself much at home. He is an only child and obviously we are at work while he's at daycare. He is fairly verbal for his age, and he seems to understand that the behavior is not acceptable, but it persists. My guess is that he learned some of this, at least, at his prior daycare, where the caregiver was simply not well-equipped to deal with active toddlers, and I am feeling concerned that so much of the burden of undoing the mistakes is falling on our current caregiver, since she is with him during the day when he is interacting with her other charges.

I would like to hear from parents who have had to cope with similar situations, especially regarding things they were able to do at home, or to ask the daycare provider to do, to help guide the child's behavior toward other kids at daycare. I am also very interested in any helpful books on this subject. I don't want him to be disliked, I want him to acquire an understanding of what appropriate treatment of others is, and, on a highly practical note, I don't want his behavior to cause his daycare provider to want him to leave. Any suggestions? Thank you.

My son is 2 yrs old and there is one other toddler at his daycare who is 4 months younger but he often hits my son. My day care provider say she scolds the other boy but he hits hard and sometimes makes my son cry. My son doesn't hit and I'm teaching my son to yell NO! when the boy hits him. My son will do this when we practice at home but when the boy hits him at daycare, I guess he forgets. My daycare provider has been reporting these incidences to me pretty often the last couple of weeks and I'm starting to get upset. I don't know if she's spoken to the other parent about it but she did say she's planning to terminate their contract in June for other reasons. I don't want the hitting to continue until then. Any suggestions on how to handle this? I don't want to teach my son to hit back because I feel he's too young to understand self defense vs. just plain hitting. Has anyone else experienced this?

We had a similar situation when my daughter was three, the other child was two. After the second time he scratched her (on the face) and the pre-school seemed unable to stop him from doing it, we gave her VERY specific instructions which included (but went beyond) shouting NO! I gave her permission -- in this situation, with this child, if she were threatened -- to stomp him hard on his foot and THEN go get the teacher.

NOW. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART! I went in to the teacher who had been unable to stop the scratching, and TOLD her exactly what my daughter would do, and when, and that we had told her to do it. The boy NEVER bothered her again. Our telling our daughter to be aggressive this once did not result in her being aggressive towards him or anyone else. It did make it clear to the teacher exactly how intent we were on not having her hurt again. We figured that even if we couldn't stop him hurting, we could stop him hurting her.

I should mention that this was not in an American preschool, and that the situation was complicated by the two children having no common language... but, NO! is pretty easy to understand with the right tone of voice. Good luck! I know this is not a very PC/Berkeley solution... but its better than putting up with this situation for 3 more months. Heather