Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on ThePlayhouse.org. Ms. Anwar has graciously allowed us to repost it here.
Sadly, some children have witnessed cruelty in the home. Sensitive as they are, even toddlers can reenact what they’ve learned behind closed doors.
Your toddler will pick up all sorts of nuances from his new peer group at school or playgroup. He may mimic another child’s laughter or play, eating habits or dress sense. But if he mimics any signs of violence, you must intercede.
Speak openly with the other child’s caregiver (a teacher, for example). Describe your own child’s shift in behavior. Some children will embody the violence, and some will withdraw, intimidated. If you’re paying attention, you’ll clearly see the personality change in your child.
You likely already know the friends your child interacts with. You will be familiar with the names of the children he shares his day with; you will likely have met and know their parents. If your little one is intimidated, he may withhold the name of the bully, for fear the situation will escalate. He feels powerless. This is where a relationship with the bully’s caregiver is of the utmost importance.
Have a conversation, describing how your child is acting out and ask whether the caregiver has noticed the same shift in behavior. The caregiver has a responsibility to address the abuse with the parent of the violator. There should be no need for you to personally address the parent unless the caregiver is ineffectual.
Discussing parenting with other parents is a very sensitive matter. We take tremendous pride in how we raise our children and do not welcome criticism or outside advice (an archaic ego strategy to protect our clan). Trust in the caregiver to resolve the issue and be patient.
Have a quiet conversation with your child, express your concern. Assure him that you see that something is not right and that you are going to protect him and resolve the issue. “My Love, you seem so quiet, and maybe a little sad. Why are you so quiet and sad?”
Or if they’ve gotten physical: “You used your body to hurt me. Did somebody hurt you like that? When you punch me with your fist, I feel hurt and sad. Do you feel hurt and sad when someone punches you with their fist?”
Listen to their response – even if it is without words. It may take a while for him to express himself, but open up the conversation in a natural, stress- free, loving way, so he feels safe.
If you’re the parent of the child who is bullying, then look closely at the family dynamic in your home and seek guidance from a competent professional who can help you recreate a safe, peaceful environment. Prioritize the wellbeing of your child, and, of course, yourself. There are plenty of on-line resources to guide you back to sanity.
Apologize to the parents of the victim, and do so in front of your own child, who is suffering just as much. You might say, “I am so sorry that … hurt you. He has been hurt himself and we are working hard to fix the hurt and the problem, aren’t we?” Encourage your child to participate emotionally. “He won’t hurt you anymore because it is wrong and now, he knows it’s wrong. Let’s all work on a happy friendship…”
At a very young age, a child shouldn’t be forced to apologize. He likely doesn’t yet have any concept of articulating his remorse. Instead, you be the example of what mature reconciliation looks like. You be the change.
Here are some other helpful resources for kids of all ages who are bullying or being bullied.