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My son (4 1/2) attends a pre-school that we all like very much.

He's in a class of kids ranging from 3 to 5. He generally prefers to socialize with the older children. In this particular class, there are 5 boys who are roughly his age or a bit older. Two of those boys are very close with my son, and they all play very well together. My son gets along pretty well with one of the three remaining boys, but he's a bit too high strung for my son's tastes, so they don't play together too often. One of the remaining 2 we don't hear about very often.

Which leaves the last older boy, which is the root of the problem.

This boy (we'll call him "Cain"), clearly has some problems.

We first became aware of this when my son complained to us after school that he was upset because Cain pretended to urinate on him, and called him "dumb".

That incident was repeated about a week later, and we started to get reports from both my son and his teachers that Cain was involved in some incidents that resulted in Cain hitting my son.

Each time the teachers seemed to have responded appropriately.

We've had conversations with the mothers of the two boys my son is closest to, and they both shared that they had had reports of similar incidents between Cain and their sons.

We made the teacher aware of our concerns, and she responded by separating Cain and my son into different groups during the day.

However, they still all have outside play together, and Cain frequently wants to play with my son and his two friends. We've told our son that he should tell Cain that he doesn't want to play with him, because he isn't nice and he hits, but that's hard for my son, both because he likes to play with other kids, and because sometimes when he's playing with the other two boys, Cain joins in, and my son doesn't want to leave his friends just because Cain arrived (and nor do we want him to learn to deal with situations like this by constantly avoiding the situation).

All of this has built up to the situation we were told about late last week.

Apparently, the boys were playing outside, and Cain hit my son, and then reached down and grabbed my son's penis through his pants, and pinched it hard.

Teachers intervened quickly. Cain claimed that my son was chasing him, and that Cain had told my son to stop, but none of the teachers believe Cain's story (it seems like one or more of the teachers witnessed at least part of the situation).

The head teacher told us that Cain's parents were going to be notified, and asked to sit in class for a day to observe Cain's behavior. Furthermore, the school director was notified.

However, my son is very upset (rightfully so!). He's talked about Cain leaving school, but he's also talked about leaving school himself so that he doesn't have to see Cain.

Again, we don't want to teach my son that running away is a valid way to solve all difficulties (although running away is sometimes the correct response).

While we give the school a chance to resolve this problem, what should we do to help my son keep from being bullied by this child? I want him to feel comfortable defending himself in whatever fashion is most appropriate, but I also don't want to teach him that physical violence is a means of anything but defense.

7

This has to be one of the most painful parts of parenting.

It's good that the teachers are contacting you**; having Cain's parents sit in, though, while very important for Cain and his parents, is not much of an action plan. What are the school's written policies? All schools should have one in place; even in preschool. Ask to read it.

Bullying often starts in preschool, partly because of marked size differences, and partly because of it's the first social framework relatively independent of parental supervision. From one source:

Among children two to six years of age, bullying usually develops in a well-defined progression. For example, a young boy may begin by targeting and dominating a vulnerable peer [it's called social domination]... If the boy’s early examples of coercive behavior are ignored or remain unchecked, he is likely to increase their levels and/or increase the number of children he targets. Then, other children who observe his “success” and perceived power are likely to join in—dominating the same victims repeatedly or using similar tactics to target and dominate victims of their own. If these early forms of direct bullying are allowed to continue over several months, power hierarchies may form, with groups of dominant children regularly bullying others...

In the meantime, you can:

  • Familiarize yourself with the anti-bullying guidelines of other schools in your state, school district, or states with a progressive stance against bullying. That can prepare you for talks with teachers and administrators, and give you some reasonable basis on which to request particular actions if your son's school doesn't go far enough (at this stage, I'd say your son's school isn't going far enough. This kid deserves at least a denial of recess - playgrounds are a common site of bullying - if not a short suspension.)

  • Investigate bibliotherapy. This website has a list of books to read with your child (preschool and up) about bullying. There are other good lists on the internet, and maybe even in your library (You can ask if they have a librarian with training in bibliotherapy.)

  • Make sure your son has a good range of "feeling words" with which he can express himself to you and others. There are lots of lists on the internet; I would aim a bit above what is considered an "age appropriate" list. Encourage him to use them in all sorts of situations so that the focus isn't only on the bullying done at school.

  • Make sure your son doesn't internalize guilt for this; it's not his fault in any way, shape, or form. Discussing why young children bully others can help your son to avoid taking on any blame, and might even help him have a little bit of empathy for Cain (not permission to bully, but enough to understand it's not anything your son did.)

  • Provide your son with opportunities to play with his friends outside of school. It might make walking away (if necessary) easier if your son knows he'll have time with his friends outside of school. Get to know your children’s friends. Get to know the parents of your children’s friends. You can even discuss mutual strategies with them. (Some studies advocate that the child not walk away from the bully, but that a friend quickly notifies a teacher or an adult.)

At least one study advocated enrolling your child in martial arts, not so that they can use violence, but just to gain confidence in their own abilities of self-determination; also kids with confidence are less often the object of bullying.

You might check out blog sites, facebook pages and even apps for parents of kids who have been bullied.

In New Jersey, teachers must notify parents on the day of an incident, principals must be involved within one day of an event, and the inappropriate genital contact might be seen as a police matter, I kid you not.

Bibliotherapy: A Strategy to Help Students With Bullying
Using Bibliotherapy to Teach Problem Solving
THE EFFECT OF CLASSROOM BIBL IOTHERAPEUTIC INTERVENTION ON PERCEPTIONS OF BULLYING AMONG TEACHERS OF YOUNG CHILDREN AGED FOUR AND FIVE
Pennsylvania Bullying Prevention Toolkit
Eyes on Bullying: What Can You Do <- good resources listed in this, including the American Psychological Association’s Violence Prevention website


  • 2
    I agree that the school doesn't seem to be doing enough, nor doing it quick enough. With so many school districts having such a strict Zero Tolerance policy, I can't believe such aggressive behavior is not being more severely disciplined. +1 For not dwelling on that, because it's all I can focus on and it's not terribly helpful, and providing actionable advice. – user11394 Jun 26 '15 at 3:21
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Ouch. This is difficult.

First, the good points: you have the school on your side, they are responding appropriately, and it sounds like Cain is being progressed through a proper disciplinary sequence. You might ask the school about that: they should have a written policy.

I understand that you want to send the right messages to your son. I would suggest that your most important message here is that you deal with these matters by getting the authorities on your side, and that you have the right to insist that they do their job. Part of that job is keeping your son safe from abuse.

I would suggest talking to the school about your concerns. Are the school going to take steps to ensure that your son (and, for that matter, other pupils) are safe from Cain? For instance, could Cain be restricted to an area of the playground close to the supervising teacher?

I think you need to understand your son's relationship with these two friends better. Can your son's friends be enlisted to refuse to play with Cain? It sounds like this is at least part of the problem. Its odd that your son won't leave his friends when Cain arrives, but wants to leave the school with his friends in it. Leaving the group when Cain arrives isn't avoiding the situation, its making a statement. Maybe these friends will decide that Cain isn't as much fun to be with as your son, and vote with their feet. Or maybe they aren't very good friends, in which case your son needs to learn to be independent of them and not put up with abuse in the hope of gaining "friendship".

  • One or possibly both of his friends have had similar conversations with their parents about playing with Cain, but as 4 year olds, they have a hard time remembering that that's what they're supposed to do, particularly when they're in the middle of having a good time and Cain shows up. I don't think my son really wants to leave the school; it was merely him trying to come up with a solution. I know he'd be very sad to leave his friends. We'll definitely follow up with the school, to see what steps they're taking. It seems complete separation isn't likely to be an option, though. – user420 Jun 25 '15 at 18:45

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