How can an 18 month old be taught that bullying is not ok? He seems to like causing the trouble it brings upon him, and bullying, mean acts also seem to please him. He likes to sit on his younger cousin (my son), push him down, and steal his toys. His parents seem to be at a loss about it, and I don't really have any good suggestions to give. Thanks.

  • 2
    It's much more likely that it's not mean acts, but rather acts that provide a reaction. Mean acts have a very noticeable reaction - crying. At 18 months, the child probably isn't even fully aware that whatever it's assaulting has feelings - it just knows it reacts, and that's kind of fun.
    – corsiKa
    Jun 17, 2014 at 19:30

5 Answers 5


When you are talking about babies and toddlers, bullying is a lot simpler than it can be with older children. At this age, it's pretty much one of three scenarios:

  • Someone taught the child bullying behavior.

    If the child's parents encourage the behavior, it's unlikely you'll be able to un-teach it. Better to just stop spending time with that family. If it was something picked up at daycare, etc. and the child has been removed from the source, continue per below.

  • The child gets something he/she wants through bullying behavior.

  • The child doesn't grasp that the behavior is naughty.

    In either of these cases, normal behavior modification techniques (details below) are the answer. Children under two generally can't grok (I tried to find a source to link, but all the good studies seem to be paywalled) that others have feelings. A ten-year-old can look at the child they hurt and see the effect on that child. An 18-month-old likely isn't yet at the level of cognitive development to do that. If it gets them attention, or a toy the smaller child had, or a feeling of control, they will repeat the behavior over and over.

So, that leaves the question of how to fix it...

  1. Watch closely. Until the behavior has been ended, don't leave the little ones alone. Every time the behavior repeats without immediate consequence, it is reinforced. (By the same token, you can never let it go because it's "not that bad yet" etc. -- that teaches that the behavior is okay.)

  2. When the child does something inappropriate, the nearest adult should immediately pick him/her up and return anything he/she has taken to the other child. (Hint: if the smaller child is already hurt, you have probably waited too long.)

  3. In a firm, low voice, tell the child "No. We do not $whatever. That is naughty." And plunk him/her in time out, then walk away. Everyone should basically pretend the naughty kid isn't there. Even looking directly at him/her is attention that reinforces the behavior. 1.5 - 2 minutes is a good length of time-out for a child that young.

  4. Lavish attention on the younger child, make sure he/she is having fun without the bully (and more importantly, the bully learns that time-out is a not-fun place, and being out there is fun).

  5. When the time-out is over, the person who put the naughty child in time out should pick him/her up (make eye contact at eye level) and repeat what the child has done wrong, and have him/her apologize. If the child is not yet verbal, use the sign for "I'm sorry": the right fist circled over the heart one time. Demonstrate if this is new, but the child does not get out of time-out without an apology to the child he/she was bullying. (Hugs are good, too)

  6. Let the kids try playing together again, and if it's going well, make sure there is lots of positive attention for both.

This will take a while to work -- first, the 18mo has to grasp that the consequence is causally linked to the behavior; then he/she will test different behaviors to see which ones get a time-out; finally, he/she will experiment with not getting caught and/or test occasionally after the lesson is learned just to see if anything has changed.

You'll note that this is a little different than the normal time-out routine I recommend for older children (2+), in that there is no warning. This is because a lot of 18mo (I'd guess most of them) don't grasp punishments that are separated, even a little, from the behavior that prompts them. The no-warning approach is also good for 2yos that have trouble connecting it all, though almost all older 2yo kids and 3-and-ups will grasp it and should get warnings.


There is something that a teacher told us regarding the bullying between our toddler (3) and our infant (1 year). When the toddler does something to his baby sister that is not terrible but just not nice (like taking away a toy she is holding) you should talk to the toddler about how he hurt the offend-ed's feelings. Since the baby can not, they can't express their reaction with words.

It is important to try to explain to the toddler that his actions affected someone else in a wrong way. She stressed that small punishments (like timeouts or saying sorry) might not be effective because then kids might think that its OK to do the bad things as long as they say sorry afterward.

You will have to decide at what age you think the child would be ready to start "understanding", but you can always start talking about it early and eventually he/she will catch on. If the child is not exposed to many kids, it could be also that he just does not know yet how to share and "play-nice" with others. He could be just pushing and exploring his boundaries.


Usually bullying can be back referenced to bad parenting, or a bad experience the boy had.

Maybe the father treats the mother like that? Or it can be that he didn't get to much attention. Or not enough love, not enough care, not enough softness. It is very ease to neglect a child without even noticing that you neglect him.

It also can be that he is jealous. Children don't do things based on genes or because they thought out that. Especially not if they are so young. Everything and i mean everything that a child does comes from observation in this early stage. He must have seen it somewhere or experienced it, or he is expressing a bad feeling an uneasiness, something that he don't like but can't quit figure out what it is and can't express himself otherwise either.

Maybe he just wants some love some softness you must find that one out.

As to how to teach him to stop it? That's easy. TELL HIM TO STOP IT! :) And if he doesn't listen? Well there are a number of things:

  1. Carefully try to explain to him that what he is doing is wrong ( after you find out why he is doing it )
  2. That wont help of course because he is too young. So you have to give him a timeout. Don't punish him by showing him what he does is wrong by doing it to him. Or even hitting him or whatever. He wont understand it why you do it.

A timeout is a good thing. Let him sit on a chair for 3 minutes. If he tries to get up, set him back on. And so forth. You are the parent, you have to establish that.

So, i hope this could help you. I know you probably mostly thought about this too, so i hope someone more experienced can help more maybe.


  • 4
    I disagree that in an 18 month old bullying is bad parenting or bad experiences. More likely it's completely natural.
    – Paul Cline
    Jun 24, 2011 at 15:32

We've been trying to deal with this problem ourselves. My son is nearly 2 yr 10 months, my daughter is 11 months. She is fascinated with her older brother, but he wants nothing to do with her most of the time, so will shove her out of the way, knock her over, grab her toys away, or even hit her on the head. It's a major problem and we've been trying every trick.

A large part of it seems to be jealousy. He'll even admit this if questioned (but I wonder if he is just saying that because it's an answer that "works".)

We've mainly been following an approach such as the one suggested by Hannibal, but time outs don't seem to faze him much any more. Sometimes we require him to apologize, but I don't think he really understands the purpose of that so it tends to get ritualized; now we've been using it more as an optional thing he can do to lessen his punishment. We do a LOT of explaining about good manners vs. bad manners. We can get him to promise, promise promise not to touch or hit her, and then 2 minutes later: bonk! waah!

A couple days ago I tried something new. We got one of his stuffed animals and pretended that was his sister, and played at giving her bottles and soothing her when she cried. It gave a neutral way to talk about being nice vs. being mean. I voiced the baby cries, which was a nice change for me!

Since then we've noticed him being more empathetic to her. It's only been a few days so we'll see how it goes, but there's an increase in good big-brother actions like bringing her toys or pacifiers and reduction in bad behaviors. Just like with the doll, we have started giving him extra feedback about how his actions please or displease his sister. Hopefully the extra attention we're giving him when he does good things will be positive reinforcement.


The tricky part of the question is that you are not the parent of the bully, you are the parent of the one being bullied. Although you ask what can be done to stop the bully, you don't actually have the position to do this because most of the time you aren't with that child and you can't enforce consistency. Of course, the advice here is great for the parent of the bully.

You also have a challenge because the children are cousins, so you can't avoid contact until the behaviour improves (which I did with a bullying child and my son and it worked well, the two boys are great friends now). I would do what you can in that direction. Talk to the child's parents and say that you are concerned for your child (it may be embarrassing but they need to know). You could try agreeing to go away from each other when it happens (this may be difficult for your child but its probably better than being bullied)

In the end you can hope the behaviour will stop, but your focus needs to be on how you can protect and support your child if it doesn't

  • 1
    -1: oh yes you do have the position to act when the other child sits on your child. if someone is doing my son wrong then that automatically grants me the permission to iterfere. Especially if it's a relative; it's much easier to talk to his parents about a coordinated effort and reaction than it would be with strangers at the park. Jun 25, 2011 at 11:29
  • oh you have the right to act all right - its just that the advice given so far won't help stop it, since it relies on consistency, not just the bully getting response from people they see sometimes - its stuff parents have to do and do consistently
    – SarahM
    Jun 27, 2011 at 12:18

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