What to Do When Your Child Is Being a Playground Bully

What to Do When Your Child Is Being a Playground Bully

It could be a parent’s most embarrassing nightmare: it’s a lovely afternoon and you and your child(ren) are at the playground having a wonderful time when, suddenly, your little one is not-kind in some way to someone else’s child. How do you handle this?

Parents with whom I have spoken admit to being embarrassed and defensive. They said they would quickly apologize to the other parent and then make excuses for their child’s behavior. Some have admitted to over-reacting to their own child for the negative behavior, and others confessed to ignoring the other parent and child because they simply did not know what to do.

As I stated last week, we need to remain close-by our children at the playground, especially when our children are very little. My advice is to expect that anything can happen in a social setting. Use these uncomfortable situations as learning and bonding experiences with your child. By gently correcting (not embarrassing) them and giving positive choices to solving the behavior, you will build trust and teach them appropriate social behaviors. You will also be instructing them about impulse control, self-sufficiency and problem solving, just to name a few positive takeaways.

Here is a situation that recently happened to me and my children at the playground. Two boys, around the age of my children, began bullying my children. I stayed back to watch as my son stood-up for himself and his sister. With fists on hips, he told the boys that they were not acting like friends. The two boys were pretending to be super heroes and not allowing Walter and Bella to play near them. Walter then turned to his sister, who was frozen in fear. He cupped her face with his hands and said, “Are you okay sister?” Then she began to cry. He then turned and said to the boys, “Bella is upset, stop!” The one of the boys smiled and continued to block them. Here is where I stepped in and said, “Excuse me boys. You can see that she is upset. You need to stop blocking them.” One little boy ignored me. The other boy, I could see by his expression, was troubled that he was responsible for Bella’s crying. I told my children, “This little boy is not listening to you and is continuing to not play nice. Let’s go to the other side of the playground.” As we were walking away, the little bully began to follow and tease Bella. I turned and growled in my mother bear voice, “Go away! What you are doing is terrible. You may not be near us.” He and his friend did stay back but continued stalking us from a distance, throwing their spider webs our way. Where, do you ask, were the caretakers of the boys? They were sitting and talking to one another, oblivious to all of this, on the other side of the playground.

I asked Walter and Bella how they felt. Walter excitedly recanted the whole story. Bella said she was scared. I told Walter that I was impressed with how he stood-up for himself and his sister. I then told Bella that is was okay to be scared but to always protect herself by saying “Stop” to the bullies or walking away from them. If that does not work you need to go and get help from an adult in charge. I then added that it was important to always stand-up for one another. Bella seemed to relax but Walter was still worked-up.

As they played, I kept a close eye on all of them. Within a few minutes I was on the other end of the bully spectrum. I think Walter was so affected by the bullying, by having to defend himself and his sister that he decided to test out the bullying role.

A little boy and girl walked by them and Walter started to shoot out his own spider web and yell, “Go away.” I quickly swooped in and explained that this was unacceptable behavior. I said, “Do you see their faces, how you have made them feel? Do you remember how you felt when that was done to you? Walter said, “Sad.” Bella said, “Frightened.” I said, “Right, we do not play that way. We can ask if they would like to play and then you explain the rules of the game. Then, wait for them to tell you yes or no.” That is exactly what happened and I was soon watching four little children happily playing Super Hero.

(Editor’s Note: The opinions are not medical advice. Always consult your pediatrician about any changes you are contemplating.)

*All names have been changed to protect identity.