My Kindergartener Is a BULLY! Help!!!

Updated on February 17, 2011
B.D. asks from San Diego, CA
16 answers

I have read numerous posts about bullying on here, but most are from the perspective of the victim. I am asking for help on how to handle the perpetrator, my son. He has had periodic discipline problems off and on since preschool, but it was always a day here, a day there. We thought we were attacking it head on, but it has resurfaced again and now it's getting worse/more frequent. My husband and I are extremely involved and are considered by our peers and children's teachers to be strict and very consistent parents. However, our youngest son is really throwing us all for a loop. In many ways, he is very sweet, kind, compassionate and thoughtful. But lately, he has been acting up in school. He picks on the quiet, shy, less intelligent children and it is absolutely mortifying to me. Thank goodness their parents are very kind and pro-active, rather than assuming the worst about my son. He is hanging around with boys that tend to get into trouble because he thinks that they are 'funny'. Even when he gets in trouble, he still thinks it's funny. He is not easily intimidated by adults, even when we get very stern, emphatic and forceful with him (not physically, but verbally). The extent of the physical contact is to put my hand on his chin and turn his face up to meet mine when he ignores me. We have tried taking away privilidges, making him write notes to those he has wronged (including students, teachers, and even the school principal), but the behaviour only improves for a few days before he reverts back to his naughty tendencies. By naughty, I mean things ranging from calling people 'poopy head' to pulling his friend's pants down during recess. He runs the gamut. Of course, we talk about making good choices and 'how would you feel if someone did that to you'...etc etc. He just isn't getting it. I feel like there is something he needs that I am not giving him. I just cannot figure this out. The next step I am going to try is to make a chart with 2 sides ~ "Good Decisions" and "Bad Decisions" where he can write down things everyday and see it in print. Do you think that would help? Oh, and here's some other background on him: He loves to help, or to feel helpful around the house. So, we give him special tasks to do such as picking vegetables from the garden, feeding the dog, etc. He takes pride in doing things like that so we try to give him lots of opportunities to do so. He likes to feel needed. We do our best to focus on the good, pointing out behaviours that we like to see, and why we like to see them (eg. "when you put your clothes away without me asking you, that makes me feel like you are helping me to keep our house cleaned up, and I really appreciate that!) I would welcome advice from parents who have children with similar behavior, or from teachers/childcare givers/therapists who have some insight into this type of behavior. Thank you!

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So What Happened?

Wow! THANK YOU everyone, for your kind, supportive and insightful suggestions and encouragement. I am already doing many of the things that were suggested but there are many more things that I see that I should be doing, or doing differently. And just to clarify, I definitely do NOT ascribe to the 'boys will be boys' mentality, don't worry! This behaviour is totally unacceptable to me, and to my husband. But I am happy to report that yesterday was a great day. The 'pants puller instigator' did it again and got suspended, but my son made the correct choice to not engage in the ac tivity, and even suggested to the boy "if you do that you know you will get in trouble". Small victory, but I feel like it gives me hope for the future. The list seems to be helping too, though it's only been a day. I need to get his teacher more involved, and his dad too. I will follow up on the links that were suggested as well. THANK YOU AGAIN!!!

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answers from Los Angeles on

We had a speaker come to out school regarding the topic of Bullying. Her name is Jodee Blanco. On her website she offers advice for parents. I thought her presentation was very informative. She had also written book on the topic.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Hi B. ~

I want to start off by saying that you sound like a wonderful mama & parent. And equally important, your son does not sound like a bully to me. What he sounds like is a very bright, energetic little person who, as you said, doesn't get it. I'm guessing that he loves to be silly and engage in playful tussling if he isn't being directed to do something in particular and perhaps has a mischievous streak but doesn't mean to be naughty. He probably wouldn't mind a bit if someone called him poopyhead or pulled his pants down.

All that said, teachers appreciate order and not all children are into that sort of play, so kids who tend toward that line of activity are expected to join the ranks. Being the mama of a little girl who loves to be silly & plays well with active boys, I've been around a lot of kids who sound just like your son. This may sound from left field, but I'm going to draw a comparison to toddlers & kindergartners to young border collie pups (I've had one of those who also had her play-dates). They are so exuberant & full of mischief and also loving, smart, want something to do.

You are very much on to something with the giving your son helpful jobs around the home. His teachers could give him responsibilities. I hope no one ever tells him he's bad for his behavior, because he most likely has no bad intent. As you say he needs to learn the difference in behavior choices. At his age, impulse control is not quite in gear yet. I have a friend with a son who is now in 3rd grade & has always had issues with his impulse control. This year his teacher is one of the most nervous & intolerant of frisky boys of all the teachers in the school & they are getting along great because mom & teacher do email check-ins and the boy & his teacher have a contract of some sort. I believe I saw one of your other responders mention something similar.

Other than that, I don't have a lot of suggestions. I haven't had to actively do anything to control my daughter's behavior at school & social situations because she tends toward mortal terror of being in trouble, by anyone except me for some reason. (That was meant as a humorous aside.) But I do have a some resources for you, in case you'd like to consult someone professional. All of them are incredibly loving, accepting of child behavior in any form, gentle correction if that's the right term, teacher/therapists. I highly recommend any or all of them. ~ Ruth Beaglehole, M.A. & Founder of Center for Non-Violent Parenting ~ Barbara Olinger, MSW, Director of Family Development ~ Marni Parsons, PCI Certified Parent Coach & Pre-School Co-Director

All the best to you & your family. You sound wonderful & on the right track!


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Just remember this one thing..."love is all that matters"

also "anger is just an immature way of asking for love"

this is all that comes to may be responding a little too stren with your child. stay connected with him, give him a piggy back ride.....know his soul and see that all the time.....i hope this helps a little. kids just wanna have fun. it sounds like he just wants to have fun, show him how to have compassionate and realize that we love everyone cause we are all one, maybe make playdates with those that he picks on....the separation is what makes him think making someone else feel bad is funny. the understanding of we are all conneted and one is one that my son is really starting to get(he is 5) i tell him anytime anyone is acting from a place of being mean its just because they need more be extra nice to that person...much love my friend! he will grow out of it!

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answers from Los Angeles on

B. D,

I am a teacher and have a degree in Child Development, if that helps. It seems there might be something missing from your description of your family but I could be wrong. It is difficult to give advise without knowing all that goes on at home and at school. But this is something that happens a lot at school and I would like to comment to attempt to help. Sometimes children are bullied in ways that parents don't realize, then the child re-enacts the bullying at school and everyone is confused. Relatives or caregivers see the bullying as making the child "tough" but the child does not understand the difference. If your son is being picked on in a loving way at is possible that he does not comprehend the difference between the loving way and bullying. He thinks it is funny to pull down the child's it possible that someone pulls his pants down in fun at home?? Adults don't always understand the comprehension level of a child. Children do not understand our jokes and when they are appropriate. help your son...find the reason he is acting the way that he is. After that...then reward him for good behavior as you are...the chart is a great not allow him to do the things that he enjoys (like helping out with the gardenig) if he makes a "Bad Decision" he should get the message if there is consistancy with these things. As long as he is not getting mixed messages with what is appropriate behavior.

I hope this is helpful!! I know I am "wordy" I feel strongly about this topic and I want to be specific...but sometimes that ends up being just too much!

A little about me: Mom of 2 girls 10 and 7 and a primary grade teacher.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My son was also the one who was always in trouble so I feel for you. He was at the end of 3rd grade before it stopped completely.

One question, does he act like this at home or elsewhere besides school?
If so, it really is a personality issue and you keep doing what you're doing, consistantly.

If not it is a situational issue and he is getting a payoff from it.

If it is situational then remove him from the situation. Bring him home for a week. If he can't behave properly then he just can't be there. Tell him that. Once he goes back to school he'll probably have slip ups again so just remind him. If he goes right back to it then it probably didn't work and I don't know what to tell you but if it isn't as frequent then he may just need reminders and missing a day here or there as reinforcement.
If his reward for the bad behaviour is coming from his friends he may decide they are not worth it and find better ones.
Good Luck


answers from Los Angeles on

He is young and still does not have many tools in his how-to-get-people-to-notice-me tool box. Try inviting kids over for play-dates so he builds deeper friendships with some of the kids. Also, do you have any live magic shows in the area? Take him to a magic show and afterward buy him some simple tricks that he can master and show off at school. This will give him a positive reason to be the center of attention. It's also great if you can volunteer in his classroom & make him feel more special, and school feel less remote. Best of luck!



answers from Los Angeles on

We're starting a behavioral contract with our sons k teacher. We picked two things to focus on: one kind of easy for him and one harder one. The teacher will explain it to him and ask him to draw a picture in two boxes on a piece of paper to reflect the actions requested. There are two more empty boxes next to the picture box. Twice a day the teacher will check in with our child to ask how he thinks he's doing on both issues. If they agree he's doing well, he'll get a smiley face in the box. If not, he'll get a sad face. Each day he'll bring the sheet home to us, so we can talk with him about it. Smiley faces will bring some kind of non-food, non-media reward (teacher suggested that each smiley face would allow him to put a treasure (bean/bead) into a caring bowl, when the caring bowl is full we'd do something fun as a family that our son has requested in advance.

The only other advice I have it to try to look past the behavior itself and look at the intentions/feelings behind the behavior. Our son was jumping on folks a lot until we figured out that it was just his way of initiating play. So we told him he could throw imaginary fireballs instead of jumping and it works perfectly.

Wishing you all the best! You'll get through it. It sounds like your heart is in the right place.



answers from Los Angeles on

have you tried rewarding him for everyday you dont heaara negitive things about him of cuours punishment for bad good luck A. no.. hill



answers from Los Angeles on

Looks like you got plenty of "soft" advice (from women), and most of it was good. For starters, what Melissa and Barbilee said. But Mary O was so completely wrong, in my humble opinion. ;-)

The whole "gifted/high energy/boys will be boys" attitude is what allows this kind of behavior to continue. It is unchecked, because people think it is OK, or they just don't want THEIR child to be considered a bully, even if he obviously is. I'm glad you see you really must do something about it. Trying different methods is OK, but you must be consistent in their application, and escalate if necessary (if the nice methods don't work). I'd include spanking, espeically for a kindergartener. He is at the perfect age for that to work. If he thinks it is funny that Mom discipline him, then it should be Dad. He will get the message, believe me. The point is that you and your husband must be determined to correct his behaviour. Letting is slide is bound to bring further problems for you, for teachers and other kids, and ultimately, for your son.

Good luck, and stay strong. This kind of thing happens all the time, but parents that are concerned and truly 'act like the parents' do fine.



answers from Honolulu on


I can relate completely to your post. In kindergarten, my daughter scratched a girl daily for three days, until the girl finally told her parents who was doing it. For three days, she suffered in silence and wouldn't tell who did it. There was no reason behind it, except my daughter figured out she could get away with it. I was mortified. The kindergarten separated the girls and told them they were "allergic" to each other for one month and after that month, they were supervised to make sure they could play together nicely. They missed each other terribly, but the staff was very consistent, saying that they needed a break because they hadn't played together in an acceptable way. It worked and once they were allowed to play together again, they did fairly well.
That wasn't the end of my daughter's "bullying", so we've faced the frustration, humiliation, and embaressment you are feeling. We have been consistent and have a large list of both punishments and rewards. One time, we even pulled every toy, game, stuffed animal, etc. out of her room and she could earn one thing back with each day of good behavior, but we'd take away two things she had earned if she had a bad day. It was successful in the beginning, but once she had a decent supply of her toys back, it was less successful. She never really earned everything back.
When she was six, she had some really bad behavior, so we told her she would have to sleep in the dark - no nightlight and her door closed. She was scared and it got her attention, but that was sort of a last resort. The school was even considering not letting her return. I hated using that one, but it worked.
As she's gotten older, the incidents are less, but now when they happen, they are bigger - hit someone, stole something, lied, tried to choke a bigger boy. We make her write 100 times - I will not _____________. Fill in the blank for what the offense was. We take away privileges and let her decide how long it will take her to write the 100. If it takes 3 days, then it's no games, no TV, etc. for those three days. It becomes her responsibility to write the sentences and to reflect on what she's done and why it's wrong. If she does the same offense, she has to write it 125 times. She is older than your son, so that punishment will have to wait, but it helps her reflect and she practices her handwriting at the same time.
I feel for you. Everytime I send her to a new program (summer, intersession, etc.), I worry what new stunt she will pull. She too has a wonderful caring soft side, but the dark side is still there. Keep being consistent and try to really praise the good behaviors. Hang in there.



answers from Los Angeles on

My first suggestion is to take away the label. Your son is not a bully. He sounds like he is a high energy, bright five year old, with a love of fun. My gifted boy was the considered the class clown during 1st through 3rd grade.
He had the same teacher at a wonderful Charter School, who enjoyed him, and knew how to channel his humor. I brought him joke books and played silly games wih him at home.

I was helped by attending workshops at the Center for Non- Volient Parenting in Los Angeles and reading books on the topics of Unconditional Parenting and Gifted Kids.

Single mom of a ten year old boy



answers from Las Vegas on

I am in no way a person to give you advice as my children are younger than your son but I wanted to tell you to hang in there, I find it wonderful that you love your son so much to understand how important it is that this behavior be changed. As i was reading your post I was trying to think of things that i would do if I was in your situation and I keep thinking about service. Maybe if you try taking time with him where you and your family do service projects for others. It could be as simple as making little greeting cards for the elderly who live in facilities and then taking the cards to them. You could show him how to love others that way. I'm at a lost for much other ideas but I hope this helps. Good luck.



answers from Los Angeles on

B., I have years of experience as a family wellness coach and, well, I will tell you what I know.

Bullying needs to be stopped. Yes "kids will be kids", but bullying is not acceptable. Bullying may be a sign of frustration or a way of getting attention.

So what do you do?

1. Each time he behaves in a way you find unacceptable, you stop whatever it is that you are doing and you get his attention. Get down to his level and say, "we do not XXXXX in this family. Are you part of this family?" (wait for an answer) then say "good, remember we don't XXXXX in this family, we ________ in this family". DO THIS EVERY TIME. Acknowledging/rewarding the bad behavior may just be what we wants. You are already catching him being good, that is great. But you do have to acknowledge the unacceptable behaviour. You will have to repeat this over and over again, but it will stick. Your teacher will have to do the same (she should be anyway…but that is another story)

2. Be consistent. If you "let it go" once, he will be affirmed that he can "get away with it" again. The more consistent you are the sooner it will stick.

3. Get your family and school on board. Anyone who says "boys will be boys" will undo all that you have done.

This consistency works for all challenges. Tell your children what you want, don’t make them guess.
stay close to mom when crossing the street
hold my hand in the parking lot
eat your veggies
play nice with your sister/friend
sleep well
make good choices
respect your toys, etc
you will get exactly that...

Try this little experiment with your kids.
Say to them
Now ask, “what did you just do?”
Right they thought of a pink elephant.

Now try this: THINK OF A BLUE DOG. What did they do? Right. They did exactly what you said… BOTH TIMES.

Now say this, “play nice with the other kids”. What do you think they will do?
It is that easy. But it MUST BE CONSISTENT.

If you don't teach him...yes daily...he will remain challenged.

And if you think KIDS don’t need to be reminded daily, just take a drive and count how many speed limit signs there are on the road, how many stop signs there many traffic lights there are. We all need constant reminders of the behaviour that is appropriate to our leading healthy productive lives.

Focus on what you want and you will get it.

Family Wellness Coach



answers from Los Angeles on

Hi B.,
I can feel your frustration as well as anxiety at not knowing what the day, or afternoon report will bring. With every behavior there is a pay-off, your son is getting strokes for his behavior whether negative or positive. Find out what the anticedent or precipitating behavior that triggers the desire for the anti-social act and try to head off the behavior before it happens. The positive reinforcement of the chart along with rewards (daily) for good behavior can help. Perhaps coordinate with the teacher to institute something similar that works for her and together there is a good chance at success.
Good luck,



answers from Columbia on

idk my theory with kids that are bullies is that either they're being abused/bullied themselves or that they're just plain spoiled and not getting enough discipline, and it doesn't seem like he's abused in this case, so all I can assume is that you guys aren't disciplining the kid enough. sorry not trying to take the view of the victim, but i've been bullied a lot all my life, basically for the same reason why your son picks on kids, for being shy, quiet, and having trouble in school. its horrilbe and all i can hope is that by now he's gotten better by now and not worse



answers from Los Angeles on

Not sure and this is a big STRETCH but does he have trouble with any activities like reading (if he can read yet) or writing or doing math (again, if he is doing any of these activities yet). I ask because my sister is going through the same thing, not with being a bully but being the class clown, hard to settle down, being spastic, etc. etc. They've been saying that he is ADHD and he's been taking meds for it but recently came to find out that he is dyslexic. Alot of kids that I knew of when growing up were either always hanging around the bad kids, making trouble or being the bully always ended up having some kind of learning disorder, ususally dyslexia. Again, I'm not a teacher or a psychologist or a health professional but it's probably good to explore all doorways...

I hope you find out what is going on no matter what.....

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