How to Prevent Your Toddler From Becoming a Bully

How to Prevent Your Toddler From Becoming a Bully

Is your wee one picking on pals? How to nip a potential mean streak in the bud.


By Marisa Torrieri Bloom

About the time my toddler turned 2, he started becoming more territorial over his toys. “It’s MINE!” he’d scream during more than one summer playdate, sometimes following the scream with a push. “No baby,” he’d said on one or two other occasions, shoving his poor little infant brother away from his beloved train set.

I figured this was just the beginning of the Terrible Twos.

But when my day care called me the other day to tell me he’d been put into another room for hitting his friend (who happens to have a bit of a crush on him), I had a mini mom freakout. Was my little man, the precious boy I doted on so lovingly, turning into a big bully? And if so, what could I do to stop him?

Family therapist Stacy Haynes of Turnersville, New Jersey, hears about these fears all the time. The good news, she says, is that my toddler’s behavior is normal (whew!). Even better, there are things parents like me can start doing NOW to stop a little one’s potential bully from coming out by kindergarten. Here are her three best tips.

1. Take accountability. Want your kid to play nicely with others? Good behavior starts at home. “Kids are watching us, even from infancy,” says Haynes. “They’re watching how we manage frustration.” For that reason, consider how you choose to discipline. For instance, if you spank, what your child is thinking when he hits another child is ,‘If I hit them, it will change, because that’s what my parents do to me,’ according to Haynes.

“The emotionality of your home is key,” she says. “Look at your environment and ask yourself, ‘What can I do to help raise a calmer child?’ Ask yourself, ‘When I get angry, how do I react? Do I yell? Throw a tantrum?’”

2. Show them how to behave. Taking a proactive approach to ward off tantrums or bad situations is best for children under 4 (and over 4, for that matter). Although some kids are easygoing and laidback, others have a difficult temperament. Haynes says reviewing appropriate social skills before a playdate or outing is one proven way to increase the likelihood that your tiny one will get along with his playmate.

“Say something like, ‘OK, we’re going to play with Johnny. What are we going to do?’” she suggests. “You want to continually reinforce positive behavior.” Another way to do this is by demonstrating behaviors such as patting on the head or hugs.

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3. Tuck positive messages into everyday activities. Storytime offers a great opportunity for you to bond with your little one. And if your 2- or 3-year-old is having mean outbursts, or hitting his little brother or sister when he gets upset, it’s also an opportunity to relay a positive message about anger management. “Reading books about handling anger and dealing with negative feelings -- and there are several children’s books like this -- is great, because every day we have to reinforce behavior,” says Haynes. Even if your tot doesn’t get it immediately, reading these kinds of stories over and over can contribute to a child developing better social skills as he nears kindergarten, she says.

Is your toddler acting like a bully? How are you dealing with it?


Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a freelance writer and guitar teacher who lives with her husband and two young sons in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Image ©iStock.com/Juanmonino


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