‹‹ Return to all Child Growth & Development resources

5 signs of bullying behavior in the ECE classroom

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time set aside to recognize the risks of bullying and find ways to encourage positive behavior that includes and encourages everyone.  

Though bullying is often thought of as a problem for middle or high schools, this type of manipulative and harmful behavior can begin as early as age 3, which means it can also be found in the early childhood education classroom. 

As an early childhood teacher, bullying prevention is an important part of creating a safe and engaging learning environment for your students

Identifying bullying behavior
The first step in bullying prevention is identifying the behavior, ideally in its early stages. Some warning signs include the following: 

1. Frequent illness - fake or real
Does one of your students often complain of stomachaches or headaches? These conditions could be caused by the stress of being bullied.

While it is possible the student's illness may not actually be real, it could still indicate a potential problem. Kids might also fake an illness to try to go home so that they don't have to deal with their bullies.  

2. Uncharacteristically aggressive behavior
In the early childhood classroom, occasional shoves or hair-pulling aren't uncommon. However, repetitive aggressive behavior, especially if it's out of character for the student, could be a sign of a bigger problem. Though this student could be bullying others, he or she could just as easily be a victim who is acting out from frustration or fear.  

3. Lost or broken possessions
Children lose things. Jackets are left on the bus and favorite toys are forgotten on the playground. But if a student's possessions go missing often it may not be a result of his or her own forgetfulness - another student may be stealing, hiding or breaking these items. 

4. Sudden avoidance of social situations
Some children are naturally introverted and may prefer to spend some time on their own. However, if there is a student who avoids social situations, this could be a sign of bullying behavior.

5. Power imbalance during play time
When children engage in dramatic play, there are usually a variety of roles. One child may be the mom and another the child. This is all a normal part of playing. However, if one child is consistently assigning lesser roles to other kids, this could be a sign of a bigger bullying problem.

By familiarizing yourself with these signs, you'll have an easier time recognizing potential bullying situations early on, allowing you to intervene before they go too far.  

Sad, young boy sits with his face in his hands. Bullying in the early childhood classroom creates an unsafe learning environment for your students.

Preventing bullying in the classroom
Identifying the warning signs of bullying is just the first step. Prevention is the second step. Teachers can help prevent bullying behavior by fostering a culture of inclusion. When you see a student include others, reinforce that behavior by praising the child and encouraging others to do the same. 

You should also consider reading books about bullying in your classroom. Picture books are a good way to introduce the subject to your students and explain why the behavior is hurtful and unacceptable. Be sure to ask questions as you read, such as, "How do you think that made her feel?" or "How would you feel if someone treated you like that?"

And don't forget to model good behavior yourself. Be positive and avoid singling students out in front of the class for bad behavior. If there's an issue, pull the child aside privately and discuss the problem.  

To learn more about bullying prevention in the early childhood classroom, consider enrolling in ProSolutions Training's online class "Bullying Basics: Recognizing Bullying Behaviors and Risk Factors." This course is designed to help you explore the concept or action of bullying, risk factors for bullying, and strategies you can use to support children who are bullied. 

Course learning objectives include:

  • Defining bullying.
  • Learning the risk factors for children who bully others as well as those who are bullied themselves.

Once you've completed the course, you can obtain additional information on prevention strategies and dealing with bullying behaviors by checking out the second part of this series, titled "Strategies for Addressing and Preventing Bullying Behaviors."