How should young children be disciplined in school?

I know there are no right answers here, but I ran into this dilemma while pondering my own memories of preschool, which was that groups of kids always singled out ‘weaker’ classmates to pick on, and that no disciplinary strategies seemed to stop them. Sorry, long OP coming up…

Imagine you are a preschool teacher, and you notice that a group of your students (let’s call them Jim, Bob, Sally, and Laura) have regularly been picking on other students (Harry and Ellen) who are small, shy, and somewhat socially awkward. Their actions include name-calling and a small amount of violence (throwing toys at Harry and Ellen and pulling their hair). Harry and Ellen’s response is to attempt to fight back, but eventually – because they are outnumbered and weak – to cry until you, the teacher, arrive.

What is the best course of action in this situation?

First of all, do you want the result to be that Jim, Bob, Sally, and Laura are rendered unable to pick on Harry and Ellen (somehow separating them from the rest of the group, or making sure that they are never near Harry or Ellen during activities), or do you want it to be that they learn to be polite and friendly to Harry and Ellen?

The biggest problem with the first is viability. You could take the extreme route and expel the four bullies from the preschool, but you would do this with the knowledge that they will go on to another school to torture other small children. This will also make their parents very unhappy. As for separating the students during activities, well, what can you really do about times like recess when students can freely mingle?

Learning to be polite – well, how do you teach that? You are not the children’s parent, and you serve only as a part-time model of behavior, at best. For all we know, these children’s parents are bullies themselves, in the adult world. Is it best to teach the children that behaving wrongly has immediate negative consequences (putting the bullies in ‘time out’, or even corporal punishment)? Is it best to focus your entire class on cooperation and the value of equal treatment for all (perhaps even with historical examples such as segregation)? Is it best to simply repeat lessons about courtesy (which probably bores students, but maybe you could use interesting teaching aids like television clips)?

The last solution I can think of is focusing not on the bullies but on Harry and Ellen, providing a safe space for them and keeping them separate from the other children, who make life hell for them. If you asked Harry and Ellen, who have small children’s brains, this is probably what they would want. Overall though, I think this would cause them some serious social difficulties in the future, as well as teaching them that they have the ‘right’ to be sheltered all their lives.

Is there a better solution than any of the ones I’ve thought of, or is one of my solutions just OK enough to work? IANAPreschoolTeacher, and if anyone who is or has studied child psychology has any thoughts, I’d love to hear them. Opinions from the rest of the world will be just as valued.

(And pardon my snark, but answers claiming that Harry and Ellen just need to grow a spine will be ignored. Not that I think any of you will respond in that way, but that seems to be what some of my teachers believed. :smack: )

They do have the right to be sheltered from having things thrown at them, or from someone inflicting unwanted bodily contact on them. If another adult threw things at me or pulled my hair, I could call in the legal authorities and have them charged with battery.

I can’t tell you what the right answer is, but I can tell you what the teachers at my son’s pre-school/daycare do. They put the bullies in timeout and speak with their parents if their behavior is a pattern.

I’ve never heard of a kid kicked out of my son’s pre-school, but I have seen the lead teacher in my son’s room take a couple to task because they absolutely failed to discipline their children, who would then hit, kick and scream at all the other kids.

Like you were saying, there’s no right answer. Each pre-school has different methods, each teacher has different methods and each kid has parents who might have different values or interests than others. I imagine that if there is a significant behavioral issue, it would be very difficult to correct that without the parents’ help. For younger kids especially, consistency is very important.

Edited to add that I think you’d lose the kids’ attention if you went into equal rights. Kids in pre-school, especially the younger ones (well, mine anyway), don’t understand equal rights. They’re just starting to develop a semblance of empathy and learning to share.

I’m sorry, I was having trouble figuring out how to word that part of the post. I do believe that the situation has to be changed but not that Harry and Ellen should be given a special place just for them where no one will bother them.

The two victims do have to grow spines. The world’s a tough place. That said, the bullies don’t get a free pass. This is why paddles were invented.

I recently read this excellent article from The New York Times about new programs to prevent bullying: “changing the culture of the school; through class discussions, parent meetings and consistent responses to every incident, the school must put out the message that bullying will not be tolerated.”

Also according to the article, this month the American Academy of Pediatrics will be putting out a new policy statement on bullying. We have long gotten past the “victims need to grow spines” mentality when it comes to child abuse and spousal abuse, even in cases when violence is not involved. I am most encouraged by this quote:

I eagerly await the day when young abusers are viewed with the same scorn and disgust with which we currently view adult abusers. Both the victim and the bully suffer when bullying is condoned. And according to the article, it is the bullies rather than the bullied who end up doing worse in life.

In my experience, bullies usually have not learned proper socialization. This means that the parents definitely have to be notified and counseled about this behavior.

In the short term, the bullies need to lose privileges. They don’t get to participate in the Most Favorite Activities (they have to sit quietly in their seats), and they don’t get to participate in group or free play. They have to have extra supervision.

My daughter is 3 and is in a special program at the elementary school. There is a 5 year old girl in her class that has ruled the class. None of the other kids would stand up to her. I’m not sure if there was actually bullying, but she was far more dominant a force in the classroom than was necessary. The teacher was telling me this one day and how it didn’t matter if she stood up to the girl for the other kids, she really needed a kid to stand up to this girl and she was hoping the right kid would come along.

How does this relate to my daughter? My daughters second day of school, the 5 year old tried the same stuff with my kid that she had been pulling with the other kids. According to the teacher, my kid went nose to nose, toe to toe with this girl for a long, long time. My daughter won. The teacher was thrilled to death. After a while, the other kids started standing up for themselves also. The dragon had been felled. My 3 year old stood up to a 5 year old and won.

I think bullies suck. I think that there is a lot that teachers and parents and strangers can do to stop that crap. I also think some things need to be worked out among the children, however, that does not include any sort of violence or name calling. Preschool age is really too young for anyone to suffer from a pecking order. Actually, I’m not sure there is really a humane age for someone to suffer from a pecking order.

Violence is something preschoolers are figuring out. They don’t really understand empathy very well, but they most certainly can understand “Not only no, but heck no.” I would absolutely draw the line at violence. And as far as several kids ganging up on one? That is just uncool. I would expect for the instigator to be separated and be made to work it out with the kid without the support of his friends. Then talk to the other members of the gang and work out what their problem was and whether or not they were just “going along.” Kids know right and wrong. Even little ones.

Some kids are born bullies. Often they are a bit older, taller and heavier than the rest of the class. So maybe their mother is right that “It’s not her fault”… because it’s the mother’s fault for not keeping them in line at home. If you discipline be prepared for a mother who’s a bit older, taller, heavier and pigheaded bully as well.

I basically agree. Talking to the parents isn’t always rational because the parents may be ignorant and irrational as well let alone defensive and coddling to their child which only makes things worse. When I was in elementary school, our teachers had the full spectrum of punishments to dish out. If we were just plain mean, you had to stand in the corner for with your nose to the wall for 5 full minutes while the class continued. If you kept sticking your tongue out at someone over and over, you had to sit on a stool in front of the class and stick your tongue out for 5 minutes (much harder than it sounds). If you physically hurt another student, it was time to break out the paddle and go into the hall. The teacher would make loud sounds against the wall before administering a swat that wouldn’t really hurt anyone. All of this was meant to cause a peer embarrassment more than anything and seemed to be very effective.

I worry about this since RuffLlama (age 3 and change) is a fairly quiet, observant sort. Like his father, he likes to work things out on his own (though he enjoys playing with others). He’s certainly social, just not gregarious. We just recently switched his preschools, since the former one thought diversion (“Oh, look at that shiny new truck!”) was the best discipline method. Um…for 18 month olds who lack an understanding of consequence and empathy, sure. But a 3yro? They all too often know exactly what they’re doing. His new school gives time outs for behavior issues, teaches kids to apologize to develop empathy–the other school didn’t believe in having kids apologize, as it was their belief a child should not be made to say something they didn’t believe. I understand and appreciate that as a teacher myself, but I teach 12yros who have learned that a flat and insincere “I’m sorry” gets them out of trouble with some. But…IMHO 3yros are still learning about the need and meaning of “I’m sorry,” and there’s no harm in them learning that if they hit Sally in the head with a flung toy car, they need to apologize to her.

Preschool is not my forte, but I’d certainly think a time out and an apology would be in order on the behalf of the bullies, and an assertiveness discussion with the victim. Continued behavior would warrant a discussion with parents on BOTH sides of the issue, as both aggression and passivity would need to be handled at home as well as in the classroom.

[Stands and claps] Go, Beastlet! That’s great.
In my daughter’s school hitting and other forms of violence are not tolerated. Any child throwing a toy, pushing, etc. is immediately called on their behavior, and disapproval is severe. At the pre-school level that is usually enough. By the time you enforce a punishment they have ceased to connect it to their own behavior. Immediate disapproving looks and tone do the job well.

It sounds to me like what this classroom needs is another pair of hands. If the teachers are taking care of so many children that bullying is happening, being repeated, and not nipped in the bud every time, then the kids are undersupervised.

If I found out that Celtling had been left in a bullied state on more than one occasion and the problem was allowed to continue, the consequences would be far worse than us just changing schools. I’d have a tort “discussion” with the school ownership, and a personal “discussion” with the teacher who let it happen. (The latter to occur in the parking lot if you catch my drift.)