My 4-Year-Old Granddaughter is Becoming a Bully ... Just Like Her Mom!

Filed under: Behavior: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers

Dear AdviceMama,

My 4-year-old granddaughter is the victim of my daughter's yelling, profanity and name-calling if she doesn't listen. They live in my home, so I am a constant witness. My granddaughter is now becoming the class bully in preschool. She tells classmates they're ugly and that she hates them. I try to talk with my granddaughter when I take her to preschool about appropriate behavior, but the problem continues. I am afraid for her future. Do you have any suggestions?

Surrounded By Bullies

Dear Surrounded,

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The number one most powerful influence on our children's behavior is how we, ourselves, behave. All the lectures and admonitions in the world pale in comparison when it comes to teaching children what is -- and isn't -- acceptable.

It's a shame that your daughter is treating her child in such an aggressive way. It sounds as though she's taking her own stress and frustrations out on her little girl, justifying her outbursts by convincing herself that her child deserves to be humiliated when she doesn't listen.

The primary solution isn't going to be convincing your granddaughter to stop saying mean things at school, although we do need to address that, as well. But, if you've read my column, you know that I consider it much more valuable to address the root of a problem. In your granddaughter's case, the underlying cause of her misbehavior is her mother's treatment toward her.

Gently offer to help your daughter find healthier ways to handle her child when she doesn't listen. Whether that's a book, a counseling session with a professional or parenting classes, your daughter needs help managing her anger and finding healthier ways to discipline her child.

While it's good that you are aware your granddaughter's bullying could lead to problems in her future, if her mother uses a different approach -- other than bullying her daughter -- this child will have a better chance of a bright future.

You can teach your granddaughter both appropriate and inappropriate ways of speaking with peers by role-playing scenarios where she might be tempted to say something mean. Simply telling her not to say unkind things may not be enough. Many children learn best by acting out situations where they can "try on" new, better behaviors.

Make sure the school is supporting you by keeping an eye on your granddaughter's name-calling and verbal put-downs, responding promptly if your granddaughter's impulsivity gets the best of her and she blurts out mean words.

I can't emphasize that enough: Although 4-year-olds do push limits and need to be guided, a child who receives the kind of mean-spirited parenting you've described will only truly change when they experience kind and civil behavior in the home. Given that they live with you, I hope you'll politely insist that your daughter discontinue using profanity and humiliations, and help her find better ways to parent her child.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.