Bullies in the Block Area: The Early Childhood Origins of “Mean” Behavior

  • May 12, 2017

Jacob and Stella are building an elaborate castle for the family of farm animals they have gathered. Stella is the self-appointed architect and foreman of the construction, while Jacob hands over the materials and cheers Stella on as the towers go precariously skyward. Sam wanders over to admire their project. “Cool!” he says. “Can I help?” He picks up a yellow block and Stella quickly snatches it from his hands. “NO!” she yells. “We don’t want you to help!” “Yeah!” chimes Jacob. “You can’t play with us. Go away!” Sam begins to cry for his teacher as he slowly backs away.

Exclusionary or “mean” behavior in early childhood is no recent or rare phenomenon-in fact, scenarios like the one above are common in preschool classrooms or daycare settings. As children in this age group are still developing basic social skills and conceptions of morality, this type of interaction may be dismissed as “no big deal” or just “kids being kids.” Most people would hesitate to label the young children in the aforementioned scene as “bullies” or “victims,” yet verbal and relational aggression have clearly taken place, and a child has been excluded and rejected. 

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