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UPDATED: 5 Ways to Deal With Playground Bullies

playground At the beginning of the summer I wrote this post in response to a reader question about playground bullies and I am glad I wrote it.  After reading all the comments I became a lot more confident in confronting other people’s children and speaking to their parents. I don’t play playground police every time, but I am certainly protective of my little 2 year old daughter, Annabelle.

While my daughter stood in the top of a large play set I noticed a 5 or 6 year old boy hovering and blocking her way on purpose. Then he bent down in her face and yelled. I was horrified! I saw the boy hovering, but she was up in the play set and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t think he would scream in her face. She started crying and I coaxed her to another part of the playground for toddlers. The boy followed and was standing close and following again. Every time he came near her she started crying again.  I didn’t hesitate this time and asked him to not yell at my daughter and to play on the big kids play set. Then his grandfather came over and I explained that the boy was screaming in my daughter’s face. He only got defensive and said that he couldn’t watch both his grandsons at the same time. He did seem  overwhelmed with both boys, so I didn’t press it further. If the mother or father had been there I would have pressed the matter. It was very obvious that he was bullying.

In another instance we were at an indoor playground. I was pushing my daughter back and forth in a U shaped foam mat. Three older and larger boys came up and wanted to push her too and were trying to talk to Annabelle. One of the boys was leaning on a foam column and he reached to rock her. She stood and said “No!” and pushed the column he was leaning on. The boy fell and hit his face on the foam column and started crying. I totally laughed at first. I knew the boy was fine. He went to his mom and was crying to her. I went over and explained that he only hit his face on the soft mat column. I was glad that my daughter stood up for herself. These boys may not have intended to be bullies, but I am still befuddled why they would want to play with a 2 year old girl.

Last week there was a 3 or 4 year old boy throwing mulch on the kids as they went down the slide. I went up to him and said, “Hey Little Man, Let’s not throw it on the slide. How about you throw it on the bench or over here?” I was just redirecting him to throw the mulch where no one else was. He looked at me confused and just stopped. One girl came up and thanked me for getting him to stop. I never saw who was his parent, but it made me feel good that not only did I help my child but the other kids on the playground too.

I do not correct other children all the time, but I will say something if I see that my child may get hurt. Don’t be afraid to speak up on the playground!

Original post:


Summer is here and the playgrounds are full (unless you live in Texas and the 100-degree weather makes the slides feel like 150-degrees.) While at the playground your child may encounter bullies. What do you do?

Grace recently emailed us and asked this question about bullying in the playground:

Today at a playground, my 2 (almost 3) year old son was bullied by another toddler around his age.  The boy was throwing things at my son’s head and his mom wouldn’t do anything about it.  I tried to just keep my son away from the boy, but he would just run up to him and smack him in the head and run away.  I decided to confront his mom about it and she just denied it ever happened since she didn’t see it (she was talking to another mom at the time).  I got really upset of course and my son was too afraid to play anymore so I had to hold him since he couldn’t stop crying and I eventually decided that we should leave since it seemed to be too dangerous for my son to play with the bully running around.

I don’t think I handled the situation in the best way possible.

- What do you do when you see another child hit your child? My son
just stood there and cried and I just tried to comfort him.  I
didn’t feel that I could scold the other child because I was afraid
his mom would get upset with me for doing so.

- What do you say to the parent?  What if the parent denies anything
ever happened?  What if the parent doesn’t do anything about it even
after confronted?

I think there are a few ways that moms can deal with playground bullies. Not every way is right and not all are wrong. The way to handle a bully certainly depends on each specific situation.

1. Leave with your child and don’t say anything to anyone. While removing your child from a harmful situation may be a good thing, it doesn’t teach the child causing harm or your child anything. It may also send the wrong message to your own child, because it doesn’t teach them how to deal with conflict in a healthy manner. It may teach them that conflict should be avoided at all costs. This world is full of conflict and we need to teach our kids how to handle it well.

2. Speak to the mother or guardian present at the time. This is what Grace did in her situation. Dawn and I both agreed that we would have probably done the same thing. Hopefully, that parent will get on to their own child for misbehaving. However, in this situation the mom did not correct her son. I think if you plead your case with the parent and they do nothing, then it is okay to go and speak to their kid yourself.

3. Speak with the child who is being a bully. If that mom gets mad at you for correcting her child, then let them say their piece to you and don’t worry about it. At least, you can leave knowing that you tried your best to correct the situation. In other cases that mom may even thank you for correcting their kid. I know one time a bigger girl was kicking my not yet 2 year old daughter while she was sitting down at the top of a slide. My protective mama instincts came out and I immediately told her in a stern voice to stop kicking my child. Her mom never said anything to me about it.

Amelia thinks that in this situation talking with the kid would have been okay.

Had I been in [Grace's] shoes I would have told the boy to stop hitting my kid.  I feel that (especially with a 2 year old) it is important to be an advocate for your child and that if another child is doing something to your child then it is perfectly fine to say something to the (wrong-doing) child.  Something like, “It is not polite to hit.” Or, “Stop hitting my son.” Then if it continues, saying something to the parents is appropriate.  If someone takes an issue with you telling their child to stop hitting yours–it is their problem.  Most parents will see what is going on and discipline their own child.  Unfortunately there are parents who are losers and deny that their child could ever do anything wrong. In that case, I still think repeating whatever you said to the kid earlier is appropriate.

4. Teach your kid to hit back. (Again, not all of these ways are exactly right or wrong.) I do know one mom that has told her son that if another boy hits him first, then it is okay if he hits back. They want him to be able to defend himself and not always be a tattletale. They feel like their son is already a little whiny and sensitive, so this is their way of teaching their son to buck up.

5. Embarrass the other mother. One mom shared her story with me about how her son did hit back when he was hit by another kid. So she went to them to intervene and started to get on her son. She said loud and clear to her son “Who taught you to act like that? Some moms let their kids act like that, but I don’t!” She looked up and saw the other mother fuming. Perhaps this tactic may work, because that parent may have on gotten on her son later for embarrassing her.

What do you do if your child is being picked on at a playground? What would have done in Grace’s situation? Does the age of the children play a role in how to deal with a bully situation?

- photo courtesy of bullyinguk

14 Responses to UPDATED: 5 Ways to Deal With Playground Bullies

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Amy D
    June 8, 2009 @ 7:50 am

    I had a similar experience with my daughter who was 8 at the time. We were at a park having a picnic and she went to go play while my husband, baby boys, and I finished our lunch. My daughter came running back and said that a boy told her “if I give you a cheeseburger will you shut the h*ll up” and pushed her. I immediately got up and walked with my daughter to find out who this kid was. Finally she pulled my arm and said “mom that’s him.” I walked over there with the nobody messes with my kid attitude and asked the kid why did you push and cuss at my daughter? He looked at me and said “I didn’t push her; I don’t even know your daughter.” Just then my daughter looked at me and said “ummm mom I think it was another boy.” I was so embarrassed and told the kid sorry and walked away blushing. That was one of those moments where you just want to dig a hole and hide. Not only did I embarrass myself in front of the kid but there were other kids and parents around. As we walked away with laser stares burning my back I firmly told my daughter that next time she tells me something like that she better be sure it’s the right kid. She apologized and went on playing. Then about 15 minutes later she came back and said that she found the right kid and I told her… I am not going through this again. Funny story now but it wasn’t at the time. So the rule here is … make sure it’s the right kid. LOL

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Stephanie
    June 8, 2009 @ 10:27 am

    I think it is perfectly fine to correct another child, as long as it is done with kindness. I feel fine telling other kids to play nice or to not hit my child, or any other children if I see it happening. I have seen a lot of parents not pay attention to what is going on when their kids are at the park. It seems like they think the playground is like a communal babysitting area, so I step in if I see a child in need. I would not get upset if someone asked my child to play nice if they were being mean, so I feel okay doing it.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Sara
    June 8, 2009 @ 11:11 am

    I usually just correct the child in a nice but firm voice, “Excuse me, but we keep our hands to ourselves and do not hit our friends.” I usually say it loud enough for the child’s mother to hear.

    But I have been on the other end where my child is the one who is hitting. I do not mind if another mother corrects my child as long as it’s done in an appropriate way.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by mommymichelle6
    June 8, 2009 @ 11:50 am

    I have told my children to stand up for themselves and tell the bully to stop. Most times, this will stop the situation. If it continues, I usually correct the child who bullied in a nice and firm voice also. Then, if it continues, I remove my child from the situation.

    I used to try to talk with parents about the issues. After a few bad experiences, one where I literally had a parent cursing at me when I tried to talk with them, I no longer try to talk with the parents about their child’s behavior. I certainly wouldn’t try to embarrass the mom(could actually be dangerous if you mess with the wrong mom or dad!)

    I think however, there are not “right” or “wrong” answers or a one size fits all answer. It just depends on the situation.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Grace L.
    June 8, 2009 @ 2:54 pm

    Thanks so much, Amanda for writing an entry regarding my question so promptly!

    After speaking extensively with my husband about the incident, we’ve decided to teach our son to speak up for himself and to inform us of what happens. This means him responding to a kid by saying, “Don’t hit me!” in a firm voice or “Stop doing that!” I think being almost 3 years old, he’d be able to speak up for himself and then let an adult know.

    If something like this happens again, I’ll let you know if our plan works.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Amy
    June 12, 2009 @ 5:30 am

    I think it’s fine for you to step in and stop the bad behavior. But to help the child cope (and to not make the other mom mad), I think it would be best to take an extra step…
    redirect and help the child find a nice way to play with your child.
    Wouldn’t the other mom appreciate you being kind to her kiddo?

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Cece
    July 19, 2009 @ 11:12 pm

    As parents it is our responsibility to teach our kids to be good kids. The way our children behave says a lot about us. If you see your child being bullied, you should tell the bully he/she should never hit another child and talk to the kid’s parent/s. I would do the same for a kid I don’t know at the playground if I saw they were being bullied. Parents know how their children behave so it should come as no surprise to them. If the parents are in denial there will come a time when the truth will surface and they won’t have a choice but to deal with it. I don’t let my children play with bullies, remove them from the situation , let them know that is never ok for someone to hit,push,yell,cut in line make fun of, but its ok to say no firmly and if the situation keeps on walk away and find someone else to play with. It does upset me that there are parents who are not ashamed or don’t correct their childrens inappropriate behavior at such a young age. I see them in my family, friends, malls, playground. To all parents doing right by their kids and others don’t be afraid to tell the bullies and their parents the truth. Thank you for putting this on the internet. I have had similar problems, every situation is different but I try to deal with it appropriately.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Zach
    July 21, 2009 @ 9:25 am

    For parents of toddlers, your advice was spot on correct. *I do think that some of the people commenting are placing too much importance on being polite – anything short of a clear, firm (stern)correction will be ignored by a little one. For children in kindergarden thru grade 6, there’s a program called The Total Bully Solution. It’s been generating a lot of positive buzz, and getting excellent reviews from parents. As you said: “This world is full of conflict and we need to teach our kids how to handle it well”. The totalbullysolution.com will provide your child with the tools they need to face the bullies of the world with strength and dignity.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Rhonda
    August 12, 2009 @ 12:29 am

    My son is often the “bully”. (Or at least, I just saw a parent post that about my son on Facebook.) We are not sure where he gets it from. I come from a background where my dad beat us as kids. Both of my parents come from the same type of background. I do not raise my hand to my child because of this. I spoke to a child educator about this and she told me that it may be because I am overly sensitive about hitting. I try not to discuss it and it seems to still exist. I have noticed that it happens more at daycare where they do not disapline than it does at home or on the play ground where he is supervised by us. I do not mind parents saying something to my child and often wonder if he would stop if someone else said something to him. I do believe that kids learn from other kids (he was bullied in daycare early on). Also, I believe my son is eager to learn and doesn’t have enough to do at daycare. I am taking him to a Montessori school and know they have a policy to discipline (within reason). They also require parenting classes. My husband does not hit and gets angry if my son hits. I often think it is because of the negative attention he gets from him because he always wants to tell my husband what he did. Anyway, any feedback is appreciated….obviously I am guessing at the fixes here and talking out loud. One thing I will say about my son is that he cares deeply about all of his “friends” and the other parents can see that too when he plays one on one with them at my home.

  • Comment by Christy
    November 6, 2009 @ 7:28 am

    GREAT POST AMANDA! It irritates me to no end when other kids harass my sweeties at the playground or indoor play area. Generally the problem arises because the other kids parents are “absent” or are talking to someone else and aren’t paying attention. At first, when our oldest was little, I was shy about speaking up… not anymore. I’ve found that generalizing to “all the kids” kind of helps nobody feel picked on by the mean mom, but rather guides them all to make a better decision. It drives me crazy when the kids climb the slide and then someone comes down and everyone gets hurt. Of course, my child is a follower, so he sees one kid do it, he does it too. I will say something like “remember Andrew, go up the steps to go down the slide”. I also try to make it a point to remind my son (who is not a bully, but can be inattentive and knock little ones down accidentally) to be careful of the “babies”. If another child is bullying mine, I ask them to not do whatever they were doing and then tell Andrew loudly that we don’t play with people who hit. He gets it and does his best to avoid the meanie! I’ve yet to have to talk to a parent… I hope it never comes to that because they won’t know what “hit” them!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by rosebelle
    November 6, 2009 @ 11:44 am

    A very alarmingly interesting post. I’ve never come across a bully..yet..at a playground. The ones that I take my toddler to always have a lot of adults supervising their kids. If I were in the situation of seeing some bullyings going on, I’d tell the bully to stop and explain to him/her why doing so is wrong. If I sense that it’s a diffult child I am talking too, I’d ask him/her where is the parent and I would speak directly to the parent. It’s important to address this kind of behavior to the parent so the parent is aware. If the parent gets defensive, well at least she/he knows that someone observes and speaks about the problem.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Christi
    May 15, 2012 @ 8:03 pm

    Thank you for writing this and for all the comments! I just had a situation at an indoor playground where in the crawler area an 8 year old shoved my 1 year old into a play house. I corrected her and she started crying (did not mean for that to happen) but her mom came over and scolded me. After I told her what happend and pointed out that her child was too old to be in that area if she was going to be rough, she told me to “get over myself”. I’m proud of standing up for my son. No toddler deserves to be shoved around by kids that no better.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Lo
    August 22, 2012 @ 6:33 am

    Well yesterday a much bigger kid was in the toddler section of the playground, my son was playing and this big kid started yelling at him in his native language, with hints on English to get out…it took a little while for me to realise this kid was being hostile at first…the father was lethargic about the whole thing as if it was ok for this large kid to yell my 19month old ,who , non the wiser went on playing. Seeing the situation, I went right up there at the play station, playing with my son to ensure his safety. What gets me is the father told the kid something, I don’t know if it was corrective or not, but the kid was screaming back at the father and started walking up the slide, and the man did nothing at the embarrassment he would have obviously felt/ or not – maybe some folks think that is acceptable. Eventually, he shoved my son. That was when I got public and said LOUDLY ” Are you a mean boy? Why are you pushing this little boy down the slide and shouting at him? He has a right to be here too !” The father came up to the slide but said nothing & did nothing to correct his son.
    We are always in a spot about not wanting to cause a rift at the playground, but If you are a lethargic parent that is not going to handle your business, trust me other people will do it for you, and it may not be in the way you want, so, to save yourself the embarrassment and monitor your kid !

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Tan
    February 4, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

    Today my son and I were with friends at one of those coffee playgrounds. While I was watching my son in the bouncy house (because they are not so safe for little ones and he’s not quite 2) there was a slide inside all the kids were having trouble getting up the ladder to the slide and sliding down the ladder. Well my son slipped going up and slid down he rolled out of the way and bumped a little what I thought was a girl (turned out to be a boy) well he turned around and jumped on my son and started pummeling him. I screamed hey! then I crawled in and said it’s not nice to hit, why don’t you go tell your mommy what you did. Well he got out of there so fast and ran to his mommy who was sitting and enjoying her coffee not paying attention. My blood was boiling as this wasn’t a push or a single hit it was much worse. So I went to talk to his mom and granted maybe I should have calmed down first. I said in a stern voice your child just jumped on my child and was beating him and that’s not appropriate behavior and I walked away. And I was shocked that she didn’t say anything to her child. However that child was a bit afraid to go back in while I was standing there. I now feel terrible that I had not had a calm conversation about it with her. I do know if some very mad or upset mom came to me I would be having a conversation with my child about his actions. If I didn’t think he did it I would still address it especially if I wasn’t watching.

    Toddlers push, shove and occasionally some hit. If it’s out of control I always say something usually to the child and sometimes to the mom depending on the situation. I know some of my friends wouldn’t say anything and I don’t care what people think. No one deserves to be bullied

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