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Kids start acting 'mean' earlier than one might think

Bullying Observed Among Kindergarteners

Research shows children can start acting mean in kindergarten, or even worse, before then.

The Wall Street Journal reports researchers observed children using the threat of withholding friendship as a "tactical weapon."

Laurel Klaassen, an elementary school counselor in Iowa, told the Journal: "They're already thinking at that age about being popular, being the queen of the classroom, or the queen of the playground and vying for that position."

This isn't the first time research has shown young children engage in bullying.

Education.com says, "studies conducted in different countries have demonstrated that bullying occurs at approximately the same rate in kindergarten as in elementary school."

The research used the phrase "relational aggression" to describe the type of bullying observed.

According to The Ophelia Project, a national nonprofit organization that focuses on reducing relational aggression, the term means "harming others through purposeful manipulation and damage of their peer relationships."

In an article published by the American Psychological Association, psychology professor Dr. Jamie Ostrov said relational aggression can occur just as frequently as physical aggression - it's just harder to detect.

Through research, he discovered some popular examples of relational aggression among 5-year-old children were "You can't play with us" and "You can't come to my birthday party."

According to The Wall Street Journal, research has found about 50 percent of children in 5th through 12th grade experience relational aggression on a monthly basis, and seven percent say they experience it on a daily or weekly basis.

Because these issues are emerging at such a young age, ABC says schools are beginning to implement programs to help teach kindness.

"Some schools are launching special programs to teach empathy, asking kids to put themselves in other kids' shoes or think about how it feels to be left out. I know in my house we have that conversation almost daily."

Although it's not clear why some children are prone to being more relationally aggressive than others, Ostrov says these behaviors can be learned by observing older siblings and parents.

Join the discussion

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michaelford813 May 28 2014 at 6:12 AM

Seriously? I don't know what planet these alleged experts have been living on but I can tell you that after working in the public school system for the last 17 years, this behavior has been going on for quite some time. Heck, it was going on 45 years ago when I went to kindergarten. I have no doubt it was going on decades before that. As nice as a Utopian society might be, there is no way that you can "force" kids to like each other and be friends. However, we must encourage kids to treat others with respect as a human being and civility.

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8 replies
working4o0 May 28 2014 at 7:09 AM

is this article a joke? Do any of the "researchers" in this study have any children of their own? Ask almost any parent. They will tell you that "bullying" starts before the child can even talk. Just observe toddlers playing with just a couple of toys in the room. One of the kids will bully the others for the toys.

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2 replies
hellyon3too working4o0 May 28 2014 at 8:14 PM

You missed the whole point. They weren't talking about selfish kids who use force to bully. They're talking about kids who use manipulation and threats of exclusion to bully. Toddlers generally don't say things like "If you don't give me the toys I won't be your friend." to get what they want.

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Wendy working4o0 May 28 2014 at 11:52 PM

So where do you think he learned that from? And if you don't repremand him for it then, he will grow up believing it's ok.

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mail2mikstas May 28 2014 at 7:29 AM

My kid has been accused for being mean because he called someone a bully. A kid who was doing exactly what this article says, "you can't play with us" or "you can't play with XXX, he's our friend." I politely explained to the teacher that the passive/aggressive behavior of those brats was mean, not my sons honesty. Unfortunately the parents who have kids that do this are oblivious, as usual and think their kids are just fine. It's the parents, not the kids.

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4 replies
deelight821 May 28 2014 at 9:09 AM

Yes, kids get really MEAN very early. I have worked with kids in kindergarten who claim others are being mean to them. And I have seen incidents of one kid acting mean to another, trying to force anbother kid into doing something, or even just calling another kid names, claiming they "stink", being rude, pushing or bumping kids in the hall. And we are taling about kids aged 5!

IMHO, those kids act like they see their parents act.

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1 reply
crowland503 deelight821 May 28 2014 at 9:40 AM

Now! Now! It's the "survival of the fittest" coming out of them in the sandbox.

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chmdeeringconst May 28 2014 at 8:00 AM

the problem is the parenting.. these kids have no positive force in their lives. not at home and not in school

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2 replies
woodytmartin chmdeeringconst May 28 2014 at 10:29 AM

The problem is the parents' genes....

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3 replies
Kristina chmdeeringconst May 29 2014 at 12:16 AM

the problem is the inherent nature of children.

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trynsemd May 28 2014 at 8:35 AM

Kids will be kids.....Remember, the saying: Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names (or "relational aggression") will never hurt me? Toughen up your kids, or they'll end up adding to the ranks of the PC police on everything that could possible offend them as adults!

And, yes, my kids were definitely bullied in middle school "relationally" and physically. When it got physical is when I got involved. Otherwise, they worked it our for themselves and it taught them what kind of friends they wanted to have, and wanted to be! That part kids will always learn from good parenting.

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3 replies
Carol May 28 2014 at 9:36 AM

Good grief...are we supposed to make sure that every child is a passive, docile little automaton? If that's the case, then start drugging them all into oblivion at birth.

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8 replies
cicuinicu1 May 28 2014 at 11:27 AM

Research? How about calling that research by it's real name GRANT. Why on earth would a grant be funded for something most parents and teachers already know? That grant money could have fed someone. Philanthropist or government administration, they should be shamed for reckless use of funds..

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dlordmagic May 28 2014 at 6:27 AM

Habits associated with scarcity. In this case scarcity of needed attention. Since kids have to rely on adults for pretty much everything, it makes sense that a single teacher is not going to be able to afford equal attention to all. So if one student is getting all the praise for working hard and being successful and another student is working equally as hard and is unsuccessful and getting little praise then each student is going to develop habits according to the different stimuli. To bad we don't come pre-packaged with all the current knowledge when we are born. it might solve a lot of the problems. FYI being a little sarcastic with the last one.

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sugarcreekchile May 28 2014 at 9:38 AM

So now it's "relational aggression" if children choose who they want to be friends with and who they don't just like adults. The only thing the children are guilty of is not being as tactful as adults in excluding those they don't want for friends.This isn't bullying. Children have the same right to freedom of association as adults do. They can't be forced to play with someone they don't want to. Peer relationships can't be dictated. Insisting a left out child be included is just going to cause resentment and that child will know the group is being forced to include him or her. If children were as adept at lying as adults to avoid hurting someone's feelings, instead of saying "You can't come to my birthday party.", they'd say, "I wanted to invite you to my birthday party but my mom said I could only invite 8 kids and had to invite my cousin."

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3 replies
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