Your Granddaughter: Mean Girl or Bully?

Mel and Janice of Victoria were shocked when they saw their five-year-old granddaughter, Amanda taking away her two-year-old sister’s soother and holding it above her head, dancing around the kitchen and taunting the toddler until she was sobbing in frustration. “I couldn’t believe she would be this mean,” Janice says, recalling the incident.

Was Amanda being mean, or was she being a bully? Neither is acceptable behavior, but Mel and Janice decided to speak to Amanda’s parents to make sure this wasn’t the first step in a sequence of bullying for the five-year-old.

While we think of bullying as a disgusting behavior typical of high school gang members or even among  teen girls who are emotionally abusive with their peers, using ostracism and gossip to bully, it’s not limited to those age groups anymore. Bullies can actually be found among children as young as five-year-olds like Amanda. According to the book Little Girls Can Be Mean (St. Martin’s Griffin 2010) by Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert, bullying can begin in kindergarten. Mean behavior can be occasional or sporadic, but bullying comes from children who are mean all the time.


Why does this happen at such a young age? Television is one culprit, where children see people interacting in dramas, particularly in many reality television shows, where bullying is the norm for behavior. Social networking is another offender, where young children can gossip about and insult their peers.  The third pre-requisite for bullying comes from children who have not been allowed to work through their own frustrations and disappointments in everyday events throughout their growing years. If parents and grandparents give in to children’s whims constantly so they never learn to adapt to life’s changes and disappointments, the children often turn to aggressive behavior and bullying when they become frustrated. Bullying is a way to feel a sense of power and control.

Signs that your grandchild is being a bully include suddenly excluding peers who have always been friends, talking about other children at school in a disparaging way or talking to parents and siblings in an aggressive manner.

Signs that your grandchild is a victim of bullying include mood swings, behavior changes, not wanting to go to school and even starting fights with siblings.

Parents or grandparents should alert the school regarding incidents of bullying. Interfering doesn’t always work out. My grandson was taunted by a bully on his way home from school, and even though the school was alerted and the bully’s parents were called, the bullying continued. My grandson now takes the bus home from school.  It’s an unfortunate compromise and somewhat sad that there was no resolution and obviously no consequences for the bully.

What can grandparents do? Sometimes children will confide in a grandparent more readily than a parent, so a grandparent can often be vital in helping to fix a behavioral problem. Grandparents tend to be the ones kids feel won’t punish them or judge them for their behavior. If a grandchild shows signs of being a bully, relating stories of your own life as a child and especially stories relating to bullies may help to entice the child to talk. Once they begin to talk, they can relate what is bothering them and even be open to some guidance from you, the grandparent, the parents or even a school counselor if necessary.