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My 3-year-old is becoming a bully; how can I prevent this from happening?
Kimberly Bethlehem
It is difficult to offer suggestions to you without knowing more about your family situation. Is your daughter an only child? Or has a new baby come into the family recently? Or is she a younger child who has trouble coping with older brothers and/or sisters? I mention this because her bullying behavior could stem from a variety of causes.

First, it sounds as though you already have your most important ally - her father. It's very important for the two of you to use the same approach in dealing with her behavior. And, even though a 3½-year-old won't understand all the words you say, it is important for her to hear you say that you don't approve of such behavior, always remembering to add that you know she can do better. Stress her behavior. You want to be careful not to say that she's a bad girl; instead, make the case that her behavior is not acceptable.

It sounds as though your second major ally, her teacher, is also trying to be helpful. By telling you that your daughter is often moody in the classroom, she's demonstrating her own powers of observation. I would ask for a conference with her designed to work out a plan of action that would be carried out both at school and at home. Any time she hits or threatens another child, she should be whisked out of the classroom and put in time-out. A lot of jokes are made about time-out, but it works wonders with young children. Then, if there are siblings or if she has friends over, you need to do the same thing at home. That's not a good time for a lecture. Just pick her up and take her out of the action, saying, “I can't let you stay with the other kids when you act like that."

Finally, I wouldn't be as concerned about not sharing as about the bullying and hitting. Make sure you praise her every time she shares with you, another child or anyone else.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education