You can spot a future bully at age one


The other day I was chatting to the grandmother of one of my son’s friends. She’s is the loveliest lady, smart, caring and excellent with children in fact she is so in tune with her grandchildren that sometimes I just watch her in awe. And try to learn from her. But that day she was worrying. Her grand-daughter is one and she is concerned that  she is being a bully at child-care because she is grabbing toys and on one occasion she hit another child.

I can’t count the number of times my son swiped at someone or something when he was one. Of course I would reprimand him if he connected with someone. But gently and carefully to teach him right from wrong rather than to stamp out bullying behavior. Because I didn’t think it was bullying. I thought it was “toddlering”

So in my infinite wisdom as both mother and former early childhood teacher I told her that I was sure the grabbing of toys and eagerness to er, get your own way is commonplace at such an early age. Especially when children do not have the language to express themselves or the patience to negotiate.

But I may have been wrong.  According to new research led by Psychological scientist Dale Hay of Cardiff University in Wales bullying behavior can be seen in children as young as 12 months.

A team of investigators were looking for the roots of early childhood aggression which sounds to me like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. They focused their research on “at risk mothers” because earlier research had shown a number of maternal risk factors for childhood aggression.

Scientists interviewed more than 300 pregnant women and evaluated them during their final trimester of pregnancy, and then observed both mothers and babies at 6, 12, 21 and 33 months.

The Association for Psychological Science reports

“To get a close look at these babies, the scientists invited them and their mothers to a simulated birthday party, two to four families at a time. The “parties” took place in comfy rooms filled with children’s toys—picture books, puzzles, teddy bears, a jack-in-the-box.

The results were striking. As reported on-line in the journal Psychological Science, there was clearly a subset of babies, as young as age one, whose birthday-party bullying was corroborated by their mothers’ reports of anger and aggression—suggesting a general disposition in these children. This bullying tendency was not subtle, and indeed appeared within 20 minutes of observation.

It is my belief that studies like this make pregnant women anxious and heighten their stress.  Lord knows every time I read a study that told me how my mental health was affecting my unborn child my mind went into panic overdrive and I worried further.

Chicken  Egg? Neurotic mother Damaged Child? I like to think not. I’m still neurotic, over sensitive and a worrier of epic proportions. My child is well balanced, smart and highly social.

But if the research is correct maybe we can stamp out the bullies before they get to pre-school and take off with someone else’s little lunch. Or far worse

Where do you stand? Do you believe that children can be bullies before they can speak? Have you ever met a bully under two?