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Daycare Bullies

Daycare Bullies

By Amalah

Hi, Amalah,

I know you just answered a weird-daycare-situation question recently — it’s actually what has prompted my own query — but I could really use your and your readers’ advice on the following situation.

I have a two-year old boy in a part-time, licensed, at-home daycare. The provider is loving and wonderful, but among the children she cares for is her aggressive four-year old son. Over the last half-year, I’ve watched this child become increasingly aggressive: I’ve seen him throw a wooden block at a three-month old’s face, push my own son into a bookcase; push another child down a slide, and lay my son out flat because he wanted the crayons with which my son played. There have also been mysterious bruises or little cuts that the provider believes (and tells me very apologetically) that her son caused.

Each of these times, the provider was there, and she said something, but she is just not a discipliner/boundary-setter (and not just when it comes to her own son…). I realize as I’m typing this out how stupid it is that I haven’t really brought this up to her, but I haven’t (I mean, in the moment that the event occurs, and I’m right there, I say something to her son [I know that reprimanding other people’s children is not always appropriate, but I cannot not say something when a four-year old purposefully throws a toy at a baby’s face]) and to her.

I just don’t know if I should address this situation more seriously/more specifically, and if I should, how. First, I now pretty much (irrationally) hate her son (I know this is totally ridiculous), so I’m not sure how objective I’m being about the situation. Second, I have a hard time envisioning what I will say if I do bring it up–am I expecting her to just be aware of my concerns or to actually do something, and if the latter, what would that be? I’m a little afraid that if I do bring it up as a concern she might stop telling me when she thinks her son is responsible for my own son’s injuries.

Complicating the situation is that my provider is currently pregnant. She recognizes that her son is going to have a very difficult time adjusting to the baby (he routinely punches her in the stomach when the baby talk starts up), and I’m contemplating pulling him out of the situation when the new baby arrives because I really don’t know how the older child is going to deal with the situation. Doubly complicating the situation is that I’m pregnant, too, and my son really likes and is so comfortable at this daycare situation. I do not want to totally unnecessarily disrupt his life (although we’re currently in the process of selling our house and trying to move, so that ship has pretty much sailed) right before his own brother or sister comes and rocks his world. Basically, I’m just not sure if this is something I definitely should address with my provider (and if so, how) and/or pull out my son, OR if this kind of aggression is within the bounds of normal and really is what I will see more and more of as I continue to parent. What would you (and your readers) do?

Thank you for your help,


Standard disclaimer here: I am not a super-experience daycare veteran. I used the infant room at a Kindercare for a few short months, and that’s it. Ever since, my sending-children-off-into-the-care-of-another experiences have all been either half-day preschools or our part-time, in-home (while-I-am-also-home) babysitter.

First though, let’s talk about irrationally hating other people’s kids. HA! We’ve all done it, or come close to it, I promise. Even if you know, logically, WHY this poor kiddo is acting this way (an overly-permissive mother he already has to “share” all day with other kids, the growing realization that he’ll now have to “share” her all the time with a new sibling), that doesn’t always override your natural reaction of “Wow, what a brat.” Trust me, been there, done that, had to have a “talk” with a super-nice neighbor lady about the marker I had to wash off my playroom walls and could Noah have the MONEY YOUR KID STOLE FROM HIM back please.

So while it’s good to not overreact in situations where you’re silently thinking “stay away from my child, Bad Seed,” you also can’t ignore the facts of this particular situation: Your two-year-old is getting regularly injured by an angry, overly-aggressive four-year-old. Again, I’ve never used a mixed-age in-home daycare setting, but let me tell you that this sort of behavior DOES NOT FLY in pretty much any other childcare/school environment on earth. You are NOT allowed to attend local preschools if you are a serial hitter/biter/toy thrower, and that no tolerance policy starts at like, age 2 or 3. I get a call from Noah’s principal if another child so much as pushes him in the recess line. I had to sign an “incident” report at the YMCA swim camp last summer because Noah accidentally whipped a kid in the legs WITH A TOWEL.

Draconian? Maybe, but at least I’m fairly confident that MOST of the bumps and bruises my kids come home with are 1) self-inflicted, or 2) accidental. And that if it did involve another child, I know that it was dealt with properly and seriously.

So…is there a reason this four-year-old kid isn’t in a “real” preschool setting by now? Besides his mom wanting to save money, or she feels qualified to homeschool him while caring for multiple younger children (including INFANTS)? Because lord, this kid really, really needs to be exposed to some outside rules and structure, otherwise he (and his mom) are in for a really rough go of it in kindergarten.

I realize none of this offers a solution to your problem. I just want to point out that I don’t think you’re overreacting because you’re pregnant and irrationally going Mama Bear on someone else’s kid. This is a pretty big safety issue — it would be bad enough if your son got accidentally seriously injured at daycare, but even worse if you kind of knew that there was regular, escalating aggression going unchecked and didn’t intervene. Throwing a block can result in stitches. A four-year-old “laying out” a much smaller toddler can result in broken bones.

The upset to your son’s routine: oh, man, I feel you there. There are a lot of big chances you’re already throwing at him so I COMPLETELY understand your hesitation to put him through another one. But! Here’s the but:

You say your son is happy and comfortable there. That’s good…except is it really a good thing for him to be all that comfortable in an environment where he’s being injured and/or bullied on a fairly regularly basis? And the adult in charge isn’t doing enough to protect him and put a stop to the aggression? Have you ever witnessed him cringe or recoil from the older boy? Is he coping by simply tossing whatever toy the kid wants and fleeing? Or is he learning to fight back? Does he ever look to his care provider to DO something or has he already processed the fact that she’s probably not paying attention to his problem?

If he’s not doing any of these things: Good. But I’d put money on him doing them soon. This kid’s behavior (and his mom’s reaction to it) has a deeper impact on your son than just the “marks and bruises.”

Ezra attends a Montessori preschool, and in a mixed-age class. It’s age three to six, basically preschool up to kindergarten. The benefits to a mixed-age class are that the younger ones naturally look up to their older peers, and will model/mimic their behavior and basically learn from them AND the teacher. So…what is your son learning from this boy? Throwing blocks at babies? Punching adults? Using his hands instead of his words? How to get away with stuff when the grown-ups are distracted?

What is he learning from this boy’s mother? That those actions don’t have consistent, serious consequences?

It’s unlikely that there’s much you can do or say to her that will deliver instant results: You probably aren’t going to convince her to change her entire parenting style. You can certainly start asking — when she super-apologetically admits that her son “probably” was the one who caused a bruise — what sort of disciplinary actions/consequences she uses to address aggression in the group (be it her son or someone else). You can express your discomfort if you are not happy with her answer, since uh, that doesn’t seem to be working out too well, you know? You can ask if she has plans to move her son to a part-time non-mom-in-charge preschool environment anytime soon.

It came up in the grandma-as-caregiver column and it’s kind of true here, too. Obviously we need to be flexible and understand that other people aren’t going to do everything the way WE would do it, and that comes to parenting and childcare. It’s good to expose our children to those differences…to a point. And personally, for me, that point is somewhere south of letting aggression go unchecked and undisciplined.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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