Teaching Your Child to Deal with Mean Kids

Little girl crying by herself in the corner




It's a regular day at our favorite park. K is swinging happily with her friend; I am chatting happily with mine. It seems we've just arrived, both of us settling into the rhythm of a play date. Out of the corner of my eye, I see K get up from the swings and begin walking over to a climbing rope section of the playground.
Seconds later I hear a scream that I know is hers. I see her running towards me. She is crying, and when she reaches me she pulls me towards her face, which is covered in tears. She points towards the climbing area, where a boy about her age is playing. "He won't let me climb!" she cries, total shock in her voice. "He said to go away!"

I'm furious. Who does this boy think he is? She is beside herself, being so caught off guard.

I immediately get down to her level. I wipe away her tears and say, "K, that is a Mean Kid. We ignore people who are mean. You can go climb and he cannot ever tell you you can't!"

I can hear the boy's mom speaking to him. She is telling him that it isn't nice. But nothing else. I know personally what I would like to do, and it's not terribly pleasant! Instead, I walk with K back over to the climbing area, to encourage her to climb. She seems reluctant, and ends up returning to play with her friend. But I am still seething, just a little.

Mean Kids.

I don't like them, not one bit. They exist, it seems, to make other kids' lives miserable. But one thing I know for sure is that I will always be my child's advocate and support, to help her deal with them, for as long as I can.

And while the situation may have totally upset me, it also made me think. What can I do, to help her know how to deal??!

These are some of the strategies I came up with:

1. Have a comeback ready. To help her feel empowered, I'll run these different comebacks by her to see which one she feels most comfortable using. These are adopted from a Parents.com article by Michele Borba, Ed.D., renowned educator and author known for her practical tips designed to help children develop stronger self-esteem and self-awareness.

Note: I've written these as a response to having another child tell her she cannot do something or isn't wanted somewhere. These will need tweaking / re-working to be used for teasing / critical comments.

She could:
- Use sarcasm: "Like I care?" "Gimme a break." (Important to go along with this is "the look" - a rolling of the eyes. And while I like this, it will have to wait until she's old enough to understand sarcasm!)
- Question it: "Why would you say that?" "You know you can't tell me that, don't you?"
- Share her feelings: "I don't like it when you say I can't do _____."
- Ignore the person: Continue on as though she hasn't even heard.

2. Practice the strategy she feels most comfortable using, being sure to also emphasize the importance of: a, looking the person in the eye; b, standing tall; and c, staying calm.

3. Remind her to get adult help.
This one is so important. Children need to know we are there to help them. Stick up for them. Yes, there will be times where they need to deal with Mean Kids on their own. But at this age? We must step in. Teachers, coaches, this includes you. That's why you're there, not just to teach subject material but to step in to show children they are not alone dealing with these conflicts. Even though I didn't directly confront the child at the park, I would not hesitate a darn second to intervene in the future. Mean kids need to know they can't get away with their behavior! I also wouldn't hold back from telling the child that if his behavior doesn't change that I will be speaking with his parents, teacher or coach.

3. Talk with her. While this may seem obvious, it can be easy to just continue on after an incident like this happens without taking the time to have a sit-down conversation. Talks like these also ought to continue happening on a regular basis. They can include check-ins to ask about any reoccurring conflicts with another child, and time spent practicing responses.

4. Retrain my mind to see the situation as a learning opportunity. Although it is hard seeing my child so upset, I have to keep in mind that situations like these give me Teachable Moments.

5. Use my faith to help her.

I will talk to her about Jesus, who, despite living a perfect life, had to deal with people being mean to him. The truth it, mean people exist and K is going to encounter them throughout her life. She will have people do don't like her, just like there are some people who don't like me.

But it doesn't stop there. When kids are mean, there is nearly always a reason why. Some may not have parents who love them and stand up for them. Some may even be abused, by those closest to them. K needs to understand this, so if and when she sees someone else being targeted she can be a source of light and stand up for what's right, by telling the kid to stop. She can also speak the truth, by saying that what he is doing is wrong.

I can't make the problem go away for all time, but I'm sure gonna do my best to help her through.

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