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WWYD: Mean Kid

639 Views 7 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  Laurel
We're in a neighborhood playgroup with a bunch of kids my dd's age (4-5). Today I overheard one of the boys telling her "You're not my friend!" in a very mean way. My poor dd was very sad and tried to talk with him, but he kept saying this and other mean things to her. The worst thing was that I was standing right next to his mom, who was listening in and saying/doing nothing. I called dd away on a false pretense, but the whole thing was really upsetting to her. I know this sort of meanness is fairly typical for kids this age--but I didn't feel prepared for it at all.

What would you do/what do you do when this happens?
1. would you talk to the mean boy or his mom, or ignore it/let the kids handle it on their own? (neither seems quite right to me...)
2. how would you talk to your kid about another kid's meanness? We teach her to say no or defend herself if other kids hurt her physically: how do you teach self-defense against emotional hurtfulness?

Thanks, wise mamas!
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I would see it as a good opportunity to chat with my daughter and explain to her that not everybody is "nice." I would also say whatever would seem appropriate to make it clear to her that his behavior in no way reflect on her or what type of person she is.

If she can hold her self esteem intact while dealing with this now, she will be far less likely to fall prey to an abusive-demeaning type of relationship with boys in the future.

All roads to change the boy's behavior would probably lead to discouragement. It doesn't sound like he or his parent are interested.

Good Luck.
Hi! This is actually my first post I think, though I'm a long-time lurker. We've been dealing with "meanness" issues with my 5yo DS and some of the boys in his preschool class this year. I've been unpleasantly surprised at some of the things they say to him (and each other). DS is pretty sensitive to it also so we've had many discussions about it.

One thing that helped me help him was learning about why this kind of thing goes on, esp. at this age. I found this article pretty useful:

It discusses exclusionary play in 4-5 yo's and how many children don't have the social language skills to express what they're feeling appropriately. For example, "You're not my friend" " You can't play with us" or the ever-popular "I'm not inviting you to my birthday party!" may all just mean they don't want to play what you're playing right now. My DS takes it all pretty literally, so we've had to help him work through the mean words many times.

That being said, I agree w/ Suzetta that some kids are just mean and this boy may be one of them. We've dealt with that too. It's unfortunate that his mom did nothing, but perhaps she discusses these things after the fact in private. You can hope, right?

Hope this helps!
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If it happens again just step in and explain to dd that he would like to play by himself (or they would like to play by themselves) and help her find another activity.

As you're helping her find something else to do you can talk to her about how she feels, that he didn't express himself in a nice manner, see if she can think of a better way to say it, etc.

Focus on her. If he decides he does want to play with her (because now all of a sudden the focus is on her, that seems to attract other kids) then, if he's not been too ugly, then let them play but keep a close eye. If he was really ugly to her then explain to him that he is the one that didn't want to play with her and you think it would be a good idea if they played apart for a while.

I bet the other mom will just watch it all happen. If she doesn't like the way you handled it and she tells you so then talk to her about why she didn't step in to help her son express himself in a friendly manner.

UGH. I remember being mean and kids being mean to me when I was really little. I think sometimes it's harder watching it happen to my own.
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Gosh mamas, when you witness this stuff, please stand up for your child and for every child that you see being bullied. When kids engage in this kind of behavior and it goes unchallenged by adults, it reinforces that it is acceptable to mistreat people.

If the child's parent is watching and not intervening, I step in and tell the child directly in a gentle, parental way 'William, we don't talk to each other that way. You don't have to play together if you don't want to, but please do not speak to Baby in that tone of voice." I then take Baby away from the immediate situation and redirect her play elsewhere.

I've had this come up a couple of times. My baby was born in China, so she has a different look than the typical sandy blond haired kid that is indigenous to this midsized midwestern town. Rarely, we've come across a child with a pretty limited set of life experiences, and he may not have ever actually met kids who were of a different ethnic heritage. Like a typical three or four year old, he says what he thinks without filtering: "get away, I don't want to play with you."

If the witnessing adults don't tell him that this behavior is not acceptable, then he doesn't know that. Just like I would never stand by while Baby (or any child) was hit or physically abused, I feel just as strongly about stopping kids from emotionally abusing each other.

Furthermore, it's critical that Baby knows I've got her back. Any kid who messes with Baby is messing with mom
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I definately think that talking to your daughter about that is very important. However, unless the mom made some sort of effort or said something to you about it I would probably just let it go unless her son does something inappropriate. Telling someone you don't like them certainly isn't nice but it's not immoral either. Unfortunately in life we all have to deal with people being mean to us, and we can't stop that from happening to our children no matter how hard we try. We can just make sure that they know we love them.
Thanks for these thoughtful, humane responses. I talked with dd's preschool teacher too, and she reiterated a lot of the wisdom here: focus on dd, validate her feelings, and help her to express them (teacher's suggestion: "DD, how does that make you feel when Ben says that to you? You can tell him..."). My wise dh also suggested this response to dd: "DD, Ben isn't feeling friendly right now: let's play with some other friends who do feel friendly." The link to the article on exclusionary play is brilliant--thanks for that. And thanks to all you kind mamas for validating *my* feelings in this tough (but alas, too typical) situation...
Having just read "Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline", I would work on teaching my child assertive communication skills to help her stand up for herself. If my child came to me crying about a situation like this, I would go with him/her and coach her to tell the other child firmly, "I don't like it when you say that to me." If I thought I could discern what the other child was really trying to communicate (because I agree that "you're not my friend" is just 4-year-old code for something more complex that they can't articulate), then I would coach that child as to what to say to express what he wanted to get across in an appropriate manner. If the child still was being mean, then I would encourage my child to go and play somewhere else, and to assertively tell the child, "If you are going to talk that way to me, I will go and play somewhere else."

I've gone through this a little bit the past few days on both sides of the "meanness" fence. Yesterday, my almost-4-year-old ds was frustrated because he wanted to go play with a certain neighbor boy, and I told him he had to stay home because we were having some other friends come over, one of whom was his age. He immediately started saying, "I hate Jeffrey! I wanna play with Noah!" Well, because of the circumstances, it just wasn't an option at that time. I thought he'd end up being excited to see his friend Jeff, but in reality he spent the entire time stewing because he couldn't play with Noah, and he did take it out on poor Jeff. It was just a challenging situation all around, and at times I handled it well, and at other times I didn't. Maybe the boy's mom at the park you mentioned just didn't know what else to say, since sometimes the more you say, "Don't say that! That's not nice!", the more your child will do it. Anyway, I tried to help my ds express what he was really feeling. I knew that he didn't really "hate" Jeff, he just really wanted to play with Noah at that point in time, and no other friend would do. But even with intervention, Jeff still did get some of the brunt of ds's frustration, and at the end he left exclaiming, "D______ is the meanest kid I know!"

Well, today, ds and I were at a playground, and ds got to be on the receiving end of some kids being mean to him and calling him a baby. I told him to go to the kids and say, "I am not a baby. Do not call me that." When they continued, then I intervened and helped him find someplace else to play. When we were in the car, we did have quite a long chat about what had happened and how he felt ("angry and sad") when the kids were mean to him. Then I was able to tie into the playdate with his friend Jeff the day before, and we were able to talk about how Jeff must have felt. (This was after ds told me that he was "never, ever mean to kids". I just had to chuckle to myself, knowing that only the day before he had been proclaimed "the meanest kid".)
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