It can be absolutely heartbreaking when your child comes home from school, glum and withdraw complaining that another child had been mean to them yet again that day. When it comes to dealing with “mean kids” at school – which is all just part of childhood – it’s something a lot of people have asked me about.
In our own house, we have suggested everything from ignoring the said child to trying to outwit them by constantly replying “why” to every mean exchange of theirs.
But the truth is, when it comes to dealing with mean kids at school, I’m not really sure of the correct response as a parent….are you?
So what IS the correct response to mean kids at school?
Parent Coach Shane Warren knows how conflicting this can be for parents, “As a psychologist part of me wants to talk about how good it is for future character development to confront mean kids at school – but as a dad I just want to say how terrible it is.”
“I’ll run with the professional side: as parents keep in mind that the experience of meanness (and even mild bullying) can really help our children grow and prepare better for the future world they will move into. So is saying that I think it is best not to rush into rescue mode but rather sit on the sidelines as a coach and mentor in these times; always watching for signs of major emotional harm…”
Mother of two and Life Coach Lesley Samuels at Wee Nudge Coaching shares a similar outlook, “The best thing that we can do is teach, why the ‘mean kids’ behave the way that they do. It is more often than not , the ‘mean kid’ feels they are not good enough. When someone feels that way, they will do whatever it takes to make them feel better.
This usually ends up with them bullying directly, with name calling or even becoming physically aggressive. Or using other pupils as leverage to make them feel more popular, at the cost of another pupil. As much as we would prefer that our kids never had to go through this, it teaches them life skills for when they leave school.”
Tips for supporting your child
Clinical psychologist Daniel J Wendt at Oracle Pyschology shares the following tips:
Use for power of role play
Teach your child to create distance between them and the child who is being mean. Role play non-confrontational body language that does not draw attention to your child while they are trying to avoid the bully. Encourage your child to project a confident stance and to direct their eye contact purposefully ahead of them while they are walking near the mean child.
If your child is directly approached have a standard rehearsed response for them to use such as “I don’t like the way you are treating me”. This comment should be delivered in a calm and matter of fact way, followed by removing themselves from the situation confidently.
Empathize and educate
Explain to your child that you understand that it’s difficult to have the other child being mean to them, by empathising with their situation. However, also educate your child that they need to down play their emotional reaction at school so that the bully does not know they are getting upset. Describe how bullies try to win by making other people upset. We don’t won’t the bully to think they are winning, so they need to look strong in front of them, even if they don’t feel that way.
By ensuring your child has good social connections, a community network, extracurricular activities and a supportive family life, they are inoculated against not only bullies but also negative life events. Children in general are remarkably resilient to negative situations when such events are isolated and other aspects of their life are thriving. Filling one end of the scale with positives can out weight the negatives.
Be a good role model
Show your child that you are in control, you have a plan and that you are confident it will stop. By talking about your plans calmly and rationally your child will take comfort and soak in your constructive and serene attitude. Model confidence and resilience in your own words and actions. Verbalise helpful thinking and constructive self-talk. This will show them how to respond to threats and pitfalls in life.
Ensure your child reports all incidents privately to a teacher or a trusted adult. Explain that sometimes teachers are busy and that if we tell them a problem once the teacher might try to fix the problem. If the teacher does not hear from your child again the teacher might think the problem is fixed. By notifying the teacher privately of ever incident, your child is empowered to take control while also highlighting to the teacher how frequent the bullying is occurring. This will emphasise that the teacher needs to take further action.
From one kid to another
I also thought it would be really interesting to hear advice from someone who had been on the receiving end of “mean treatment” from other children. Knox Tolbert, author of Unwanted shares his tips on how he dealt with children being mean to him at school:
Sit close to your teachers
Si in the first two rows – so if anyone does say anything to you, you can say out load “do not say that again” so the teacher will hear you.
…but sometimes you need to stand up for yourself because if they think they can call you names and make fun of you and make you cry and you don’t do something it will never stop.
All my friends have been bullied like me for different reasons – if you stay together the bullies don’t pick on all of you if you are together
You are better
Always remember you are better than the mean kids and the mean kids might be in a bad situation at home and sometimes they just need a friend to talk too.
Children can be really cruel sometimes, and sadly it’s something that starts as early as Reception and Year One, where quite often they can be “frenemies”. Although we can not and should not fight out children’s battles for them, we can empower them with the knowledge and mindset they need to help them deal with these exchanges.
If your child is coming home with stories of another child being mean to them – I really hope the above insights and advice will help you equip them with the tools they need to handle these exchanges confidently.
Picture credit: School photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com