By Dianne Smith
As parents it is always hard to hear our child is struggling. Our heart hurts if our child’s feelings are hurt or someone has been mean to them—but what do you do if your child is part of the “mean group?” Finding out from a teacher or another parent that your child is being mean or is friends with children who are being mean is hard. All the same your heart hurts because you know your child is struggling and you may be questioning what you could do to be more helpful.
All children struggle with bumps in the road of life, and being mean might be your child’s way of telling people that they are in a self-esteem slump or struggling in some other way. Your child may need a little more support and encouragement to work on seeing a different point of view or better ways of handling their emotions and feelings. Wonderful opportunities like this help us have heartfelt discussions with our children about life lessons such as empathy for others and “getting along.” A previous boss who I respect very much called them “teaching moments.”
It is helpful to think about mean behaviors as falling along a continuum. Your child may not be the ring leader, but they may be standing by and laughing while the leader is mean. They may be part of a group that practices exclusion and will not let other children join them. Helping children understand that a kind word goes a long way and not saying anything is also being a part of the problem is important.
The “teaching moment” is that we don’t have to like everyone or agree with their point of view and opinions, but we do have to treat everyone nicely and stand up to those who do not. We teach children skills to manage life that they will carry with them into the adult world. Learning how to handle others is an important life skill to have. Not being part of meanness and gossip is an important life lesson, the earlier learned the better. Along with teaching children how to get along with others it is important to teach them empathy and understanding of how others might feel. Again, another wonderful skill to take into the adult world that will help your child make the transition into adulthood more successfully. The transition is hard enough and the more skills we can teach children the better. We want to help children navigate the rough social waters with kindness, empathy and respect for others along with being assertive and standing up for their opinions in a way that is respectful to others. Raising kind children requires an active effort to teach them the social skills they need to be confident in their relationships—without hurting others.
Dianne Smith, LMFT is a licensed counselor who works with both children and adults. She has offices in Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint and can be reached at 951-440-0982.