Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mean Kids

What do you do when other kids are mean to your kid? It makes me sad to see Anna bullied, bossed, yelled at, toys taken, to the point that she finally walks away from the group of kids and chooses to play by herself, a sad look on her face. This feels like a repeated scenario to me lately. There is one child in particular that is a playmate of Anna's that keeps being mean to her. That child's parent is often right there 'watching' but not parenting, not teaching their child appropriate behavior. The behaviors are normal 3 year old behaviors, but not acceptable behaviors. The sort of behavior that if it is not checked can become a serious issue down the road. Anna is not perfect either, she has her moments. I don't expect her friends to be perfect. But it bothers me when I see a parent not teaching their child appropriate behaviors or correcting inappropriate ones and then watching that effect my child.
In general Anna shares really well with her friends and plays kindly. She's not a follower, she marches to the beat of her own drum. This playmate gets mad at her because this child wants to be able to boss Anna around and have her do everything she tells her to. This child doesn't share well. If she's played with something recently but has since moved on to another toy she is still extremely possesive of the toy and will scream and cry and grab it away from my daughter if Anna tries to pick it up to play with it (and the toy doesn't even belong to her). She's not just mean to my daughter, you can witness this kind of behavior often towards whatever child she has decided she doesn't want to play with or share with. I get so angry! And they're only 3!
I'm never quite sure what my response should be when I see this child being so mean. There are times that I do intervene if she is doing something that could hurt another child, grabbing a toy from my daughter, or if her words are particularly mean. I tell her that is not appropriate behavior and that she can't treat my daughter or another child in that way. But I feel really awkward saying it because the parents are right there and they should be the ones saying it, they should be correcting their child and teaching appropriate behavior, enforcing appropriate consequences.
How should I approach this whole situation with Anna? I know it doesn't do Anna any favors to rescue her from this child. She is going to be faced with people like that her whole life. I want to teach her how to deal with it in healthy, kind, nonjudgemental, socially appropriate ways. I tell her she can just walk away, I tell her she doesn't have to let herself be bullied and bossed around but can choose to play however she wants to play with a particular toy or in a particular game. We've been talking about how people make unkind choices sometimes but that she can still choose to be kind. But sometimes I feel at a loss. I do want to protect my daughter. It is hard as a mother to watch your daughter have to deal with the harder side of life.


April said...

That's a tough one, but I commend you for speaking up. You're right, there will always be kids like that and your kids will need to learn to deal with them. When we had situations like that with Sarah we tried to teach her how to deal with bullies, stand up to them, and not take it. We told her that running away wasn't the best option. This just allows the bully to perpetuate the behavior. It takes time, but as you teach your kids to speak up and not take it the other kids will back down eventually and realize they can't get away with it. I think you did the right thing in speaking up with the parents there. They need to know it's not ok, i.e. you won't allow their kids to do that to yours. I bet they learned something too! It's hard when they're this little. The parent does have to intervene more. You did a great job with the situation! Trust your gut, and go with it - well done!

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

Katie, I've dealt with this too. It breaks your heart, doesn't it, to see your child so sad/hurt. I've dealt with it in a couple of ways (depending on the situation).

#1 I'm working on teaching Jonathan to walk away. This is difficult because he is a very passionate kid and usually what happens is he sticks it out until he's really upset and then runs to me in tears. We're working on it.

#2 Talk to the parent. This is the really hard one because of course the parent probably doesn't want to hear it. I still think that it is important, particularly if it is a recurring situation.

#3 Talk to the child (which it sounds like you're already doing).

I'm sorry Anna is dealing with this. It is hard to see young children already dealing with difficult people.

Michelle said...

Katie, sharing community moments with other parents is a crucible for those of us who are always looking for ways to live together, and who have "ways" that we want our kids to grow up. I can conjure up a dozen different memories of preschooler "meanness" as I read your words.

To answer your question about how to approach this with Anna, I would actually encourage you to evaluate how you and Mitch approach it, but primarily you, since this is going to happen on your parenting watch for many years to come. What has worked very well for me (and continues to work!!) was to speak to the other child and/or children (whichever is appropriate) in the first person, expressing a need or a want that I possess, not one that the kids possess, since I can only speak about my own needs and model for the kids that they have the freedom to speak about their needs. With confident kids, like yours, you have nothing to fear about them making their needs known--Anna's already doing it by walking away and playing without those kids, since they aren't responding to her communication.

Here's an example, to make it more clear: "I need for your son to work out, with my son, taking turns with that toy; what has worked for you in the past when he doesn't want to take turns with something?" or "When your daughter throws sand in my daughter's face, it goes against my rules for fair play. Since you haven't corrected her for doing that, I'm concerned that we don't see eye-to-eye on how to supervise sandbox play. What do you think?"

I know that those are wordy responses, but they get a lot out on the table quickly, and they keep the relationship relatively judgement-free, at least in the words, since you only say what you own, emotionally and cognitively.

These techniques are based on Marshall Rosenberg's "Non-violent Communication" and also Bolton's "People Skills", both of which are texts that informed the curriculum for communication skills that La Leche League produces (which I taught for several years).
My only caution in offering this perspective is this: if you talk with this variety of clarity and confidence, you may elicit a response disproportionate to your comments, in some instances. (i.e. defensiveness) In these cases, it becomes even more important to keep speaking from the first person, and showing empathy for how the other person feels without picking up the responsibility for it. (I'll tell you more if you want to know more, as this is one of the things I love to practice and teach.)

katie said...

Thank you all for your comments. That helps me think through this parenting challenge with a clear head. Michelle, I would love to talk more and maybe read the two books you mentioned. This is important stuff to me.