What to do about cruel school friends
Six year-old Ella stumbled into the house after school, sobbing at full volume. Ella was heartbroken after another unhappy day involving ‘mean friends’.
Like adults, children can be mean to one another. Sometimes an unkind remark spoken by one child to another can be the catalyst for friendship to crumble.
“I’m not your friend anymore!”
“I don’t like you. You’re mean!”
Below are six strategies for working with your child if he or she is struggling with ‘mean’ friends.
Be emotionally available
When Ella sobbed her way into the living room, she needed her mother to sit with her, listen, reflect feelings, and let her know she is ‘there’.
“That made you feel so sad.”
“I bet you were hurt in your heart.”
Reassuring your child that these feelings and experiences are normal is one of the most important things you can do for your child.
Paige was being mean to Chanel. After taking time to be emotionally available Chanel’s mum asked why Paige might be being mean. Chanel replied, “Paige told me she doesn’t like it when I come and play at her house because I’m stealing her family from her.”
Such insights using perspective taking allowed Chanel and her mum to develop strategies for dealing with Paige’s ‘mean’ behaviour.
In some instances, ‘mean’ kids may be having a bad day or week. We all have those. By listening, monitoring, and offering gentle guidance and strategies (like encouraging kindness and sharing), often things can settle down in a relatively short timeframe.
Get together with the other parent
Tiffany was concerned. For over four weeks her son had experienced difficulties with his ‘best’ friend. There had been tears and conflict. With much trepidation she called Olivia to talk. The two mums met once the boys were at school. Tiffany gained perspective and insight, and had a good opportunity to share concerns.
Most parents are very willing to communicate. They’re usually as concerned about the issues as you are.
Warning: When you talk with another parent you may discover that the ‘mean’ friend issue is a two-way street. Your child may not always be the victim. Keep an open mind and work towards solutions rather than blaming and accusation.
Encourage play dates and observe the children
By bringing children together in a safe, monitored environment you will do several things:
- First, you can watch them and better understand how their relationship is working;
- Second, you can remove additional peers and allow the relationship to grow in an environment with less distractions than the school yard; and
- Third, you have the opportunity to teach and guide the children into appropriate relationship behaviour.
- As an example, we might say to an aggressive child, “At our house we speak kindly to others.”
Involve the school
Most school teachers and principals want the very best for their students, and that includes good peer-to-peer relationships. If all of your personal efforts, and those of other parents, have not been successful in improving things between children share your concerns with a teacher. Seek their involvement and guidance. They’ve dealt with many similar issues before.
Read more about school friends:
- The etiquette of play dates between school friends
- Peer problems at school
- Getting to know other parents
- Dealing with cruel friends at school
- When your child is being teased
- When does teasing become bullying
- Teaching your child resilience
- Fostering resilience in girls
- Fostering resilience in boys
- Preparing your child for school success
- Creating curious and motivated children
- The importance of extra-curricular activities
Ready Set Learn
This article was written for Kidspot by Justin Coulson, Ph. D. Justin is a relationships and parenting expert, author and father of five children. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at happyfamilies.com.au.