5 Steps for Dealing with Mean Kids

My daughter came home from hockey practice last night in a tizzy. She was upset because one of the boys had said some really mean things to her. Besides telling her that girls couldn't play on the travel team (which isn't true), he used a four-letter word that we don't use in our house. Now, this boy is younger than her and smaller than her. My daughter's response to this little boy's taunting? She told him "to go pick on somebody your own size." I have to admit, this was one of those moments when I didn't immediately grab the teachable moment. I laughed. I shouldn't have, but I did. You see, my daughter is tiny. She's usually the smallest kid in the room. In a worldly sense, her response was perfect.

After I managed to control my laughter, my daughter and I had a conversation about how we should treat others who are mean to us. The conversation started with, "Mommy shouldn't have laughed. Your response was funny, but not the best choice."

It's hard to be nice to people who are mean to us. This little boy didn't just attack my daughter verbally; he tried to steal her dream. He went after the one thing she's been working her tail off to achieve -- making the travel team in the fall. He was wrong. If she's good enough, she can play on the travel team, but he went after the one thing he knew she wanted and tried to make her feel bad about it. It's hard to even want to be nice to people who are trying to steal your dream.

Kids seem to have an uncanny sense of how to best attack one another. They sense a weak spot and dive in, and it's tough not to react to those verbal jabs. But the Bible is really clear on how we are to treat one another -- even those who are mean to us. Matthew 7:12 says, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." It doesn't say, when people are being nice to you, be nice to them. It says, "in everything." That means all. the. time.

That's tough stuff, especially for kids. It requires self-control and compassion. It requires us to be filled up with God's love and not try to love others on our own. But Jesus went a step further than this. He said, "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Jesus doesn't just want us to treat even those who dislike us with respect. He wants us to love and pray for them. That's hard.

The next time your child faces a situation where someone is being mean to them, try these steps to turn their focus around to where God wants it to be.

  1. Look at the other child's motivation. Understanding why someone does something can help your child dig up some compassion for the other person, despite that person's actions. Most kids react with unkind words because they are jealous or unsure of their own worth. They make themselves feel better by putting others down. If people don't know that they are valuable simply because they belong to God, then they have to find another way to reassure themselves of their value. Some people do that by making others feel bad.
  2. Memorize Matthew 7:12. Encourage your child to measure all of her actions against this verse. Encourage her to stop and think about how she would want to be treated in that situation.
  3. Count to three. This is a simple tool that your kids can use. Before your child opens his mouth to respond, encourage him to count to three. This gives him time to think about what he wants to say.
  4. Pray. If your child comes home with a tale of how some other child was mean to her, stop and pray for that child. Last night, after we talked through these steps, we included the little boy who was mean to my daughter in her bedtime prayers. We prayed that he would be nicer and that my daughter would choose an appropriate response the next time, even if he wasn't.
  5. Get an adult involved. Never leave your child feeling like they have to take verbal or physical abuse. Jesus said we should treat others well and love them. He didn't say we should be other people's punching bags. Encourage your child to notify the responsible adult the next time it happens. If that person is you, decide what steps you want to take to get involved. Kids need to know that help is available. In our case, I told my daughter to find her coach if this little boy called her a non-repeatable four-letter word again.

Having someone be mean to you is part of life. It's not fun, but there is a right way to handle the situation. We can't do that on our own, though. Pray for your kids to have a God-pleasing response to other kids, even when the other kids are mean. God can help them make the right choice about how to treat people -- even when it's hard.

Don't forget to grab the free download, 10 Ways to Use Valentine's Day to Teach Your Kids About God's Love, on the Free Stuff page. It's only available until Feb. 1.