Why some kids are mean ~ GULF NEWS, Nov 2, 2001.
Often we find that some kids are rude or behave in an ill-mannered way towards their peers. Such behaviour could be the result of family problems, jealousy or alienation.
Often we find that some kids are rude or behave in an ill-mannered way towards their peers. Such behaviour could be the result of family problems, jealousy or alienation. By understanding these causes, we may be able to help them solve their problems independently
Name-calling, teasing, hitting and rejecting are forms of behaviour typically described as ‘mean’ and, realistically speaking, no child can pass through school without experiencing some of these.
When children complain (some more than others) “nobody likes me”, or “nobody wants to play with me”, this raises parental anxiety. Parents begin to worry, “Why is everyone picking on my child?” or, as Alison Gomes, mother of a seven- year-old, from Abu Dhabi, says: “Why does my daughter keep returning to the same girl who is being so mean to her? I just cannot understand it.”
If we can understand why kids are mean to others, we may be able to enable them better to solve their problems independently. It may also help to remember that children react differently to mean behaviour.
Your child’s individual personality helps to determine whether he will bounce back from being rejected or turn away and withdraw into a shell. Children who blame themselves – “nobody likes me because I’m not good in reading” – need to have their self-esteem boosted.
Analysing the reasons
Intentional cruelty, malice and intent to hurt are emotions we usually associate with adults, yet even very young children display these feelings from time to time. They are developmental steps to learning self-control. For example, two children turn mean when they both want something, such as the last doughnut. One tells the other “You’re so fat, you shouldn’t have another.”
Feelings of anger and frustration lead kids to say or do hurtful things as they struggle with rules and learn what words are socially acceptable. Often, they don’t realise how their words and actions affect other children, because they don’t have the cognitive maturity to take another child’s point of view.
Poor role models
Sarcasm, ‘put-downs’ and humour that hurts is the daily diet in television programmes that children watch. Even cartoons have one mean sentence after another, followed by laugh tracks.
How then can we expect young children to know the difference between what’s appropriate language and what’s not? They grow up thinking they have the right to be mean, too. Sometimes a kid acts mean in school because he has older siblings who push him around. Ten-year-old Jason was always in trouble in school for hitting and kicking, till he told his teachers that this was how his brothers treated him at home.
Family problems such as divorce or the death of a parent or sibling can trigger off strong emotions in children at all ages. A child who is constantly excluded or left out from a social group may resort to saying or doing mean things on the sly. For example, pushing a child at the water fountain; cornering a classmate at a birthday party and saying something mean under his breath.
Rejection and exclusion
From a very early age, children use exclusion as a powerful weapon. Words like “Don’t sit here” “You can’t play with us”, or “I have to tell Penny a secret, not you” are intended to hurt. Sometimes, though, exclusion results more from limited social skills than from deliberate meanness. A six-year-old may not know how to pay attention to two friends at the same time, and simply limiting the number of friends to “one at a time” solves the problem.
Children between the ages of seven and ten tend to exclude others because of jealousy. This explains the constant shifting friendships we see in third- graders. Best friends change on a weekly basis; two girls will not share a secret with a third; when a new student joins the class, alliances shift again, causing intense pain to the child who is excluded.
Rejection also occurs when groups begin to get formed, and anyone who looks different or doesn’t fit in has to stay out. In middle school, this turns into cliques or ‘gangs’. A physically weak boy who isn’t good in soccer may be excluded in a group where respect is earned only if you are a good soccer player.
Next week, what parents can do to help their children in dealing with mean behaviour