What to do when kids are mean

Published 10:37 pm Tuesday, February 5, 2019

By Nathan Rice

I could tell he was upset as he walked towards me. I asked him what was wrong, and he proceeded to tell me through some tears and sniffles what a few of the other kids had called him. The old saying that kids can be mean is absolutely true. The names he had been called seemed to hit him close to home, and he was genuinely upset.

I began by consoling him. I told him that I know getting made fun of is not enjoyable, and that I know how much words can hurt. I’ve heard many adults start a conversation like this one by telling those with little tear-filled eyes not to let words get to them, to get over it, or to be tough. There will be another time for a lesson on how to deal with and process mean words that are thrown at him, but that was not what he needed at that point. His tears were real. They were not an attempt to get someone else in trouble or himself out of trouble. At this moment he needed love, acceptance and consolation. He had chosen to come to me for those things, and I was not going to turn him away. I wanted to begin the conversation by letting him know I heard him, understood he was hurting, cared about him and his feelings, and was there for him. A simple “I’m sorry they made fun of you. I know it hurts,” is an easy way to help start the healing and begin a conversation.

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My next step was to make sure that he knew the names the other kids called him were not true. “I know it hurts when someone calls you stupid,” I said, “But that doesn’t make it true.” I told him several of the things I knew about him that proved to me that he wasn’t stupid. I pointed to the blue wall near us and asked, “If they said that wall was red, would it be red?” “No,” he replied, “It’s blue.” I then used that example to help show him that what others say doesn’t change the truth.

I proceeded to talk about the insults that were thrown his way that weren’t lies but that were still mean-spirited. Some kids are shorter than average, wear glasses, are overweight, or have a crooked nose. Those insults can’t be addressed in the same way as the lies, but they can be addressed. We talked about how everyone looks a little different. I laughed about the growing bald spot on the top of my head and that weird little bump on my forehead. I pointed out how many people love him exactly how he is and how we shouldn’t let a few kids who are being mean make us feel bad about being ourselves. “We’re all different,” I said, “and that is OK.”

There will be times when kids are mean. We can’t always stop the ones we love from being ridiculed, but we can make sure we are there for them when little hearts are pained by cruel words and little minds swirl to process what was said to them. Console them, help them understand what statements are lies, and let them know you love them. The world is a cruel place. Give them a safe zone in your arms.


Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.