Kids can be mean. Even your kid. I mean really, it's easy to think of a kid who picks on your kid as "a bad seed" or a "bully," but honestly, all kids can have a bad day, bad moment, lapse of judgment, or yes, a bad decade, but that doesn't mean they can't change someday. Hopefully. And, with all those kids out there, learning to play nice, how do you make sure your kid/s are part of the solution, rather than the problem?
I recently had occasion to need some good advice on this subject, so of course, I asked my sister-in-law (who is a school counselor) for book recommendations and tips. She came through with some great book suggestions, and I stumbled upon another in looking for her picks...
Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell is adorable, and made both of my kids giggle with delight. Molly Lou is tiny, bucktoothed and strange-voiced, facing a new school, and a big kid who's bullying her, but by following her gramma's advice to believe in herself and stand up tall and proud, she handles herself well. They love it, and requested the book again and again.
Becky's second pick was The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill, and they loved it too. The sassy Katie Sue who stands up to "Mean Jean the Recess Queen" was an instant favorite. In this one, the queen of mean is de-throned by sassy Katie Sue inviting her to play. Fairly simple, and funny rhyming text, and since a mean kid of this magnitude realistically might not be "cured" by kindness alone, it's a good one to discuss. Five-year-old Madeline thought that "Katie Sue should ask a teacher or other grown up for help if Mean Jean kept chasing her and bossing her, and maybe gettin' madder!"
The third book that I found is King of the Playground by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, which shows a boy named Kevin trying to play at the playground which is the "realm" of Sammy—King of the Playground. Each time Kevin tries to go to play, Sammy tells him that he can't, and threatens him. Each time, Sammy goes back home and his dad chats with him about the threats until he (Kevin) sees a solution for each (finding each threat silly or impractical in the end). Knowing how to take command of the situation himself, eventually helps Kevin screw up his courage enough to stand his ground. Sammy is still truculent in the end, but does choose to share the kingdom.
A previous recommendation from Becky was Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Bottner which my kids found humorous, and I liked too. Bootsie is shown being terrible — kicking dogs, pulling hair, throwing ridiculous tantrums, and terrorizing her friend, but I found it easy enough to ask questions about her behavior, that the kids answered very cleverly. The book shows Bootsie's parents giving her anything she wants and caving to demands... my kids both thought that "That makes the mean girl think she's in charge of her Mama and Papa, so that's why she thinks she's in charge of all kids and everything." Ahhh... out of the mouths of babes. I think Bootsie would be a great one for kids to add on to by writing more of the story. Like, after the narrator finds an excellent solution to her problem, maybe she talks to her mom about it further, and her mom talks to Bootsie's mom (she is her "best friend" after all), and maybe Bootsie the "biter" gets some help! Older kids could have fun being creative with that one.
So, what was Becky's advice? Focus on raising and empowering your own kids, versus empowering and rewarding the undesired behavior of mean kids... find other kids to play with, play near an adult, teach them to say, "Stop," "I don't like that," or "That's mean," and walk away. Older kids can use humor, self-talk or agree with foolish remarks to defuse a tense situation. Teach the difference between tattling (attention seeking or getting another in trouble) and asking for help (going to an adult for assistance - just like going to your manager/boss when you can't reach a solution to a work issue).
When dealing with kids who are being mean to your kid, talk to your kid, letting the mean kid "overhear." Let your kid take the lead, and if needed (or requested) help them take command of the situation. It's all about the long-term lesson of teaching your kiddos to be resilient and "punk-proof," and that everyone can make mistakes/mess up, not the short-term goal of protecting their feelings today. The four books listed here will help kick-start some ideas of how kids can take charge, and judging from my 3- and 5-year olds' reaction to these books, they are ready to learn about this topic as soon as they've been pushed around on the playground. In fact, not just ready, they are hungry for heroic behavior to model!