My Son the Mean Kid :(

The last few weeks when I would pick up Jasper from day care one of his teachers would tell me how he’s “not been using his words nicely,” telling them “No” or “I don’t want to” and generally talking back and being defiant.

I guess I didn’t realize what a big deal it had become until Friday his primary teacher asked if we could have a meeting about it..I felt like I was being hauled into the principal’s office!

So today I went in and she described to me what’s been going on..

Apparently he’s been saying really nasty things to the other kids, like “you can’t play with me” or “you’re not my friend!”  She even told me at group time he looked around the room at all the kids and pointed to each one saying who was his friend and who wasn’t.. (only two kids made the cut.)

The teacher told me that he actually causes other kids to cry when he says things like that (um, yeah, those are really mean things to say!)

Of course there is more going on here than meets the eye, he is very attached to his one friend Derek and gets really upset when any one else tries to play with him and that’s when a lot of those mean words come out.   It’s also so weird to me because when he tells me about his day he’s always got some story about how this kid or that one wronged him in some way, so I actually believe that beneath it all HE’S the one that feels left out or uncomfortable and he’s using those types of words to assert some control over his inherent “shyness” (social awkwardness?) to attack first or lash out.

The purpose of the meeting was so that I could help them in their approach and understand why they may be talking to him about these things – but honestly I don’t know how much I can help because I don’t see this exact behavior from him because I don’t see him interact with a group of children very often, or ever really.

I DO see him say mean things sometimes, like if Jeff or I have been playing with him for a period of time he’s VERY reluctant to let the situation change.. he’ll say “go away mommy, I’m playing with Daddy” or the reverse. It’s almost like he’s just terrible at transitions and will do anything to avoid a change, even in something so simple.

She also said that with some exceptions, he is really a loner that will hang back and not want to join in, or need more time than everyone else to be comfortable to do so. No surprise there, he’s ALWAYS been like that.

Part of me is disappointed in his behavior and part of me feels sorry for him.. I KNOW that a good deal of this stems from his shy/loner nature – it’s HARD to feel comfortable and at ease socially when you are super shy and I know that from experience.  I also know he does really well (for the most part, the exception was this past weekend which Kristy can attest to!) with one-on-one play, he shares and generally has a great time on play dates where there isn’t a large group.

I just hope he learns quickly that it’s NOT ok to say such mean things! His teacher said all the kids really like him, but I’m sure that will change if he keeps this up :(

Any advice?

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lydia says:

We had some of the same issues and it’s frustrating and embarrassing. Here’s the thing—you need to nip this at the bud. In my experience it doesn’t go away on it’s own. I have a friend whose son still talks like this at age 12 –and has NO friends.
Parenting takes constant vigilance. It’s not like winding a clock and walking away. My daughter is a teen now and we still work on it. I started earlier with my younger child and we never had the same issues. We talk about how to treat others all the time. Before we go to a party we talk about how we should behave. On the car-ride home we talk about how it went.
When my girl was the mean girl we had lots of playdates (with the kids who would agree)and I coached her through them. I’d call her into the kitchen and talk her through it.
Ask him to imagine how it feels to be the other kid. It takes some practice, but this is the root of empathy. I taught her how to read the other kids’ body language so she could tell when she had hurt them or made them feel uncomfortable. If a child asked to go home early I asked her to think carefully about why they might have left.
If she didn’t share or if I heard that she hadn’t shared I made her choose a toy she liked and give it (forever) to the other child. We put away the things she didn’t want to share.
Hope this helps. This is important stuff- a big part of our job as parents. It’s really important to give our kids the skills to form relationships.

Aimee says:

My sister, who is a kindergarten teacher, and I were kind of laughing about this kind of thing the other day. How “You aren’t my friend!” is the meanest thing they can think of to say. It’s supposed to bring even the babysitter crumbling to her knees because she’s been unfriended! But, really, my sis says that kids lack the capacity to say what is really going on. Like, “I feel really left out and that makes me feel hurt and mad.” Or, “I don’t like the way you play with me.” It sounds like kids playing with his buddy, Derek, puts him out of his little comfort zone and he doesn’t know quite how to express rejection? feeling left out? not wanting to play with all the other kids because it’s overwhelming to him? Maybe the teacher can keep an eye on this and help him socialize into the group by having the other kids invite him to play. They need to learn to be sensitive to shy kids, too. It’s hard for a shy kid, but one step at a time. He’s such a cutie in your photos – how could other kids not like him?! ;)

ariana says:

Aimee – I think you hit the nail on the head exactly!! The teacher did say she’s working on getting him to play with other kids – they really have his best interests at heart, which maybe didn’t come through in my initial post. The reason they wanted to talk to me about it is because they DO want to work on it with him, so they wanted to make sure I knew so that if Jasper came home and told me they told him to do xyz that it didn’t come out of the blue! Our meeting was also good because now they realize the extent of his shyness and lone wolf nature, which is something he has always been – so hopefully they understand it more from that angle too now.

ariana says:

Thanks for the insights everyone! I too was surprised they said they hadn’t had a kid like Jasper before, but they are very nurturing caring teachers so I don’t think they are lying – maybe they are just very lucky :)

I’ve been thinking about it a lot and realized that Jasper is very concerned with categorizing and labeling, so I really don’t’ think his aim was to say your not my friend, you are my friend to hurt anyone, he was kind of just labeling them matter of factly according to the world of Jasper’s mind! However, she did say that other children had cried – so even if Jasper isn’t intending it meanly (which I don’t think he is) he DOES need to be taught that words can hurt, even if not meant to.

Carlise says:

Obviously this teacher/assistant is relatively new to the whole social development of ALL kids. Mine and many, if not all, of her friends went through (and still to some extent) this stage. Maggie has a great grasp of what her child needed and that is communicative guidance. What has also worked with our child (now almost 8) was role playing and role reversal. Good lick with it, I know you both are incredible parents by reading your blog and know that you are doing all the right things…just be there for Jasper as you’ve always have!! ((HUGS))

Kristy says:

Wait! I just read your response above and the teacher said that they never had a kid say “your not my friend” to this degree??? I am fuming now! What degree? This has to be a seriously sheltered/inexperienced teacher…as you know I have been a teacher of many different ages for many years and this is NOTHING!!! What Jasper is doing is totally developmentally appropriate and part of the way that some kids learn about and understand friendships and attachments. When I taught 4th grade, this type of this is what would go on ALL day and these kids were 8 years older than Jasper. Sheesh.

GiGi says:

It’s not uncommon at all. Sorry they led you to think that.

My 9 yo is super shy and sensitive. At age 9 he doesn’t use his ‘mean words’ very often any more, but he does totally shut down and refuse to speak to anyone – me included. Drives me nuts and breaks my heart all at once.

Hang in there. Keep explaining to him what his words do to others. Help him to find the right words – if someone hurts his feelings, give him a proper response. If someone refuses to ‘be his friend’ help him to focus on those who ARE his friend (this is what we struggle with the most).

Like I said, hang in there. this too shall pass.

Sarah says:

There are, of course, patterns of behavior and personality traits, and then there are phases. If only we could always tell the difference, right? If we could just know “it’s a phase,” then we’d save ourselves hours of worry. My son Finn, who is about 2 months younger than Jasper, can devastate me with that “Go away, Mommy” line — and clearly, that’s a phase — a two-year-old’s exercise in power. But there are other things that are clearly patterns of behavior, like how lately, when I take him into a room with strangers or even people he hasn’t seen in awhile, he’ll often close his eyes and cover his ears for the first few minutes! If it wasn’t for the fact that he talks the same people’s ears off ten minutes later, I would be seriously freaked. The truth is that he’s really sensitive and has difficulty with transitions. He always has; he just manifests this in different ways at different ages. This is something we work on by gently exposing him to new scenarios and people as much as we can, but he may always feel a little uncomfortable this way. Still, I expect that (like me) he’ll learn other ways to acclimate and deal with these issues as he gets older.
You’re a conscientious, perceptive, receptive parent. It sounds like you may understand Jasper’s motives, even if he doesn’t. He’s still so young: how could he understand how his own emotions work in response to others and to protect himself? So many adults don’t even understand themselves! You’ll work with Jasper on his difficulties, and he’ll definitely get through this phase (and maybe move onto another one, like Kristy said).
But I can’t believe the teachers told you that they never had another child act like that. Good grief — I’m sure it’s not uncommon.

Kristy says:

I wrote a whole long response to this.. and then the internet ate it… so here it is again, in a shorter version. Jasper is a really sweet kid! ALL kids go through struggles, especially with social stuff… kids at 3, 13 and 23! Navigating the social world is perhaps the hardest thing that kids face. Jasper is dealing with a lot, the new-ness of developing real friendships, doing away with diapers, etc… he is BOUND to have some rough days. Honestly, compared to other kids (mine included) Jasper at his worst is still pretty darn great! Coming from a mommy who has dealt with lots of behavior stuff in the last 3 years, there are 2 pieces of advice that I have gotten that I always keep in mind:
1. Remember that these kids are still just TODDLERS. They have been on the Earth for only 3 years (less than 1,000 days). The are really jsut trying to figure things out
2. Everything is a phase. Everything.
This too will pass and we will be on to other issues. I am glad to hear that I am not the only one with a kiddo that can be naughty from time to time :-).

ariana says:

JB, now that you know what to watch out for, you can be hyper vigilant for any inclinations towards a sharp tongue! Jeff and I realized that even though Jasper doesn’t use those exact words with us, we were letting him get away with too much..

Maggie, Jasper has the same problem with my mom sometimes. It’s not that he doesn’t like her, he just is really obsessed with my dad, so sometimes he makes that preference known. But he’s been much better about it lately. I’m glad the book worked for you! I think any kind of imagery really helps. Jasper also responds well to “conversations” so we had one several times last night and this morning about using nicer words with his friends and teachers.

In fact, he did the same thing at home that he does at daycare which is told us to “go away” when he was going potty. We told him that instead he has to ask “Can I have privacy please” so I think like I said we just need to crack down on his use of words in general!

Maggie says:

When our boys were smaller I remember commenting that they seem to go through stages together, but this one surprised me because like you said, so many people say they have never been through it before! We are having problems with my son being mean to my mom-nanna. He’ll push her away, tell her to go away, tell her “don’t look at me!”, etc. It has been going on for a couple months and it is really starting to wear on her.

The best thing I’ve found so far was totally on accident….I found a copy of “the three little pigs” from when I was a kid and read it to him one night. He, like Jasper, runs a little on the sensitive side and was seriously
offended by the big bad wolf. So we had a long talk about how the wolf made the pigs sad, etc….the next time he said or did something mean to nanna, I reminded him of the bbw and asked him if he wanted to be like him….of course, since he hated the wolf so much, this thought was really hard for him. Even though we would talk about mean vs. Nice and not hurting people’s feelings, this book really seemed to make it click for him.

Last night he did something not nice to nanna and immediately caught himself and said ‘I’m not like the wolf! I’m not like the wolf’, so hopefully it helped. It’s the first time he caught himself, so fingers crossed. I should also say that I’m currently on bed rest, so I’m sure that part of what we’re dealing with is a nanna replacing momma thing, or frustration over our staying with her for half the week anyway, but still, pretty relatable behaviors.

Oh! And if you do read the three little pigs, you may want to watch some of the wording….I avoided saying that the wolf wanted to eat the pigs (that was a whole conversation wasn’t ready to have, and also feel like he would really freak out that the pork he loves so much really is a little pig…lol) so instead changed it to he wanted to be mean to them, make them sad, hurt their feelings, etc.

Good luck, you’re not alone! And I’m glad to know I’m not either!

jbhat says:

Well….this has me totally worried! Our little one and Jasper share the birthday, and therefore many little Leo-esque similarities. I used to hear children in our kiddo’s pre-school doing that “You can’t come to my birthday party” bit, and would just cringe….but now I’m worried that that will be OUR little one someday, and that we too will be summoned to the vice-principal’s office for a talking-to!! She is already WAY more headstrong than her brother.

Good luck, though, Ariana. I am sure that this too shall pass. I agree with the COlleen’s suggestion to reinforce Jasper’s inclusive and friendly behavior.


Colleen says:

Reinforce his good behavior, like sharing or playing nicely. Be super excited about it, take him for a treat for his good behavior, and tell him it’s not nice when he talks to you or Jeff that way, let him know that it hurts your feelings when he says that. He is probably only concerned with his own feelings and has to realize his actions impact others feelings and when he is nice everyone is so happy with him.

ariana says:

Well, as bad as it sounds I’m at least glad I’m not the only one dealing with this – the teacher said they’ve never had another kid do this (or at least not to this degree!) which is pretty shocking because it’s a DAYCARE!

Tracy, that logic totally works with us at home, he normally feels pretty bad and gets that he should apologize etc, but apparently when they try to talk to him about it at school he’ll say something like “don’t talk to me!” which I think is his way of freaking out over the negative attention because as he does it he holds his hands over his eyes as if to “hide”. He’s VERY sensitive to people “fussing” over him, positively or negatively! I told her to try discussing it later with him when he’s not so defensive – he normally responds well to this type of “conversation” because he’s such a verbal kid. She said the reason they haven’t done that yet is that she wants him to feel comfortable there and so they didn’t want to revisit things later, which I understand.

Never a dull moment!

Tracy says:

Now that they are older, and the ability to articulate such strong wills, I feel like our job got a lot more complicated. I keep trying to work on empathy with Gemma, too, basically breaking it down into “If you wanted to play with that toy but this little boy would not share, would it make you happy or sad? Sad? OK, how do you think he is feeling right now since you won’t share with him? Can you help me make him feel better by sharing?” “You didn’t let Daddy play too, and it hurt his feelings. I don’t want Daddy to be sad, do you? Let’s include him– he’ll be so happy!” Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. If she’s being a punk outright, then we have more overt consequences like timeouts. I don’t think there’s a magic formula, and I can’t say mine is brilliant by any means. Gemma asked me today if I would ask “all the kids” to play with her, and she was very concerned about what to do if some of them did not want to. Her solution seemed to essentially rest on me making it all better. Yikes.
Facing the idea of other children rejecting yours is pretty heartbreaking.

Ashley says:

My daughter is just like him! I’m no help, I’ve been trying to figure it out myself. She switched classrooms in March (a classroom with 3-5 year olds). It seems like since has been in there she has learned all kinds of new sayings. When she is mad she’ll say the ” you’re not my friend anymore” or “you’re not coming to my birthday party.” I think being in a room with olde kids has turned her into a mean girl. She acts like this at home as well, not just has school.