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Parent Talk: When is it OK for Kids to Be Mean?

A struggle for acceptance between the neighborhood kids and my two oldest has become a bit personal. But am I overreacting?

We’ve lived in our Albertville neighborhood for the past five years, and we love it here.

The neighbors are great. Not a bad apple in the barre ll. Our lot has plenty of mature trees. The streets are paved and in nice shape. The kids can ride their bikes in the road, provided they have helmets and a little bit of adult supervision (read: I’m not walking right next to them, but I’m watching from the yard or driveway).

What’s always been interesting is the boy/girl dynamic. There are boys in our neighborhood, but most of them are considerably older than my 5-year-old, who is starting to spread his wings and ask to go play on his own.

There is a 7-year-old boy nearby, and while those two haven’t played together much in the past, I can see they’re going to be running mates this spring/summer already, thanks to the warm weeks we’ve had already.

In the past, my kids have stayed with the “girls next door.” There’s six girls spread between the two homes next to hours.

That has worked … until late last summer, when the girls, who are five years older than they were when my little guy got here, decided it wasn’t cool to play with a boy anymore.

And I took that a bit personally, I have to admit it.

It’s strange for me to see the dynamic changing. They’re running (or riding) from him, instead of running to meet him when he comes outside.

Lost in the mix is my middle child, a 3-year-old girl. She’d LOVE for these girls to hang with her, but instead she’s caught in the new crossfire.

The other day, I intervened. I had to. The look on my middle child’s face practically twisted my arm.

As a result, two of the girls played with her, and she was happy as a clam.

But was I right?

My actual message to the girls was, “Don’t run. Tell them why you can’t play with them. They at least deserve that explanation. And the boy will understand. He’s not all that cool about playing with girls anymore, anyway.”

Which he’s not.

But once I told them that, the dynamic changed. And I had caused that.

At what point is it OK for kids to be mean? At least the way I perceived it? Should I just let this happen? Or should I have spoken up as a father concerned for his kids?

Times are changing. And it will be interesting to see how things shake out in the neighborhood this summer, that’s for sure. 

Melissa Fryckman March 23, 2012 at 12:32 PM
I would want know if my kids were being mean. I would want someone to explain to my children what they can do better, but I would also want that parent to come to me and explain what happened so I can work on it with my kids from my end. That said, everyone well not agree with my way of handling things. We are all different and have different views on parenting, but in the end we have to do what we feel is right. If a problem arises because of our actions all we can do is be open with each other as parents find a middle ground. I will tell a kid not to ride their bikes on people’s lawns. Does that mean I have overstepped? I don't think so, but their parents might. Would I do it again? You bet. I will treat others children in a respectful way, the way I hope others will treat my kids. The point I am trying to make is, use your best judgments and deal with what comes later. We all want what is best for our kids and that is what unites us as parents.
Mike Schoemer March 23, 2012 at 01:12 PM
To be clear, I don't consider what the kids were doing as "bullying." Not in the slightest. Like KS said, it's a progression. The girls are getting older. I agree with you, completely, on the lawn thing, Melissa.
Laura Nielsen March 23, 2012 at 01:26 PM
I got to know all of the parents first, to help me to understand how they react to how their kids interact with others. That way, if I see that there's a child whose parents always defend their kids' bad behaviors or other children unfairly, we remain friendly but steer clear of playing with them. It eliminates any potential misunderstandings. There are plenty more parents in the neighborhood who have parenting styles more in line with mine whose kids my kids can play with and babysit without any reservations. We are very blessed here in Albertville. :)
Willow March 23, 2012 at 06:49 PM
There is an age spead between my kids, 14 down to 3. I won't say much to other kids in the neighborhoood as far as the older ones including my younger ones. I do however, put my foot down with my older kids including my younger ones....at least some of the time within reason. I realize that there are just some things the youngers can't or shouldn't be doing. I want my kids to be able to interact with kids of all ages and I get fed up with the mindset that so many kids have that they can't play with anyone younger than them. That's not real life. I try to encourage neighbor activities that all ages can participate in. I hand out glowsticks at night for hide-n-seek tag after dark, the kids play kickball in the neighbor's backyard, a good water fight in the backyard is great, etc. AND, if the olders aren't going to be playing with the youngers, they need to at least be nice about it. "Sorry Serena but we'll be riding bikes right now and you aren't able to come. Let's plan on playing Uno when I get home, ok?"
Meghan Gutzwiller March 24, 2012 at 03:58 AM
I think you did the right thing. Sometimes kids get caught up in the moment with peers, but it only takes a respectfully-delivered reminder (which I'm sure you gave) to bring kindness back to the forefront of their minds.

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