Does this sound like your kiddo or one you know?
You know, the one who hits, kicks, grabs or yells at another child to get the toy they want right now?
You’re not alone. There’s a time when many of us despair that our seemingly burgeoning playground bully is headed down the path of—well, you get the idea. I’m here to reassure you that in all likelihood, with a few simple parenting hacks, you can teach your child to be the kind, sharing, sweet kiddo you know them to be
This is a bit embarrassing, but hey—whatever I need to do to help other parents out, I’m game for.
My sons, who were about five or six at the time, were at school when Nico (five) told me a bigger kid was pushing him at school. So, I naturally told Jason (six) that as a big brother, he was to watch out for his little brother and help him out.
This was a great idea, to have them watch out for each other, right?! Well, as they say, the best-laid plans…
I didn’t hear anything from either of them and all seemed well and fine. Problem solved, right? Umm, not exactly. About two weeks later, a mom came up to me and said that my boys were “ganging up” on her boy—talk about mortified! Of course, I apologized and immediately talked to my boys. Their thoughts were that it worked so well, making the other boy stop pushing, that they thought it would be cool to see how it worked on others. I was definitely not up for “Mother of the Year” at that point.
So what did I do? I sat them down and explained the difference between watching out and standing up for each other and ganging up and throwing their weight around the schoolyard. It was an enlightening event that really hit home. I realized that I needed to be much clearer about what I was expecting from them and explain it in a way they would understand.
Keep reading—you’ll see what I mean.
Why is my kiddo being so mean to his siblings and friends? You’ve removed them from the situation, told them to be kind, even shouted as you leapt over a minefield of toys to rescue the object of contention.
Taking a few moments to make sure you’ve let your kiddo know what behaviour you’re expecting and what the consequences will be—that make sense in relation to their choice—and then following through with 100 percent predictability will go light years to nip this unwanted behaviour in the bud.
How to stop your kiddo from “turning into a bully,” so to speak, is easier than you think!
1. Clearly, simply, and firmly state your expectations before they head off to play, such as: gentle hands when you play with your sister. Make sure you’ve made eye contact as the pull to go play is bigger than wanting to listen to you—this is my decades of experience talking here.
2. Set the consequence that’s directly connected to their behaviour. If they choose to play whack-a-sibling with their blocks, then they can’t play with their blocks; if this is round two, then remove them to a thinking spot, as they aren’t playing nicely with their sibling/friend. Trust me when I say: having to watch everyone play is a great incentive to use your gentle hands while you play.
3. Get down to their level and calmly help remind them why they lost their blocks or had to go to the thinking spot. Prompt them, especially if they’re small or new to this. Keep your words clear and simple—remember, less is more here, or they totally tune out and you’ll be wondering why they did the behaviour again.
4. Finally, give them a hug and a kiss, help them to apologize to the person they hurt, and encourage them to use gentle hands next time. Don’t be too surprised if you have to do this a few times in a row before the light bulb in their sharp little brains turns on. They’re just checking to see if you really mean what you say, especially if you haven’t been the most consistent in the past.
Keep in mind they’re learning to self-regulate, develop empathy, and manage their emotions. Our job is to encourage this through calm, clear, firm, loving boundaries with consistent follow-through. Parenting is a skill that you will develop and hone over time. If things don’t seem to be working, be kind to yourself, and always remember that tomorrow is a brand new, fresh day.
P.S. My boys have grown into pretty awesome men, and I’m happy to say their reign over the playground was short and never repeated, much to this mom’s relief.