Learning about nice the hard way.

holding hands“Samantha isn’t my best friend anymore,” Sage proclaimed the second I walked in the door, with such a pout, that I thought her mouth was going to slide right down her chin and off her face.

I asked her what happened.

“Well, she’s mean to other people. Because she only likes me. She tells other people in the playground that they can’t play with me.”

I never know quite what to say in those situations. On one hand, I don’t want to talk badly about other kids to them, especially playmates.

On the other hand, my first thought was: ASSHOLE.

Of course I’m not going to actually call her an asshole. (Although I may have possibly mouthed the word to Nate behind her back.)

“Okay…why do you think she does that?”

“Because she only wants me to be her friend. And I like other people too.”

“Well, did you tell her that that isn’t okay?” I asked. And then we talk about possible responses, and how to deal with it, and la la la everything is going swimmingly until Sage adds with another pout, “also, she was mean to Thalia.”

She what?

“She told Thalia, ‘I don’t like you and I don’t want you to have any fun‘ because she only wanted to play with me.”

And that’s the point at which I think I might have it in me to smack someone else’s five year-old.

(Edited to add: Obviously I wouldn’t. This is hyperbole. I am the person who takes spiders outside because I don’t want to hurt them.)

There’s something bad enough about insecure mean girls who try to monopolize friends, and alienate the competition. We’ve dealt with the girl who told Sage “your drawing is terrible and mine is great.” We’ve dealt with the girl who told Thalia “sorry, only kids who are GOOD at kickball can be on our team; you have to play on the bad team.” I expect that stuff. But when someone tries to cause a divide between my daughters, it seems I get my fight on.

I have worked incredibly hard to create girls who will be friends. I can’t take all the credit; they are loving girls and it’s not unusual to think that they’d love each other too. Not that they don’t constantly argue about ridiculous things like who started too early in a Beyblade battle, or who spent more time with which cat, or who has one droplet more of milk in her glass before bedtime and THAT’S SO NOT FAIR. I’ve already experienced enough door slams and stomped feet and alligator tears to find myself more than vaguely terrified at the thought of the teen years.

But still, my daughters love each other.

I see it when I sneak into their beds to check on them and they have curled up together, side by side (I call it “Laura Ingalls style”) and they’re hugging each other. I see it when I turn around in the car, to find them asleep in their booster seats, holding hands across the center divide. I see it when Thalia gives up her own free chair to Sage during her own birthday party game of Musical Chairs.

And I see it when Sage is clearly, visibly upset that her friend tried to hurt her big sister. So much so that she’s thinking about giving up a friend because of it.

Meanwhile, hello? That’s some balls on that kid. To look an older child in the eye and say something cruel well that’s just…

yeah. Asshole came to mind.

If I had been there, I would have talked to her about it. But I wasn’t. So now, I have to figure out the plan. Would you call the parents? Would you just put the kibosh on playdates? Would you tell your sitter to keep them apart at the playgrounds? Would you just tell your kid to focus on other friends? All of the above?

I’m kind of not sure.

Although when the anger subsided, I was left with a wonderful feeling – the reassurance that I’ve got two girls learning to love and defend one another.

I should probably film it and play it back in about 8 years.


73 thoughts on “Learning about nice the hard way.”

  1. That picture speaks volumes, about your parenting, about your girls, and maybe about how to handle it.

    That bond might be stronger than anything you could say or do, to the parents or the kids.

    But that doesn’t mean you can’t mouth asshole. Or maybe say it out loud. Between coughs of course.

  2. That is wonderful that Sage stood up for her friends and sister! We have just started dealing with the same issue this week. My boys have been the best of friends but my oldest, also five, started camp this summer. It is the first time they have been separated since they started daycare and then pre-school. He is with older boys who are starting to exclude him and trying to exclude his brother when they are together. I am trying to figure out how to give him the tools he needs to survive the mean kids but I also think five is too young for him to solve this on his own. My husband is calling the camp today to find out how they handle these scenerios. Good luck to you!

  3. It sounds like your daughter knew exactly what to do. It is so nice to see that she values the love of her sister over peer-pressure. You have done a wonderful job, Mom. I wouldn’t sweat it too much, just reassure her that it is okay to change your mind about who your friends are.

    Well written article. 🙂

  4. Did a tiny bit of research and wrote about siblings (it is on HuffPost today) and one of the most astounding things I thought was that by the time a child is 11 they have spent a third of their time with their siblings. No friend has anything like the influence on our children that their siblings have–so rest easy. According the Kluger (who wrote the book, The SIbling Effect) it is our siblings who really teach us about socialization, so it sounds like you are set.

  5. There’s nothing like sisters. And unfortunately this is just the start of the ‘mean girl’ encounters. It makes me so angry as my girls are navigating these same waters – but it sounds like Sage already knows not to spend her time surrounded by them and accepting their crap. Love that.

  6. I’d say it’s time to send Samantha to Thalia’s friend Lizzy, the Child Therapist (all 8 years old of her) who hangs out her shingle a la Charlie Brown’s Lucy. If you want to check on your girls’ emotional well-being look to see who they’ve chosen in their lives. See? They’ve internalized lots of lessons from you.

    Now it’s Samantha’s problem.

    1. I love Lizzy! I love those stories about her playing “therapist” and hearing the kids’ problems and helping them solve them. I want to hire her to come over and just be awesome, a few days a week.

  7. The sister bond is something special. So awesome that Sage sees it so early.

    I was so mean to my little sister when we were growing up. And then one day, when I was 10 or so, a girl in the neighborhood said something to her like “YOU can’t play with us” and I almost dropped the hockey gloves and popped her in the nose (sorry, you know my husband’s influence) . I didn’t, but I was SO ANGRY and told her that she couldn’t talk to my sister like that.

    I was shocked by my anger. It made me realize how much my sister did mean to me. And still does. I hope your girls keep that bond for as long too!

    1. I can’t imagine you and your sister ever not being awesome to one another. You have one of the best adult sibling relationships I’ve ever seen, and I”m envious.

  8. You’re talking about a 5 year old. This is a child that is also learning how to deal with other people. You’re looking at your kids and thinking about turning this into a teachable moment, about how to deal with other people when they say such things – perhaps you need to think of the other child in the same light. She needs someone to teach her the correct way to deal with her feelings of insecurity so that she doesn’t become a ‘mean girl’. You’ve written this like she’s a fully formed beast.

    I do think it’s wrong to think of a 5 year old as an asshole . Could be there’s trouble in her home and she’s acting out. Maybe there’s more to this and you’ve got lots of background on this girl that’s not part of this posting, but based on what you’ve written, I think you should rethink it.

    I don’t have kids. I’ve seen this before with my mom friends. I just see two 5 year olds trying to figure things out and I think as the adult in the situation ‘getting one’s fight on’ is an impulse to be fought. Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids of my own so I don’t have that protective mom instinct. I understand it, but it makes me horribly sad when I hear adults thinking like this.

    I would tell my kids to tell the other girl that that’s not the right way to play. That you don’t be mean to other kids, especially my sister. And if it keeps happening that you won’t play with her. It sounds like Sage handled it: “Samantha isn’t my best friend anymore”………so be it.

    1. Thanks for another perspective Annemarie. You know, I’ve found some kids are simply spoiled, mean, or cruel; the same ways some kids are inherently empathetic or kind or shy or active. Not all kids are great kids, fully-formed or not. It’s the most horrible, disappointing thing to come to realize as a parent. And yes, I’m sure there are myriad reasons for bad behavior in kids, from parental involvement (or lack thereof) to abusive siblings and so on. And I hope, more than anyone, that each and every kid grows out of it and becomes lovely and productive and kind. In the meanwhile though, I don’t know that my kids need to be part of their “growing” experience.

      I won’t give you the “when you have kids..” speech because when people did that to me, it bugged the crap out of me. I will mention though that there’s a great book called “I Was a Really Great Mom Until I Had Kids.” Heh.

      I will disagree with you on one main point – I don’t think it’s wrong to see a 5 year old as a jerk if he is. I know that sounds harsh. But when I heard the things this kid was saying (and trust me, I edited greatly here), they were brutal.

      1. I don’t disagree that there’s inherent personality traits in people even as children and some are going to lie, be mean, etc.

        I just think at that age it’s too early to tell what is behavior and what is personality. As I mentioned, if there’s more than what you posted, that’s relevant, but then you’re getting your information through the suspect memory and communication skills of a 5 year old.

        My nephew was larger than other kids. At age 2 or 3 he had a slight speech impediment so was slow to speak. Was very interested in other children, wanted to play with them. Unfortunately, what this meant was that when he wanted someone’s attention he might grab them and pull them over as he couldn’t really communicate. My sister was working with him to teach him the correct way to interact, but he was in a play center situation and my sister walked in on some other moms talking about ‘the bully’ and ‘I just tell my kids to stay away from him’ and ‘I tell them if he touches you, you just haul off and slug him’. He wasn’t a bully, but I got first hand insight as to how one could be made.

        I really wish you hadn’t been condenscending on the childlessness issue. I’m 46 years old. I won’t be having any children. I have been reading your blog avidly for several years. Shall I not bother commenting in the future?

        1. I wasn’t trying to be condescending, and apologies if that’s how it came off.

          I feel bad for your nephew; it’s especially tough on toddlers who don’t have communication skills yet. I can also see how that experience informs your perspective.

          1. I don’t want to get in the middle of an uncomfortable situation here, but I personally strongly agree that it is wrong to think of a young child as an asshole. How hurt were you when people made awful comments about Thalia in that online article? I was pissed off FOR YOU when that happened, in part because I like your blog and that lends itself to a certain emotional investment in your kids, but also because I couldn’t believe adults could be so harsh about a child. I think that children DESERVE, just because they are so young, the benefit of the doubt. They’re still learning, forming, developing, and I’m not convinced it’s fair of us as fully formed beasts to judge them the way we might judge a peer. I think we have to approach all children the way we might approach our own child in the same situation. If Sage had done this, would you call HER an asshole?

            I hope not. And not just because you’re her mom.

            Obviously, a knee-jerk reaction as a result of something that tugs on our heartstrings is totally different from how we genuinely feel about a person or a situation, and goodness knows that I’ve passed unfair judgments against people (probably even kids), but I did want to second Annemarie here because I think that too often we forget that ALL children deserve equal respect, no matter what.

            Good luck finding the solution that is right for Sage and for your family as a whole. It doesn’t sound like a great situation to be in and I hope that whatever decision is made turns out okay for everyone involved. I was happy to read that Sage is so well-bonded to her sister. Strong sibling relationships are such an incredible gift and I think it shows that you’re doing something right as a parent when you manage to forge that =)

            1. I think this would be less charged if I had used the word brat or jerk or mean girl. I used a harsh word to represent the true feelings I had about a mean girl in the moment. Clearly not everyone agrees with this. Many do and many don’t. You might not also agree that some kids are brats and mean girls and yes, jerks. There are of course some kids (probably most) who are generally nice kids who act like brats or jerks or mean girls sometimes. And then, as you can see from other commenters here, there are some kids who are like this basically all the time. It’s in their hearts or their upbringing or their personalities. And some of us have spent enough time around these kids to be able to identify it. Some of us have also spent enough time around their parents or their siblings to see its evolution and formation and the parents’ inability to address it or acknowledge it. It sucks, and as someone who pretty much lives to give people the benefit of the doubt, it’s a hard thing to accept: not everyone in the world is awesome, kids included.

              Also, don’t ever read Scary Mommy.

            2. My husband and I have spent years involved with children in the foster-care system and are in the process of foster-adopting right now. As a result, I am relatively familiar with the behaviors that people find upsetting. I’m not saying that all kids are awesome or that all kids should be given the benefit of the doubt about everything or that all kids mean well.

              I’m saying that all kids deserve respect. Calling a child a name – repeatedly, behind their back, in a public forum, when they are not able to defend themselves – is rather the opposite of respect in my book.

              Of course, I do all sorts of things people think are disrespectful – writing about my child online, one time I screamed at a woman at the park who spanked my daughter for being too loud, last night I totally gossipped about a relative who drives me batty – so I’m not saying that people have to be perfect. But calling a child an asshole still just rubs me the wrong way.

  9. There was a girl in my daughter’s class last year who was…well not always flat out mean but most certainly routinely rude. She’d tell Amelia these flat out bogus stories and insist they were fact, she told another little girl that her Mom was fat and told Amelia that her drawing was bad. Hmm, I guess that does sound flat out mean, but when I saw her in person she wasn’t always spiteful and out and out mean…anyway, I’d thought about saying something to her Mom, until I went to a birthday party where both the kid and Mom were there and saw that the Mom was completely oblivious to her daughter being rude and pushing around other kids right in front of her. I find it hard to believe at least one parent isn’t aware of of behavior like that, especially when it becomes regular behavior.

    Amelia has told me “___isn’t very nice to us” and I’ve asked her if that’s the kind of person she wants to be friends with. Of course she says “no”. Perhaps Sage should be the one to tell the girl that if she can’t be nice to her sister, then she would rather not be friends.

  10. Is it me or are the assholes getting younger and younger every year. It is really hard for kids to maneuver these very tricky social situations. My 8 year old daughter Mia was dealing with similar issues at school, so at a friend’s suggestion I took her to a Girl Leadership workshop and they helped her understand the difference between a true friend and the assholes…by the way they didn’t use the term asshole, I did. They made them feel comfortable with assertive self expression and emotional intelligence. While these were all things my husband and I spoke to her about, it made more of an impact to be with girls her age and role play these scenarios or share their experiences. Not long after the workshop she had one friend who kept asking her to only be friends with her and always tried to get her to exclude her other friends. She was even at our house one afternoon and I heard her tell Mia to lock my son in the bathroom so they could play alone. Before I could intervene Mia told her friend that if she kept asking her to exclude her friends and her brother that she wasn’t her true friend because a true friend doesn’t treat your brother or other friends badly. Mia did lose a friend that day and at first I could tell she was hurt but eventually she started saying that she was never a true friend and went on to talk about all her true friends.

  11. I have to admit I cringed when I read your post, and I’m with Annemarie about cutting some slack to a 5-year-old who’s still trying to learn how to deal with other people. My son is in a similar situation, with a boy who has been his friend for a couple of years; they play just fine at our house alone, but this boy can be very mean to other kids who want to play with my son. It’s something my son is working through on his own, and with the help of his teacher and the playground supervisor, who are there when things happen. We talk a lot about it at home, too, though.

    1. For what it’s worth, it was my child who came to me and said she didn’t want to play with her anymore. In that case, do I push her to continue the relationship? Or support her decision? I get the sense Sage has already worked through this on her own, and come to a very strong conclusion.

      What would you do?

      1. Wow. This post has hit a lot of nerves with me, both personally and professionally. I need to process for a while before commenting on the overall but to this question, I would say you support Sage and encourage her to express her thoughts/feelings directly to the other girl. Kids learn a lot (maybe the most) from the natural consequences of their actions and it may be an eye opener for the kid to hear that what she did/said had such an effect on her friend.

      2. I have to admit the situation with my kid was more complicated than I let on, mostly because of other things going on in my son’s friend’s life.

        I don’t think I’d push her to be the girl’s friend again, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened on its own as time went on. Your daughter’s reaction probably taught her friend what she needed to learn, or at least started the wheels turning in the other girl’s head. You know your daughter better than I, but kids seem to be quicker to forgive. If her friend is truly sorry, then she’s learned something. I don’t think you’ve done a thing wrong. Sage seems pretty awesome, by the way.

  12. Girls can be so mean. It’s shocking that this behaviour which is essentially bullying, starts so early. How sad for everyone, including the bully. I hope I can protect my daughter from the assholes, teach her how to deal with them, while ensuring she does not become a ‘mean girl’ herself.

  13. Normally I’m big on talking with the other parents, because so often kids are different out of your sight and there is no way to correct a behavior if you don’t know about it. But it this case I think Sage already took care of it. She handled it exactly right. Unless she bumps up against another situation where she needs help, I think if it were me, I’d let it alone.

    And I agree that sometimes kids can be jerks, but unless I have reason to think they are unredeemable I always give them another chance. Sometimes they just don’t know another way, and having the opportunity to see something better elsewhere is helpful.

    What a proud mother moment, though, to know your daughter will stand up for her sister. It gives me great comfort when I see my children together to know they will have each other out in the world when I’m gone.

  14. I disagree with cutting them slack. I think it should be dealt with in an age appropriate manner, one that a 5 year old can understand though. And really her parents are the best to know what that way is for her. And it sounds like your kid did a great job standing up for herself and her sister. And she can come straight out with a “It makes me sad when you tell other people they can’t play with us, please don’t do that any more.” and “It hurts MY feelings as well as my sister’s when you are rude to her. She is my sister and I love her. You don’t have to like her, but you may not be mean to her and still be my friend,” before she plays with the mean girl again. Kindergarten is where kids ARE learning about social interaction, and part of that education needs to be “if you behave like an asshole/jerk/butthead there are consequences.” Kids can be assholes. Absolutely. They can be jerks and they can be downright vicious, and for the most part, they know it. Is is when we allow them to continue on that path that they become the older kids with those same qualities and can eventually become adults with those qualities and we all shake our head and wonder what happened.

    As a parent, I would absolutely, 100%, want to know if my child was behaving that way. The best way to approach me would be “hey, Elly, I just wanted to let you know what Frankie told me about. I really don’t want our kids to stop being friends and Frankie is really upset about this. Can we get coffee and talk about how we can have our kids work through this?” This a. let’s me know you’re not playing a “your kid is evil and it’s all your fault” game and b. let’s me know that YOU know it can be a temporary issue and want to help fix it. But you probably know her mom well enough to know if approaching her is a good idea. You could even say “I really debated back and forth about talking to you about this.” But if my kid was being a jerk, for the love of God tell me.

  15. this is a not a phenomenon that skips the boys – and I am with you – some kids are assholes.

    I just had a conversation with my older one who was perplexed about another kid ‘dissing’ my younger son on the basketball court as a result of my older son beating him in a game. He was taking it out on my little one who was innocent. My older son held his head high and walked over to the kid and said, you can say/do whatever you want to me, but leave my brother alone.

    As an only child – I was beaming – isn’t that what brothers are for?

    as a side note – dear henry always says, he never imagined that he would dislike a kid until he was a parent!!

  16. My son has had to deal with this issue—not someone being mean to his sister but friends who get jealous when he plays with someone else. Noah is everyone’s friend and he doesn’t understand the territorial nature of some kids over “friends.” It took a really long time for him to be able to work it out.

    His friends love his sister and will play with her too–it is too often Noah who doesn’t want to play with her and wants to have his friends at school without his sister. It makes her very sad (as she thinks he walks on water), but it is important that he has his independence. We are certainly teaching them both about standing up for each other. I worry about it, but then listen to them play together and it is so clear that they love each other.

  17. Yeesh. Applause to Sage. Smart, smart kid.

    Here’s what could’ve happened if she hadn’t spoken up to her pal:

    There was a new kid in my daughter’s second-grade class. The new girl was shy, and a very extroverted girl took her under her wing immediately. The terms of that deal included that the new girl wasn’t allowed to play with anyone else. But the new girl wanted to play with my daughter sometimes. However, when she did, the extroverted girl would spend all of recess sobbing. The new girl finally couldn’t take it anymore and just LET the extroverted kid take complete and total ownership of her. When I chaperone on field trips, these two girls hold hands the entire day — and panic if they’re forced to let go for a minute. A kid got between them as they were lining up to get off the bus and the shy girl turned around whimpered at the extroverted girl, while motioning at the kid who had gotten between them. The extroverted girl nodded and said, “It’s OK,” very much like I would reassure one of my children. It’s so friggin’ … weird. I think it’s great to have strong friendships but the dynamic there seems damaging.

    So again, good for Sage.

  18. We dealt with a similar situation with Girl Child back when she was five – six years old. And I have to say, I wish the girl who bothered my daughter no ill will, but I will say this:

    Ass hole. She was obnoxious. And her mother would stand around and say, “I just don’t understand it. It must be her hormones.” (at 6 years old. SIX).

    So, talking to the parents may not always be especially effective. There’s a reason why a child is behaving in such a way. Sure, it stems from any of a variety of things, but when we were experiencing the torment, we assessed the situation and decided a discussion with the girl’s parents would be an exercise in futility.

    My advice would be for some coaching with Sage, who already has the right instinct, to say, “I can play with who I want to. So can my sister. You can play too, or you can play somewhere else.” Your sitter can back her up by saying, “the girls are playing over here with these people. You’re welcome to join us, but the girls will play with who they want to. We include, we don’t exclude.”

    This little girl was a driving force behind us changing our daughter’s school. I certainly hope that her situation and emotional development has come along, but it was not ok with me to have my daughter be the one she practiced manipulation on.

  19. This kind of situation creates such a seed of anger/anguish inside of me. I have to admit–and it’s a shameful admission–that I’d be tempted to set up one more play date IN MY PRESENCE and then wait for the situation to arise again so that I could talk to that kid personally. I’ve found that parents of the mean kid rarely see their children as the antagonist and addressing anything short of a physical attack will result in a rebuttal wherein they will minimize what their child did while making you out to be an overprotective lunatic. Which we know isn’t true. Maybe the best thing is to cut the kid off, play date-wise and if the parent asks about it…reveal your reasons. Good luck to you. I hate that you have to deal with this.

  20. I’m uneasy with this post, and some of the comments. The way this girl treated Sage was unfair and mean, that is sure. And you are lucky that you have daughters who are intrinsically “good” and smart and can learn from you how to handle difficult situations like these. But it is also a time to teach compassion. As a mom of two kids with special needs, I feel it is absolutely unfair to call a 5-year-old girl (however “mean”) an “asshole.” You don’t know what she is going through at home, if she has special needs herself (for example, a 5-year-old girl with Asperger’s could easily have acted like this). No 5-year-old *wants” to be “bad” or “mean.” The behavior stems from their own troubles, psychological or psychiatric or psychosocial or what have you. You are right, your kids do NOT have to be part of this girl’s “process” as she (hopefully) learns to behave more kindly. But as a mom whose own child could have been labelled the “asshole” in this situation at various times, I would hope that other children would learn from their parents that some children may “need to work on” some things like interacting nicely with others, and that while it is not THEIR part to comply in any way with that the “mean” child is asking/demanding them to do, that they should show more compassion and not immediately judge that child. They can keep their distance from that child–but please, please, please, do not call a 5-year-old an “asshole” without knowing what’s going on. It hurts me on behalf of me and my own daughter to even read this. Thanks for encouraging a discussion about this. Sorry I rambled–it’s an emotional issue for some parents like me.

    1. Thanks for your input. I can also see how your experience shapes your perspective and it’s a good one for me to think about.

      For what it’s worth, my kids are the most compassionate kids you’ve ever met. Which is in part why she wasn’t upset that a girl was mean to her (and rarely is)–she was upset seeing a girl be mean to other kids. Teaching compassion for mean girls might be a bit further down the road for us.

      Also please (everyone) – don’t confuse my labeling this girl’s behavior in strong words on my blog, with the way you think I’ve discussed it with my kids.

  21. Our neighbors daughter is the block bully/ jerk/ and ringleader. At 7 I can’t believe the things that come out of her mouth. Her parents know and are trying to curb those behaviors, but it seems difficult. As much I’d like to help, when something happens that involves my daughter, I have enough on my plate just trying to make sure her emotional health doesn’t suffer and that she has the tools to deal with unpleasant people. Plus, the neighbor’s kid might be a jerk for the rest of her life with or without my intervention. I don’t need to have mom guilt for someone’s else’s kid. I have enough as it is!

    We limit play dates, supervise as much as possible, and make sure our daughter knows that she can speak up when something isn’t right ( plenty of role playing!) and we will always be there to support her. During summer holidays when they see each other more often I also try to keep her busy with other things and it seems like the less time they have to spend together, the more conflict free fun they have during that time.

    Btw, I was an awesome parent before I had kids too. Thankfully most of my snobbishness and self righteousness got left on the delivery room floor.

    1. I think it’s clear from these comments, especially the more emotional ones, that we all have our mama bear moments – if our kids have issues that can deem them (rightly or wrongly) bullies, then we feel defensive of other kids who might be like that.

      If our kids have been bullied, then we identify with the bullied.

      I find everyone’s passion encouraging, regardless of anything else.

  22. I think Sage already did the hard work, and that you don’t need to do anything. Either this other girl will go find a different best friend who also enjoys having an “exclusive” best friend relationship (which I actually think is really common among young girls), or she will decide to play nicely with Thalia and Sage’s other friends. I also think that you just tell Sage that she made the right choice, and to stick to her guns with this girl.

    When I was 5, I distinctly remember these issues coming up. I had two best friends, but there was constant competition for who was 1st best friends, 2nd best friends, etc. I remember being very surprised by the possessive nature of both girls, but I never discussed it with my mom, and just kind of went along with it. I don’t think Sage is dealing with anything new here, but I can tell she has a strong sense of character and what is right, which I am sure stems from the parenting you do at home.

    Sometimes, other kids need to hear from their peers that they are not playing appropriately, and they will want to make changes. Other times, they will just move on. Either way, Sage will be just fine. Other than discussing it with her like you have been, I don’t think you should step in any further, unless this escalates.

  23. I totally HEART you! I am sooo focussed on having sisters that love each other. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up with a best friend who clawed eyeballs daily with her sister or if it’s because I am an only child who longed for a loving sibling. Any who..you are doing an awesome job and I too have sisties (that although will cry over who got to pick the movie) hold hands and want to hug & cuddle.

    I think you are a) absolutely right to be ticked. What an asshole, is right! I just don’t get those kids! & b) are doing such a great job that you have done the work already. She reacted the right way. I also think a talk with your daughter is appropriate and then I would let her handle it. I find that they typically can handle it WAAAYY better than if we address the child. That kid has balls the size of Texas so she probably won’t be afraid of you, BUT she doesn’t want to loose her friend so she probably will react to the threat of losing her friend if she continues to treat her sister poorly.

    Just my 2, wait 10cents worth. Good Luck with the asshole!

  24. Love your blog, as always! I agree with you that watching our own children get bullied can really bring out our “Mama Bear” instincts. And as an early childhood teacher, I can also tell you that some kids at age 5 or 6 are still developing social skills and an understanding of empathy and are also “trying out” different conflict resolution skills. I think by listening to Sage and validating her feelings, you have handled things perfectly. Assuming these types of mean comments are not yet an ongoing pattern from this girl, I would also continue to let Sage take the lead in deciding if she wants to play with this child in the future.

    If I heard a child say something like what Sage reported, I would tell the offending child “It is OK that you have strong feelings that you only want to play with Sage but it is not OK to say mean things about Thalia. Those words hurt her feelings.” (I know that probably sounds really elementary, but some young children need to hear the idea that feelings are fine but hurtful behaviors and words aren’t, over and over before it begins to sink in, especially if they don’t hear that concept much at home.) Also, Sage not wanting to play with the little girl and telling her why is a great natural consequence that could help the little girl identify and change her behavior.

    I also agree with a few of the commenters that I would be cautious about branding a child too quickly. I would say that professionally, when I see a child who is mean on an ongoing basis, there are usually some things going on in that child’s life that contribute to their insecurity and/or lack of social skills. (I am in no way suggesting your girls “put up with” that type of behavior.) I am also really hoping that “Samantha” is a pseudonym. I hate to see any young child, even one who has exhibited bullying behavior, vilified or identified on a public blog. I would feel badly if my own children’s social mistakes (and there have been many even though they are pretty good kids) were highlighted in this way.

    I don’t know any Samanthas. -Liz

    1. I think Liz’s initial anger leading to her referring to the child as and a-hole, was a heat-of-the-moment, fleeting feeling. A venting of the frustration that another child put hers in a position such as this.

      I doubt seriously that Liz has labeled the child “Asshole Forever.” My own daughter’s former classmate who bothered her is not a child who I think is a “bad” kid – just a kid with some growing to do and I was unwilling to throw my own kid under the bus to help her learn appropriate behaviors.

  25. We have dealt with the mean girls and the mean moms on more than one occasion.

    The problem usually comes from the parents, not always but often enough to be looked at. Quite a few of the mean kids I have encountered have moms and dads who talk crap about others and don’t treat people well.

    It sucks.

  26. I haven’t read all the comments, so please forgive me if I’m repetitive here, but – you don’t have to do anything. It’s done. Sage handled it, and handled it correctly – thanks in part, I’m sure, to her own nature, and thanks in part to her parenting. Someone’s mean to her sister? She recognizes that and isn’t friends with that person anymore – boom. I can’t imagine what the goal outcome is beyond that.

  27. When my daughter comes to me with this stuff – and it happens fairly often, thanks to a couple of jerky kids and my daughter’s flair for the dramatic – I always try to impress upon her the fact that we have practically no control over other people, but almost complete control over how we react to other people. It sounds like Sage’s instinct was right on, and there’s nothing for you to do.

  28. It’s hard to see your kids’ feelings get hurt, and yet, this is life, so here we go…

    I deal with plenty of these scenarios with my daughter and I’ve been a teacher for 15 years, so I try to keep in mind a few things: First of all, I remind myself that I’m only hearing one side of the story. While my child is wonderful and charming, she always manages to present her self in the most innocent light whenever she is talking about school conflicts. Second of all, I talk to her about how it feels to be excluded and that this is why we don’t exclude other people. (Basically, I try to use the painful situation as a way to teach her to be classy.) Finally, I’ll give her sort of a script to follow, such as, “I really like playing with you, but I’m going to take a break.”

    Also, important to keep in mind- many kids have trouble sharing friends. Your daughter sounds like a lovely girl and this little one on the playground wants her all for herself, kind of how she would not want to share a chocolate ice cream cone with the other kids.

    I definitely would not intervene with the parents or babysitter. Just give your daughter some perspective and some social tools and let her work it out.

  29. My son Artie is the same age as Sage, and it’s his best friend (one year older, and a girl) who is the insensitive a-hole, but only sometimes. The other parents have been telling me that the girls at preschool are already doing this mean girl thing with a kind of mob mentality — they start in first thing in the morning, calling eachother poopyheads and sticky raccoons…? But Art has been putting the smackdown on his best friend lately. He doesn’t stand for it, and it’s working for him, at least. Hope Sage can stick to her guns. If the other little girl really loves her she’ll get over it and learn how to behave.

  30. I absolutely agree with some of the posters who find this post offensive.

    An adult calling a 5-year old an asshole is totally inappropriate and is mimicking the behavior you are calling out: bullying. This was an emotional reaction to an issue your daughter was having with a friend.

    My daughter of the same age has had many similar issues with dealing with other mean girls and saying mean things herself. I’ve read several “bullying” books to find out what is normal for this age and how to support her when confronted with these exact issues. It is very hard to express feelings at this age. A lot of comments will come off mean, but if you look at it closely, there is a girl who really cares about your one daughter and doesn’t know how to share her with a group of people. Age 5 is the typical age to deal with this scenario. It’s not “asshole” stuff. I would reconsider calling her names.

    With all respect.

    1. Please, let’s not confuse bullying a child (what?) with a parent describing a visceral feeling in the face of seeing your child antagonized. Having feelings that are only expressed in confidence to other adults is not bullying.

      It’s never inappropriate for parents to share their real feeling thoughtfully and hopefully that’s what I did. If I had said “jerk” or “meanie face” you might feel less offended. But then, in exchange, I’d have given up my honesty. Still, I appreciate yours.

      1. I apologize for using the word “bully” incorrectly. You are absolutely right. I felt very defensive for this young girl being called an asshole on the internet by an adult.

        Let me try this again. This post really resonated with me. I had this very exact scenario occur last year to my daughter. Her friend tried to keep her from being friends with other kids. It was a great opportunity to talk to my daughter about feelings of jealousy, insecurity, etc. It worked out in the end – both continue to be great friends today. Reading books about young girls at this age really put things into perspective!!! I found myself better equipped talking to my daughter. And I found that I kept my expectations of a 5-year old in check. In my opinion, the message of your post would have been better off without the name calling: whether it be asshole or meanie, jerk, etc. There is something to learn here, from your daughter’s friendship. The beginnings of girl relationships are very difficult to navigate, but they often go through being friends one day and and not the next and back again.

  31. The issue for Sage was really important. That is why she blurted it out as soon as you came home. She is learning a valuable lesson about friendship, loyalty and family. She needs reassurance that her feelings are valid and that she did the right thing. The most important thing any parent can teach their kids is that they must trust their instincts, listen to their inner voice and have the confidence to do what they know to be right. You and Nate are awesome parents and you have two exceptional children. Keep it up.

    1. I agree with this comment a lot. You already did the major step, which is listening and acknowledging her feelings. You and the babysitter may not be able to protect her from all mean girls, but your daughter knows she can count on you to listen and even act if necessary.

      Maybe the sitter can just keep an extra eye out for any potential scuffles. I know I would probably tell mine to do the same, but not necessarily intervene if it’s not needed, as it seems like Sage already put her foot down. But it’s still a good idea to keep an eye out just in case.

  32. Long story short, the girl who was gratuitously snotty to CJ all year has become inexplicably friendly. And when I was all wide-eyed, open-mouthed, “are you kidding me?”, it was my 7yo who schooled me on not holding a grudge and gave me hope that kids can work this stuff out.

  33. I think it’s great that Sage tried to handle the situation on her own. Not only is she speaking her mind–a difficult thing to do as a kid–she is also setting a great example for her friend. As to your point about her friend being an asshole – I agree. I have 16-year-old and a 12-year-old and I have seen my share of assholes through the years – many of them as young as 3. And those 3-year-olds have become 16-year-old jerks. I don’t know if they were born that way or if parental influence or neglect contributed to the behavior. I’ve even talked to my kids about what causes some people to behave badly, including outside influences and their own insecurities. But does it matter? I still don’t want my kids hanging out with kids like that. I’ve used this bad behavior as a teaching moment for my kids but sometimes it takes awhile for the lesson to stick. I’ve been telling my sons that people will continue to treat them badly if they allow the behavior to continue without speaking up. It’s a hard lesson to learn; at least Sage seems to grasp it at an early age. My oldest has been “friends” with someone for 13 years and during that time this friend has been really mean to my son. We’ve talked about how real friends should treat each other, we’ve taught him what to say when his feelings are hurt and we’ve tried to steer him toward other friends but sometimes it takes awhile for your child to see the light, sometimes 13 years. It’s hard to watch your kid suffer and even harder to bite your tongue and not call your kid’s friend an asshole. That’s why you turn to your spouse and mouth the word.

  34. Let me start off with a comment that I do have my mama-bear moments (somehow my older son seems to be a magnet to borderline-bully slightly older kids). And I had a short span of my early childhood when I was bully. And much longer span of my later childhood when I was bullied. And none of that matters now.

    I still remember accepting as really good friend a new-comer girl how had growth hormone issues so she remained much shorter even as all other girls shoot up. I appreciated her company and her thinking, and never thought a single bad thing about her being “short” – it was just another body characteristic for me, like blue eyes or curly hair. Nothing more. We had effectively exclusive friendship, not that I wanted it that way, it just happened that I was bullied and she was shunned because of her height. As time progressed, and she garnered self-confidence, and more people started accepting her as “normal” (as in: she has normal life and friend, so she is OK), she brought new friend into our circle . I was glad that happened, but was slightly confused when two for them started the “exclusivity” race with one another. So, gradually, I was dropped off. And yes, I was bitter and disappointed, but after initial heartbreak, I realised that she is not true friend, and I just let it slide away. We went to different high schools and that was pretty much the end of it.

    What is important to notice, there were no parents in any of this (granted, I was older when this happened). While I applaud the parent involvement into stopping (and more importantly, preventing) bulling, I think we need to give kids space to resolve this kind of things on their own first. Yes, equip the kids with proper tools and teach them to understand tier own feelings and have empathy, but also give them credit: kids will learn from this very quickly and self-correct. Because kids are not naive playing bunch we tend to see in our imagination, kids (even sweetest, shy kids) can behave mean and hurtful and bully at any age. And reasons really don’t matter, because as soon as you start talking about reason behind bad behaviour – it is never kid’s fault and everything is excusable – you are not getting anywhere. If kid has Asperger’s – nothing you (or anybody) can do about it. If kid is dealing with divorce – again, you can’t change that nor influence it once it started going the wrong way. If kid deals with death or cancer in family, again, why even poke your nose. If kid’s parents are already a$$holes, then again, you can’t civilize them over a course of 5 minute conversation. So loosing battle. Talk to your kid, equip them with understanding and define the “hurtful” repeatedly – anything beyond that they’ll handle themselves. They’ll meet plenty of mean people in their lives, and similar to “cosmo” issue, as long as communication lines are open and supportive and understanding parents are close by, they’ll navigate this pretty well – as Sage already demonstrated.

    So don’t worry, nothing more left for you to do – you have already done your best possible by instilling positive values of empathy into Sage. She will be fine.

  35. I very much identify with this post. My daughter and son (5,7) have both come to me at different time and have told me of “mean” things other kids have said to them. Emotionally, I would also want to classify those kids as “assholes,” but I agree with previous posts that it’s not fair to the child to do so. It’s such a young age to really understand how your actions are affecting others, and more importantly (and one of the many reasons we love children), how to curb your thoughts. My son in particular is very small for his age and thus has a lot of kids say things to him about it. One particular child has been relentless in doing so. I finally got my mama bear on and said something to him (he happened to have made a mean comment in front of me). I later found out that this child is having learning problems in school and has to go do a different school next year as a result. It made me realize that he was taking out his frustration on my child. Although not right for him to do so, I also don’t think it right to tag him as an asshole. He’s just a child going through a stressful period in life. Rather, I work with my children so they can learn how to defend themselves and empathize as well. It sounds like Thalia is heading in the right direction and she has both the confidence and empathy to understand right from wrong. That’s great.

  36. Damn if I haven’t learned a lot from both your post and the comments. Thank you.

  37. We recently dealt with a similar issue with a 6 yr old boy bullying our son (as well as others) in summer day camp. Ridiculing and employing the using of the feminine as insult (“so-and-so always screams like a girl, don’t you?”). layers upon layers of unacceptability. i actually witnessed it in action one morning at drop off. anyway, most have covered the important tactics which we also did: role playing with our son about responses, teaching about empathy and feelings, etc..one thing i might add if you leave it largely for your child to navigate is to let them know that, if they get in trouble with teachers/camp counselors for sticking up for themselves or others , that you have their back. often if there is a verbal scuffle, busy teachers/counselors may or may not take the time to get the whole background story and might issue a blanket reprimand for those involved in a verbal childhood skirmish. we let our son know that as long as he was respectful (no name-calling or retaliating with insults, etc), he could firmly defend himself verbally or stand his ground or insist on space (whatever the situation called for) and know that if he got in trouble or the teachers called us we would back him up. it seems like he should already know that, but we forget that in the moment, other authority figures feel, well, very authoritative to these little folks; and they might be unsure of where their version of events fits into the potential for consequences if there is a back and forth that comes to teacher attention.

  38. I’ve been kind of stunned by the buckshot spray of nasty playground experiences that my two older daughters have been experiencing. Aren’t we supposed to get a breather between these lessons?

    I try to channel Julie Marsh sometimes because she often seems to have a very pragmatic view. I have certainly told my girls, “Look, some people are just going to be mean.” Lately we have been trying to condition them to not always be hurt. Water off a duck’s back and thick skin are recent introductions into the life lesson lexicon. But man, it’s a dance. It’s harsh to hear grown up words used for kids and even if there are underlying issues, sometimes the words apply.

    I have seen my kids not be good. They all have it in them, I guess our job is to give them the tools to deal with the not good stuff. Sometimes I really think that a break is in order. My experience has been that teacher and parent intervention often riles them up more.

    Sigh, not very helpful. Let me know if you ever want to escape for an Adirondack playdate 😉

    1. Of course it’s helpful! I’ve also had to talk to Thalia, who is thinner-skinned, that not every conflict is a slight, and not everyone who doesn’t want to play her game is “being mean.” The thing that impressed me most about Sage is that she was very upset that other kids were being taunted. She’s pretty good about sticking up for herself, for a 5 year-old. I know I’m the doting mama, but I thought that was way cool.

  39. I have had a similar situation with my older son when he was around 5. He had a friend that didn’t want my son to be friends with anyone else. My son is a great kid, everybody’s friend. I overheard the friend tell my boy that he shouldn’t be friends with so and so and I piped in “we are friends with everyone”. No comment from the kid. After that I let a week or two go by without my son playing with him. It fizzled out. No problems…however..now, 4 years later, I notice that same friend is the kind of kid that does not do well in group play situations. He doesn’t like to play what the others want to play and will actually disappear from the group and play with something else.

    Calling kids assholes? We tend to use the terms brat or punk…they eventually grow into assholes.

    My husband and I actually were friends with two men Joe and Bob and Joe said to Bob that he couldn’t be friends with my husband because Joe and Bob were friends. These were grown men in their 20’s. So apparently some people don’t grow out of it.

  40. I’ve had that kind of response too. Just the other day we were at a play area in the mall and there was a girl pushing the smaller kids out of the way to use the slide. I’m ashamed to admit that my first instinct was to smack the smug smile off her fat little face. Of course, I didn’t, but I did give her a stern look and told her she needed to share. Just shows you how close to the surface my own inner asshole is.

  41. I have to agree with some of the other commenters here, I don’t agree with calling a kid an asshole, no matter what their behavior. You didn’t like it when some random adults on the internet attacked Thalia over her letter to the principal, and I think you being an adult on a public blog calling a child an asshole is pretty much the same thing.

    I also have to say that the girl’s behavior is pretty normal for a 5 year old and a child at any age, for that matter. It’s something they’ll grow out of (or not) and you as a parent of the other child can’t really do anything about it. I think Sage handled it pretty well, so I guess I don’t understand why a parent has to get so riled up over something another kid does. They’ll work it out, you be there to listen and explain what proper behavior is to your child.

    1. The same way you got riled up when a woman snorted and made comments about your child that hurt your feelings at the pool and you “wanted to smack her” – I got riled when a kid made comments that hurt my kid’s feelings. (Although I didn’t want to smack her.) Clearly we all have different things that make us feel protective or angry or defensive. Maybe try seeing it from that perspective.

      But I can see from a lot of these comments that it came across as inflammatory as opposed to something that I thought in my head. I can only assure you I’d never ever actually call a kid an asshole out loud!

  42. You’re right, my knee jerk reaction was that I wanted to smack the adult in the situation, not the child. I think a little bit of compassion and understanding from a parental perspective towards the other child is needed in these situations. I understand some things make us feel protective and angry.

  43. I give some version of the speech below to my almost 5 year old.

    “You are still growing and learning and so are they. They are making a mistake. Until they learn to do better, play with someone else.”

    A lot of mean behavior in the earlier years is just kids who don’t know better, who are trying to figure things out. I try to leave room for the mean kid to move on to another phase of development, one where their play skills have matured (it happens).

    Saying it’s a mistake allows my daughter to realize it’s not personal and see it from the macro view that everyone is still little and growing up. This also makes it easier for her to re-enter a play relationship–no one has been vilified or victimized.


Comments are closed.