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It’s hard to accept, but kids aren’t naturally mean. They learn it somewhere – usually from other children whose parents didn’t properly correct their bad behavior or from watching how their own parents treat others.

Teach your child how to walk away from frenemies and spend time with genuinely kind-hearted kids instead. This will help to prevent bullying and hurtful behavior from becoming a habit and can start an anti-bullying campaign.

  1. Let it go

It’s upsetting to hear your kid complaining of being treated badly by a peer, and you might be tempted to immediately take matters into your own hands. But “try to resist the urge to intervene before you become too emotionally involved,” says Dr. Brimhall. Trying to solve the problem too soon may make your child more resistant to open up about their feelings, or they might misinterpret your reaction and assume that you’re mad at them.

Instead, let them know they can talk to you about any problems they have with other kids. Then listen and respond, but don’t interrupt with your own opinions or solutions. It might help to repeat what they’ve said so that there are no misunderstandings. Then you can say something like, “I can see how upset you are about what the other child said. Is there anything you would like to try?”

Give them some ideas for how they can stop other kids from being mean. For example, Brian’s son Derrick has a habit of taunting kids on the playground, so he and his dad came up with a cue word, “banana brain,” to remind him to stop. When they notice him getting into a bad habit, they say the word together, which usually stops the behavior.

If they’re oblivious to bullying behaviors, encourage them to tell someone about it. That might encourage other kids to speak up, too. Or, if they’re being intentionally cruel, let them know that they might lose friends or have trouble in school if they keep it up.

You can also teach them to treat others with kindness by modeling it. Let them know that you’ll be happy to praise them when they do the right thing. And remind them that there are some behaviors that never belong in society, such as name-calling or excluding people from social activities.

Some children act mean because they’re impulsive and don’t understand how their actions affect others. That’s why it’s important to use “induction” — guiding them to think about the impact of their actions before they act.

  1. Teach them to ignore it

When a child is being mean to your kid, it’s tempting to step in right away and make it stop. But it’s important to first take a step back and suss out the situation. Is your kid really upset or just reacting to the insult? If the behavior is more serious than a simple reaction, you’ll want to talk to the friend to get more information about what happened and get a better sense of how the bully is interacting with their classmates.

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Once you’ve discussed bullying with your child, ask them to start looking out for it and reporting any incidents to a teacher or another adult as soon as they occur. Explain to them that if they let the teacher know about an incident once, they may assume it has stopped or doesn’t exist, so they should tell them privately about each and every time so they can be sure to take action whenever it occurs.

Also, help your child come up with a cue word they can use to pause and reflect before responding to an unkind act. For example, a dad I know uses “banana-brain” when his son starts teasing kids on the playground, and it helps him turn off the teasing much faster. This is a great way to teach your child that they can control the things that happen to them and not let other people’s actions dictate their emotions.

Finally, emphasize that bullies are not naturally mean, and it is never their fault that they are treated negatively. They often act out their own insecurities or feelings of anxiety and inadequacy by projecting those emotions onto others. Getting your child to understand this can help them feel empowered and realize that they do have the power to not allow other kids’ bad behavior to affect their own. If they are not making progress in addressing the problem, I recommend speaking with a school counselor or other specialist to explore more intensive options. Bullying should never be tolerated, and your children deserve to have a positive school experience.

  1. Confront them

When a kid is being mean to your child, it’s upsetting to watch. Your natural reaction may be to yell at the bully or even to take matters into your own hands. But before you do, talk with your child about what’s happening and the best course of action.

Help your child understand why the other kid is acting so mean. Some kids are inconsiderate and uncharitable, but others are struggling with insecurity or self-doubt. These are hard to manage, especially for young children, and when they don’t have coping skills, they act out by making fun of other kids or telling them things that hurt. If a child is being bullied, make sure your child tells you or another adult at school right away. Bullying can get worse very quickly, and you want to be able to help stop it as soon as possible.

Confronting a child who is being mean can be awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s important to do so in a way that doesn’t put your child on the defensive. Instead of yelling at the other kid, try saying something like, “That’s really inappropriate. You need to think before you say those kinds of things.” Your tone should be calm and direct but not aggressive.

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Another way to confront a child who is being mean is to provide them with a tool to help them stop their behavior. One way to do this is to work with your child to come up with a cue word that you can say out loud when they’re about to be mean. For example, my friend Brian uses the phrase ‘banana brain’ with his son when he starts to tease other kids on the playground. It has been a very effective tool to help him defuse his own teasing before it gets out of hand.

If the other kid’s parent is present, it can be useful to ask them to intervene. Sometimes, a simple conversation is enough to turn things around, but if the problem persists, enlisting authorities, such as movie theater ushers or restaurant hosts, can also be helpful.

  1. Take extreme action

If your child’s frenemy is a bully, you must be willing to act. This may mean limiting interactions with the other kid, having your child sit away from them at lunch, or letting their teacher know about the situation. Make sure your child knows it’s important to tell someone because they need to feel safe at school, too.

It’s tempting to jump in and defend your child right away when they tell you about unkind behavior but try to resist the urge to do so. Instead, give your child a cue word that will help them pause and reframe their unkind behavior in a different way. For example, if they start to tease their friends, they can say, “Banana-brain!” and remind themselves that teasing is not cool.

Children who boss other kids around, say hurtful things, or exclude peers often do so out of frustration or insecurity. This is difficult for adults to understand, but young kids haven’t developed the self-awareness and coping skills to deal with these feelings themselves, so they project them onto their peers.

A teasing episode with a peer is more likely to turn into a bullying incident if your child keeps it up. If teasing becomes more frequent, having your child talk to their teacher about it is a good idea. This is especially important if bullying happens at school because teachers need to be aware of the problem and step in before it gets out of hand.

Be careful not to yell at the other kids, which will only reinforce their bad behavior. Besides, it’s tough for your child to hear you screaming at someone else.

If you aren’t able to calmly help your child de-escalate the situation, consider taking a break from your child’s friendship group until the bully or frenemy has cooled off. Then you can rejoin them and remind them that bullying is not okay, and they should speak up for themselves and others. Also, teach them to report all incidents privately to a trusted adult so the teacher can monitor the issue and take action if needed.