Mean Kids: Helping Your Child Deal With Friendship Problems

Mean Kids

In the course of a school year, your first grader will likely have his share of run-ins with mean kids. He may find himself targeted by the school bully, but it is even more likely to be a matter of friend-gone-foe. Your child's best buddy announces one day, I don't want to be friends any more. Your child is devastated, comes home in tears, and needs your help to make it better.

Understanding First Grade Friendships

A first grader's primary concern is that she has someone to play with. She is learning how to make new friends, and her choice of friends may change from day to day. If she wants to play with someone new, she may tell her pal of yesterday that she doesn't want to be friends--often in words that are hurtful or abrupt. Friendship conflicts in 6-year olds can also be triggered by:

  • lack of experience with new social situations
  • tattling on friends
  • mood swings
  • losing at a game

Mean kids are often just regular kids who are dealing with normal developmental issues and trying to figure out the rules of friendship. To get a more in-depth look at how first graders approach friendship, take a look at this article on first grade social development.

How You Can Help Your Child

1. Have your child draw what happened, or draw what she is feeling. Your first priority is to help calm your child down and find out what happened. This can be easier said than done. Drawing can help her settle down enough that she is a little more able to talk about it.

2. Ask some "I wonder" questions. Wondering is great because you don't have to know it all, you don't have to cast the other child as bad guy (you'll want to, but it doesn't help), and it opens you up to new possibilities you may not have thought of before:

  • I wonder if something happened to your friend this morning that made him feel mean or angry?
  • I wonder if he will want to be friends again tomorrow?
  • I wonder what you might do next time someone doesn't want to play with you?
  • I wonder who else you could also be friends with?

3. Get involved only when necessary. Sometimes it will be necessary. If your child is complaining about mean kids day after day, you will need to talk to a parent or teacher. If your child was physically hurt, you will have to get involved. But for everyday friendship conflicts, it is often best to just stay out of it. Getting a couple of upset parents in the mix can escalate a situation that would have resolved itself quite naturally and peacefully on its own.

4. Equip your child for future conflicts. It is not enough to say, "Don't play with Jack any more; go make some new friends". These issues will come up over and over, and teaching your child what to do in those situations will give her the tools to handle these. Do encourage her to branch out so she has more buddies to fall back on, and help her choose friends who make her feel happy. Give your child key things to say when there is a conflict:

  • Why aren't you talking to me?
  • Did I do something to make you mad?
  • Why don't you want to be friends?
  • Do you want to be friends today? (This is a great one because if they say no it's no big deal--it's just today!)


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“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself. ”
~John Dewey