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How Nice Kids Handle Meanness: The Art of Pushing Back with Truth


“Our poor little girl is being called dumb. She’s becoming really anxious about going to school.  It breaks my heart to see her change like this. I thought you might be able to help us?”

I’ve received many, many messages similar to this one.  In this case, a ten-year-old girl was consistently being called ‘dumb’ at school by a more socially powerful peer. She was becoming very anxious, and feared being left alone.  She needed the skills to cope, and cope quickly!

I often say to young people: if someone is mean once, you are best to write it off as a bad day. If someone is mean to you twice, you might choose to overlook it.

But if someone is mean to you consistently, you need a strategy. I suggest you PUSH BACK WITH TRUTH.

Most children’s natural and learnt response to meanness is to be mean back. As adults we discourage this, as we know that mean words + mean works don’t make things right. They usually just turn a bad day into a disaster. Not only does it show a lack of respect and character, the person who picked the fight is usually well able to finish it.

So what do we encourage them to do instead?

Our children have a responsibility to firstly discover who they are, and then protect it. They should never see themselves as powerless by-standers or victims in life.

It takes strength of character and social resilience to push back with truth instead of cowering in the corner (avoiding conflict) or being mean back (fighting off conflict).

Pushing back with truth is simply finding short, sharp, snappy statements to respond to bullies’ comments. These statements might included, ‘No. I’m a really nice person’ and ‘I don’t think you should be saying that, do you?’  

Session 2 – Push Back With Truth from the ‘Everyday Resilience Video Series’

As communication is 70% body language, many children have to practice the moves to go with their words.  Hand gestures, eye contact and standing tall all emphasise their confidence.  Practice is the key to sounding strong, especially when they aren’t accustomed to being so forthright.

It is well documented that young people are reluctant to deliver negative feedback in order to avoid negative evaluations by others. They will also modify feedback so that it is less negative or even avoid giving feedback entirely. They may not want to be perceived as not being nice, and they may be concerned what others think about them. By doing this they decrease the threat of social exclusion and potential rejection.

If you have a shy or very ‘nice’ child who struggles to stick up for themselves, they may need your ‘permission’ to be strong. Let’s help them understand there are times when it is completely appropriate for them to be forthright.

Nice is not always the most appropriate response. There are time when strong words do a much better job.

The first time our children experience meanness can be a very hurtful, especially if they have always been surrounded by love and approval. It can take many children by surprise. They are not prepared to have to defend themselves.

I know parents feel their son’s and daughter’s pain during these times and want to do everything they can to support them. One way we can support them is by encouraging them to be strong, firm, and bold. This worksheet is taken from the Everyday Resilience Journal, and you are welcome use it, or create variations of it, to use with your tween.

RECOMMENDED READING:  For more, check out Michelle’s book “Everyday Resilience: Helping Kids Handle Friendship Drama, Academic Pressure and the Self-doubt of Growing Up” and its accompanying journal and video series for Tweens.

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