It’s Not OK to Vilify a Child When You Don't Know Their Story


A Mama Bear shared on social media her young daughter hadn’t been herself for a few weeks and she finally found the reason why. Her child’s schoolmate had been seeking her out and saying unkind things to her. Mama Bear was rightfully concerned and contacted her daughter’s teacher.

Many people responded with supportive comments for the little girl, reminding her of their love. Others praised Mama Bear for interceding on her daughter’s behalf. However, some people focused their attention on the “bully,” a young child, and the “bully’s” parents. They were vilified and shamed. These responses drew my attention.

I am the mother of two young daughters. They are wonderful girls — loving, funny, energetic and many other positive adjectives! They are not perfect and, like all young children, are still learning about manners, social conventions and empathy. They have experienced children being unkind to them and I have seen and heard my girls be unkind to others. Are they bad? Am I, or the other parents, bad? I believe the answer is almost always, no.

For children, there is a social/emotional learning curve. Some children excel at interpersonal relations from toddlerhood. Others may never be fully comfortable navigating social situations, but eventually learn what is inappropriate. Consider the following:

  • The child with autism who struggles with communication and/or the ability to understand body language.
  • The child with ADHD who has poor impulse control and may not think before speaking or acting.
  • The child who struggles with sensory issues and is either too aggressive physically or uses words or deeds to avoid interaction.
  • The child who is experiencing pain or discomfort from health issues or stress from anxiety. They may not have the capability to verbalize what they need appropriately.

 

Typical children also learn by experimentation. They may call one friend a “poopy face” and get a big smile and laugh in return. They are then surprised when another friend cries and runs away from being called the same thing.

As a parent, one of my duties is to protect my child. Like Mama Bear, I would definitely let a teacher or the parent know if my child was uncomfortable around a certain child. I would also listen carefully if my child were acting unkindly. I would attempt to work together to find a solution that creates a sense of safety and harmony. This may not always be possible with older children or those who exhibit violent behavior, but most young children are not “bullies” and should not be ostracized or vilified.

Here are some ideas to foster good relationships between young children who are struggling:

  • Teach your child to report anything that makes her/him uncomfortable to a safe adult. Remind your children often that it is not tattling!
  • Remind your child that some kids are still learning how to be polite and kind. Encourage her/him to model good behavior.
  • Provide your children with clear phrases or actions to use if they feels bullied, “I don’t like what you’re saying, so I’m going somewhere else.” “What you’re doing isn’t kind. Stop now.”
  • Support your child’s teacher in dealing with the situation. Listen carefully to the teacher’s suggestions. (S)he knows the other child well, but is unable to share her/his personal information with you.
  • If possible, contact the other child’s parent(s) in a respectful way. They may provide some insight.

My older daughter has autism and anxiety. Unless you know her well, or have observed her carefully, you probably wouldn’t realize it. She can be blunt and has trouble understanding subtle social cues. She has hurt other children’s feelings unintentionally and we (her parents, teachers, therapist) actively work on helping her learn how to act and react in a positive way. Is she bad? No! Does she deserve to be labeled a bully? No!

Please remember all children need love and support. And please don’t judge a child when you don’t know their story.

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