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Teaching When Your Child was Mean

Updated: Jun 9, 2019


Understanding why children and teens misbehave aids in effectively intervening with mean behaviors.

Children and teens misbehave for some of the following reasons:

They were impulsive

They lacked information or understanding of appropriate behavior for that situation

They were angry, sad, excited, bored, or stressed.

They did not think of others (empathy is developing)

They wanted attention

They were copying others

They wanted independence

They had an unmet need

They wanted power and control

They found the behavior effective


Helping Your Child Learn

After recognizing the reason for your child’s choice(s), help them recognize the problem with their behavior, develop empathy, and know how to move forward. Many children and teens can struggle to see other perspectives. Try the following in talking with your child.


Describe the situation with “and.” Reduce defensiveness and increase the ability to look at the situation by using the word “and” rather than but (i.e., “He hurt your feelings but you hit him.”). Share the facts of what occurred in a noncontroversial or insulting way.

Examples: “You wanted to play inside and your friend wanted to play outside. You two disagreed and you hit him.” Or, “You wanted to go out and I wanted you to come home. You chose to stay out without permission.”


Develop empathy by explaining how the other person was affected or feeling. As parents talk about feelings, children and teens increase their ability to imagine someone else’s perspective. Describe how the choices made effected others involved.

Examples: “When you hit your friend he feels sad.” Or, “When you don't come home like we discussed I feel worried, sad and angry.”


Brainstorm ways to make amends and make different choices in the future. Teaching ways to move past mistakes and bad choices can help children and teens develop healthier self-esteem and life skills. If your child is resistant to considering ways to make amends and move forward, be patient. Some children and teens become overwhelmed in this process, If you child becomes overwhelmed help them calm down through taking deep breaths or counting to 10, and reminding them of their ability to make a positive impact and make kind choices. Then continue with trying to identify solutions. If they are unable to identify what to do, provide two options they can choose from.


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