My preschooler learned a new word at school. Mean. I had hoped she wouldn’t come to know the definition of the word so soon. But now that she understands the meaning, her use of the word ”mean” is growing in frequency.
I’m starting to think bringing home lice would have been better.
At first, a boy in the class was mean. Then a visiting child was mean. Another child was said to be mean because she didn’t want to play. Now my preschooler says her sibling is mean. For taking her first choice crayon color. For eating the last piece of candy (even though she ate much more than her fair share). For doing something first, like getting to the bathroom sink when it’s time to brush teeth.
There’s no doubt, addressing ”mean” behavior and ensuring a safe, healthy environment takes top priority on the parenting scale, but what happens when “mean” descriptor is overused? And why are kids mean in the first place?
My gut instinct tells me that the word is popular with my preschooler because it’s a new word–a new concept. She finally has a label to attach to a particular behavior. I’m also guessing that she’s attaching the word to behaviors for which she doesn’t yet know of other descriptors or doesn’t yet fully understand emotionally–like jealousy.
But, I also venture to guess that she’s hearing the word a lot at school. Maybe, too much. I’ve even heard the word mentioned in conversation by two mothers. It was also used by two of my child’s playmates, on separate play dates.
So, why are kids mean in the first place? One theory is that kids model the behavior they see at home. Other theories include lack of discipline or setting of boundaries, exposure to violence, including on television, and absent or disinterested parents or adult figures.
There are plenty of terrific resources out there to help steer children away from “mean” behavior–and toward healthy emotional expression, including books like 1-2-3 Magic or Supernanny, online parenting courses, podcasts, and community education programs. Some schools even offer parenting classes or awareness seminars on unwanted behaviors, like bullying.
Parental involvement can go a long way toward stemming aggressive behavior. That saying that it’s about ”quality of time” spent with kids holds true. Even time or cash strapped parents can make amazing contributions to a child’s development. Taking time to do projects or activities with a child–playing a game, going for a walk, baking dinner together, talking, or reading a book–has the potential to transform mean kids into loving ones, and maybe even make for less “mean” talk at home.