is my kid mean?

Screen shot 2013-06-25 at 2.02.02 PMThe other day I watched as my son pitched a ball way too hard to his little sister. I felt the tension mount as I prepared to fling open the back door to yell at him once again for being too rough and inconsiderate of others.

As parents, we often see a negative behavior in our kids that sets off an alarm, a warning that can take us to a place of “that-may-just-be-who-he-is” kind of panic and despair. Oh no…he’s mean. He’s a rule breaker. He excludes kids. If he’s breaking the rules now, how bad is it going to be in a few years?  We may overreact to our children’s negative behaviors because we worry it’s a sign of things to come, a peek into tendencies that may only become more deeply entrenched as they get older.

In these difficult moments, remember that kids try things on. They experiment with different behavior as they figure out what is acceptable, what’s not, how people react, and how they feel–and are made to feel–about a situation.

Instead of simply calling out your kid’s transgressions, ask a few questions. Ask a question that demonstrates that you are giving him the benefit of the doubt. “Wow, you probably didn’t realize it, but you have gotten to be a pretty fast pitcher!” Introduce the other child’s feelings, and the impact his behavior might have had. “I don’t know about Kate, but it can be pretty nerve wracking for me to catch when I’m not expecting such a hard pitch…Kate, what do you think?” When you treat your child as a learning, developing being rather than a set of fixed characteristics, you operate within a framework that supports growth and change. Negative behaviors are an opportunity for teaching, for helping a child to see another’s perspective, and a chance to suggest another way.  –n

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