What To Do About Cruel School Friends

Like adults, children can be mean to one another. Sometimes an unkind remark spoken by one child to another can be the catalyst for friendship to crumble.

“I’m not your friend anymore!”

“I don’t like you. You’re mean!”


Below are six strategies for working with your child if he or she is struggling with ‘mean’ friends.

Be emotionally available

Six year-old Ella stumbled into the house after school, sobbing at full volume. Ella was heartbroken after another unhappy day involving ‘mean friends’. When Ella sobbed her way into the living room, she needed her mother to sit with her, listen, reflect feelings, and let her know she is ‘there’.

“That made you feel so sad.”

“I bet you were hurt in your heart.”

Reassuring your child that these feelings and experiences are normal is one of the most important things you can do for your child.

Perspective taking

Paige was being mean to Chanel. After taking time to be emotionally available Chanel’s mum asked why Paige might be being mean. Chanel replied, “Paige told me she doesn’t like it when I come and play at her house because I’m stealing her family from her.”

Such insights using perspective taking allowed Chanel and her mum to develop strategies for dealing with Paige’s ‘mean’ behaviour.

Allow time

In some instances, ‘mean’ kids may be having a bad day or week. We all have those. By listening, monitoring, and offering gentle guidance and strategies (like encouraging kindness and sharing), often things can settle down in a relatively short timeframe.

Get together with the other parent

Tiffany was concerned. For over four weeks her son had experienced difficulties with his ‘best’ friend. There had been tears and conflict. With much trepidation she called Olivia to talk. The two mums met once the boys were at school. Tiffany gained perspective and insight, and had a good opportunity to share concerns.

Most parents are very willing to communicate. They’re usually as concerned about the issues as you are.

Warning: When you talk with another parent you may discover that the ‘mean’ friend issue is a two-way street. Your child may not always be the victim. Keep an open mind and work towards solutions rather than blaming and accusation.

Encourage play dates and observe the children

By bringing children together in a safe, monitored environment you will do several things:

  • First, you can watch them and better understand how their relationship is working;
  • Second, you can remove additional peers and allow the relationship to grow in an environment with less distractions than the school yard; and
  • Third, you have the opportunity to teach and guide the children into appropriate relationship behaviour.
  • As an example, we might say to an aggressive child, “At our house we speak kindly to others.”

Involve the school

Most school teachers and principals want the very best for their students, and that includes good peer-to-peer relationships. If all of your personal efforts, and those of other parents, have not been successful in improving things between children share your concerns with a teacher. Seek their involvement and guidance. They’ve dealt with many similar issues before.

This article was written for Kidspot by Justin Coulson, Ph. D. Justin is a relationships and parenting expert, author and father of five children. Find him on FacebookTwitter, and at happyfamilies.com.au.

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  1. Micht 19/03/2021 at 4:32 pm

    I must be honest…i found this hard to deal with my little one struggled initially with the rejection..after a few chats… we discussed what was important and she has found that she deals with it better by just being kind…

  2. kymmage 01/09/2019 at 6:10 pm

    We haven’t had any outright bullying, but certainly some rude or mean behaviour from children along the way. When my children come home and share these stories of their days, I try to do just this – listen and paraphrase back what happened. Then show empathy for the situation. Then try to see what else could be happening. Sometimes a child has let the door go and it’s hit my girl. But maybe that child was being rude – didn’t think to hold the door. Rather than mean. We had one incident where my girl was getting so wound up because another child was copying everything she did, include her clothes! When I looked into it further the child was new to the school and the country, and she was just trying to make friends/was into all the same stuff. Once I explained that to my girl they became fast friends.

  3. Alezandra 31/08/2019 at 12:04 am

    My son is turning 5 next year and this is probably one of my biggest fears as well. Getting together with the other parent is also part of that fear as sometimes I feel the parents may not see that their own kids are being mean or it’s a matter of opinion (he says, she says). This article just makes me feel that I should consider homeschooling.

  4. Loucyd3 30/08/2019 at 8:01 pm

    We had an experience when my son was 6yrs old and had already spent a whole school year as friends with the boy. The following year our son started coming home saying this friend wasn’t being very nice anymore as he had started hanging out with a new boy who was telling him to call him names, so the first time this happened we told him just to stay away from the boy and play with his other friends, but then came home again and said that the boy had hit him, he had told the teacher in which nothing got resolved so I went to the school and spoke personally to the teacher about what was happening and asked that the 2 boys be brought in and apologize to my son and that what they were doing was not good. We got an apology and the incident never happened again.

  5. MuddledUpMolly 27/08/2019 at 7:39 pm

    Apart from the odd minor incident, we are fortunate that our son hasn’t encountered too many ‘mean kids’ in his time. We are supporting him to be more assertive and self confident in the hopes that he will be able to try to manage situations himself initially but also encourage him to communicate with us. We have been able to step in and help when he has opened up to us so hopefully these lines of communication continue to strengthen.

  6. SarahBlair 14/08/2019 at 2:11 pm

    My 7 year old daughter is often coming home in tears because of people at school being mean to her, we have moved twice in just over a year so she has been the ‘new girl’ for a while now and is finding it difficult to find nice friends. She is finding that everyone already has their friends and will play with her for a few days then revert back to their cliques that she is not included in. I have spoken to her teacher and things are starting to get better. I hope that she can settle in with a group of nice girls soon.

  7. Bevik1971 14/08/2019 at 9:39 am

    I’ve recently had a bit of this with my 6 year old daughter at school, not really cruel or teasing, but enough to upset her and make her cry 🙁 One of her friends wants to play with her constantly and sometimes Peyton doesn’t want to play with her (her friend can be a bit overpowering at times). So she said no she didn’t want to play with her the other day and her friend got a bit grumpy about it and upset Peyton and she cried. She said she did apologise after but yelled “Sorry!” at her which was not that nice. We are trying to give her tools to help her with this sort of thing and I think she is doing really well trying to sort some on her own, but I will probably have a wee chat with her teacher to bring it to her attention to keep an eye on 🙂

  8. Jen_Wiig 13/08/2019 at 6:54 pm

    My eldest son last year had what we would call a cruel friendship but it wasn’t apparent to us until his bday when this friend came over and proceeded to try and boss, bully and belittle our boy and #1 in his home! And #2 on his birthday!!!! To begin with we stepped back and just watched the dynamics but when I had a moment with our boy alone I let him know we were there for him if he needed us to step in or if he became overwhelmed just say so and we would sort it out especially as our eldest a pretty sensitive weee lad at that.
    It wasn’t until this friend said that our eldest youngest brother (3 at the time) was disgusting and gross that our eldest had had enough and put his so called friend in his place, we could see this was about to kick off so stepped in and called the friends parents to come by and pick him up… Had a chat to them briefly and that was that… So we thought… Next thing was a text with total denial and that this kid didn’t know what he had said was wrong and didn’t even really know what it meant… This kid was 12 at the time and an incredibly intelligent boy but also an absolute little (Beep) but he was our sons friend so I’d grit my teeth and bare it. Our eldest soon ended the friendship and he was glad to as it was revealed later that this sort of behaviour and words were not uncommon for him and our boy often had to deal with the meanname calling… Pretty proud of our boy handling that so maturely but abit sad he hadn’t come to us sooner but figured he must’ve flet it was under Control

  9. Mands1980 13/08/2019 at 8:28 am

    My kids have come home saying other kids are mean several times. I ask them why they said things to them and what they had done. Things have gotten better as they have got older I think it was worse when around 6,7,8 years old I am not sure why. Some kids just think they are better than others I think a lot comes down to the kids parents and the behaviour they see at home. The language is disgusting in some kids as well. I say now just walk away and play with some one else. They still come home saying what some kids are doing it’s crazy what goes on at school.

  10. Shorrty4life1 12/08/2019 at 9:11 pm

    We have had many experiences with nasty children especially at the new school my children are at now. The latest was my son was punched in the nose by another five year old child and pushed to the ground onto his face. He’s a wee softy and has been taught that violence doesn’t resolve anything so he was pretty upset by this. I confronted his teacher and demanded it be sorted and if I hear of any more nonsense from this child I’ll be forced to go to the principal. I’m so sad that kids are so nasty these days it actually makes me fear for my kids safety at school while I’m not around.

  11. Micht 06/08/2019 at 1:40 pm

    Now this has been a real issue for my 6yr old this year… we have had quite a few stories about others being mean and rejecting her etc.. we usually talk through what happened, how it happened and i ask her to remain honest about the events and her part in them too… we come up with better ways for her to respond and solutions when she feels stuck. Speaking to parents is a good idea if it gets out of hand but because i am aware that other parents views of their own kids are not very fair and are quite biased , i would rather not go down that road unless absolutely necessary… i guess in a way to prepare my child for the real world, its best they learn some skills now where mum and dad wont be there as they become teenagers and they will have to endure and be secure in themselves and who they are…

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