How is it that children become mean? Are they born that way? Is it environmental? Is it part of certain personalities?
Recently, we took my grandsons to play in the park. The oldest, Jack, is 3 and he is very smart (of course his grandma would say that, but it is really true. His language skills are easily that of a 5 year old). He loves to play with older kids because the games they play are much more fun. Every time they go to the park, he gravitates to the older kids. It doesn’t matter if they are 5, 7, or 10 – he wants to play with them. This would be fine except the older kids – being “older” – usually have trash mouths OR they don’t want to play with a 3 year old.
Here is the scenario: a group of kids ages 5 and 6 were playing a chase game. There were 3 or 4 boys and 1 girl. The girl was the odd man out so she was doing the chasing. They were running around and over the park gym/slide equipment, hollering, jumping and having fun. EXACTLY what my grandson LOVES to do. He joined in at the tail end – running, climbing, mimicking everything the other kids were doing and saying. The boys were taunting the girl, calling her name over and over so that she would chase them. (Changing all names to protect the innocent) “Lizzie, Lizzie, you can’t catch me”. Jack joined in the taunting calling her by name. This surprised her – she didn’t know him yet he was calling her name as if he did. Finally, they changed to a different game and they were playing close to where I was sitting. They asked Jack how old he was and he told them, they told him they were 6. They told him he was too young to play with them to which he replied, “I’m not too young, I’m 3!”. He then told “Lizzie” that he has another friend name Lizzie – which I confirmed.
At this point, they were jumping from a stand to a bar where they would hang and swing for a second and then drop to the ground and do it again. Jack just wasn’t tall enough to jump that high or far but he kept trying. The other boys called out to Lizzie and wanted to play chase again. They began running, climbing, sliding. Jack followed right along – he was so excited and called down to his mom, “I am playing with my friends!”
My daughter and I were watching and listening nearby. One of the boys playing the game, we’ll call him “Jim”, began telling Jack he couldn’t play. Jack responded that he could. Eventually, Jim refused to play until Jack stopped playing. My daughter, being concerned that Jack’s feelings were going to be hurt, tried to distract him and take him away from the “game” but he REALLY wanted to play. By this point, Lizzie and her twin brother, John, wanted to let Jack play. But Jim wanted no part of it. He began calling Jack stupid and being mean to Jack and the other two as well. He also tried to enlist support from a couple of the other boys. Eventually, the kids separated into two groups and everyone was getting riled up so we decided to take Jack and leave the park. He was very upset and wanted to stay – he really liked Lizzie and John and kept saying how Jim was just really, really, really cranky and mean. He just wanted to stay with his new friends. Throughout that evening and into the next day, Jack talked about his friend Lizzie and said he hoped he would see her again. She was a good friend.
As I watched the park scene unfold, it was interesting to me that (of course, the girl) Lizzie was the first to accept Jack. And, eventually, she was his greatest defender. John also defended him and kept saying to Jim, “Let’s just let him play.” Jim was adamant that Jack could not play with them. Jack was too young and was an “outsider”, they didn’t know him. I suspect Jack was taking Lizzie’s attention and that was part of it too. As we were talking to Jack and disengaging him from the fray, Lizzie told us that Jim is always like this, he is very mean.
Jack was a little trooper. He just wanted to play. And he was ready to stand up for himself. I think if we had let him, he would have taken on this mean little 6 year old! Every time Jim told him he couldn’t play, he simply replied that he could. Jim told him he was too small and slow and Jack would catch him and go chest to chest with him. Maybe that was what made Jim so upset – to be intimidated by a 3 year old. Or was he just mean in general?
On our ride home, my daughter talked to Jack about not being mean even if someone was mean to you. This was an interesting lesson for him. There is such a fine line between standing up for yourself and being mean in retaliation. We teach our children to be nice but what of the other children who are not nice? This was always a quandary for me when I was raising my own children. The truth is, there will always be mean kids, mean parents, mean coworkers, mean bosses, mean store clerks, etc. Mean people are everywhere. Jack will learn to be strong but not mean. His mom will see to that. Not everyone gets that lesson but he will.
Jack was not afraid of Jim and he was not sad about Jim’s rejection. The best part of his day was that he made friends. Wouldn’t it be lovely if he could live his whole life in these simple terms?