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Name-Calling & Behavior Problems: Dealing With A Mean Child

Question:

Our 4-year-old daughter is pretty mean to her younger brother as well as the kids in school. She often says the meanest things to other children, epsecially her brother, and calls them names. How can we stop this?


When a child – especially the oldest of the family – say or do hurtful things to another child, jealousy is often the issue. Putting down her brother or friend, name-calling and other verbal attacks could be her way to enforcing her superiority.

It's crucial not to just pay attention when it's bad behavior. In fact, one important thing you and her teachers can do is watch carefully for moments when she's actually getting along well with her brother or a child at school.

When you catch her being nice, sharing, taking turns, showing empathy or doing the slightest kind deed, compliment that behavior: "You're playing so nicely with Matthew. Look at the happy smile on Matthew's face. I like seeing you together this way!" or "You're so good at sharing! I'm sure Stella enjoys being with you." The idea is to subtly point out the social benefits of her behavior, not to emphasize that you are judging her.

Of course, when she's acting unkind, you must also step in right then and there: Show her the child crying and ask her calmly, "How do you think you made Jason feel?" This helps her get acquainted with abstract concepts like empathy and remorse – by learning to see and think about how her actions impact other people.

Whenever you can, schedule more quality time each day with your daughter (alone without her brother). Even a 30-minute session will have a positive impact. Read a book, do arts and crafts, or whatever activity she enjoys. The idea is to give her your undivided attention during these 30 minutes. The special times you share will allow more opportunities for you to find and mention her strengths and accomplishments, reward with a compliment, a hug or a kiss on the head. All these little approvals from you will help soothe your daughter's enflamed feelings.

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