What to do when your child shows 'mean' behaviour (spoiler: it’s not their fault) – 5 tips from a psychologist

“Underneath the mean attitude and actions are often complicated feelings”

Affectionate mom supporting daughter
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Children can exhibit mean behaviour in a number of ways, but more often than not, kids reverting to meanness is a pretty natural part of their development. 

Raising kind kids is probably one of your top priorities as a parent, so it can be uncomfortable to hear – or see – that your child is displaying different types of bullying at school, and it can be even more concerning if cyberbullying is added to the equation.

Firstly, we want you to know that you won't be the only parent going through this, and actually, kids can act out by name-calling or excluding other kids because they’re still navigating the social dilemmas and situations of playground drama – and don't know how else to handle it.

Psychologist Dr Alicia del Prado and author of It’s Time To Talk (And Listen) appeared on the CBS/KPIX morning show to talk about how to handle your child demonstrating mean behaviour. Firstly, she said it's important to come from a place of compassion to help parents effectively address their child's misbehaviour: "Underneath the mean attitude and actions are often complicated feelings of anger, helplessness, loneliness, sadness, and struggle," she points out.

“By understanding the reasons your child is being mean, you will have the knowledge to help them change their behaviour. Don't vilify your child, but also don't be in denial about what they are doing. Show them unconditional love and let them know you are there for them, while also pointing out what is incorrect and needs to be fixed. Think about your own experiences with "mean" behaviour. Your self-awareness about your own history will help you be able to communicate authentically as your children navigate what is happening with them.”

5 tips to handle a 'mean girl' situation

  1. Avoid vilification: Instead of vilifying your child for displaying “mean behaviour”, seek to understand their experiences and emotions.
  2. Open communication: Encourage open communication about instances of “mean” behaviour to create a safe space for your child to express themselves.
  3. Foster empathy: Focus on fostering empathy in your child rather than resorting to punitive measures. Help them to understand the impact of their actions on others.
  4. Teach emotional regulation: Guide your child in developing emotional regulation skills, helping them navigate complex feelings and respond to situations with empathy.
  5. Model kindness: Set an example by modelling kindness and positive behaviour, reinforcing the values you want your child to embrace.

Overall, Dr Alicia would encourage you to advocate for a compassionate and understanding approach to help shape your child's behaviour positively but just know, you're doing a great job.

If your child is having a hard time at school, we’ve found some of the best books on bullying for them and you, and try some of these kindness activities for kids to boost their mental health.

Daniella Gray
Family News & Wellbeing Writer

From building healthy family relationships to self-care tips for mums and parenting trends - Daniella also covers postnatal workouts and exercises for kids. After gaining a Print Journalism BA Hons degree and NCTJ Diploma in Journalism at Nottingham Trent University, Daniella started writing for Health & Wellbeing and co-hosted the Walk to Wellbeing podcast. She has also written for Stylist, Natural Health, The Sun UK and Fit & Well. In her free time, Daniella loves to travel, try out new fitness classes and cook for family and friends.