When Kids are Mean: A Tale of Playground Woes

mean kids
Mean kids are no fun

Let me start by saying that my kid is no angel. She’s a typical three year old complete with tantrums and drama on the regular. But I didn’t raise her to be mean. Just the other day my daughter came walking from the playground with her head down, pouty face and tears welling in her eyes. Since being a drama queen is a full time job for her, I prepared to hear a story about how she bumped her knee or elbow and was as near death as anyone might come.

I would like to say that her tears were a result of some minor injury, but it was from other children being mean. Some kids told her that she couldn’t play with them. I told her that she didn’t have to play with anyone and that she could march right back on that playground and play on her own. I assured her that I would be watching all the fun things she would be doing. But that wasn’t the end of the story. 

My daughter marched herself back up to the playground and began playing on her own away from the other children. Shortly after, one of the other children decided that my daughter shouldn’t be playing on the playground at all. He marched over to her and screamed in her face to get off the playground. I could see the confusion on my daughter’s face as she continued to play. I didn’t want to intervene. I didn’t want to be the kind of parent that settles arguments for her child. So I waited. 

The other two children approached my daughter yelling the very same thing, “YOU can’t play here! This is our playground.” It was three against one and my daughter relented and made her way back to me with the saddest little expression on her face. Wasn’t the playground for everyone? I had always taught her that some things that belonged to her and others that were for everyone. I wanted her to know that she didn’t have to share her special lovey, but she did have to share her other toys with guests and friends. The playground had always been for everyone.

Elementary school pupil being bullied

I was so very angry that day when I left the playground. Angry because someone else had hurt my child, angry that the parents of these children hadn’t stepped in and corrected the behavior, and angry because I was thinking of the pattern of behavior that was inevitably going to continue for these children.

What made them so mean? I couldn’t understand it. I began thinking that I would have to have a conversation with my daughter about standing up for herself at age THREE. I hadn’t seen it coming. I was so used to spending time with other parents who had the same values as I had. When someone fought over a toy, we used timers to make a fair “taking turns” plan. When someone grabbed a toy out of another’s hand, we made sure that child apologized and returned it to the child from whom it was taken. When someone threw an epic tantrum, we supported that parent by ignoring it right along with them. Had I raised my child in such an insular environment that I believed that others were the same?

Raise kind children
Raise kind children

As an educator, this really struck a chord with me. It may seem silly that I would lament over such a trivial event. Some might echo the sentiment … but they’re only three. This was not an isolated incident.  Not unique to my playground, my town, or even my area of the globe. There are news stories each day about children and teens who take their own lives because of the treatment of their peers. It sickens me. 

I hear parents shouting that there needs to be changes and how “we” as a collective body of caregivers need to stop this kind of thing from happening to even one more child. But how can we do that when children are exhibiting negative behaviors as early as three years old and we don’t correct them? How can we change their minds at age thirteen when the aggressive behavior has gone unchecked for years? How can we ask them to develop empathy for others when we do not teach this on a daily basis? How can we demand that they treat others with respect when we don’t demand it from them?

Children learn what they live and it starts with us. Do you want your child to be the mean kid on the playground? I sure don’t. With all of the hatred in the world, we need to show them how to love one another. Let’s show them how to care for our neighbors, and share this wonderful planet with those around us. There is simply no other way.

Have you been in a similar situation? How do you handle it?


  1. Love it! It saddens me that at such an early age kids can be so hurtful. We live in a world that unfortunately this is occurring at every age and stage. We as parents need to have serious conversations with our kids about bullying. It’s scary how many teen suicide events occurs daily. So it’s crucial that we begin these conversations with children who are three years of age.


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