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Dealing with Aggressive and Nasty Behavior in Your Child

Cruella de Kid

Classic bullying is more common among boys, while girls tend to manifest their aggressive behavior in other ways, namely cruelty, or psychological warfare.

Kids who are more subtly aggressive try to control the social dynamics by excluding other kids, talking behind others' backs, saying mean things, and withholding friendship (“I won't invite you to my party unless you…”). Kids are often cruel because they fear being excluded themselves.

  • Victims of even one seemingly small instance of cruelty often hurt for a long time, and sometimes they never forget it. Cruelty damages.
It's a Good Idea!

Parents aren't always aware how their child is doing socially: highly popular, aggressive, victimized, or just doing fine. Ask her about her school day. “What was your favorite thing about today?” “What was your least favorite thing?”

  • Children often exclude others because they've been excluded themselves.
  • If you see your child being cruel to another, show her your disapproval, and talk with her about appropriate ways to talk with and play with people.
  • Support your child's efforts to reach out to friends. Encourage her to invite friends for dinner, for overnights, to special events.
  • It's easier to avoid cruel behavior in a one-on-one play date, rather than during group social time.

When Your Child Has Been Excluded

All kids feel unpopular or excluded at times. Alas, sometimes they really are. Group dynamics are always changing. Cliques, especially among girls, are part of the developmental process of discovering what it means to be a member of a group. When your child feels excluded, be a big ear and listen well. Calm her by listening (advice doesn't usually help) and help her by involving her with other groups and activities as well.

When Your Child Is Chronically Victimized

If your child has become victimized in more than one social setting, then something else is going on, and she needs some help to become more adept socially. Don't let victimization slide. Work with her to develop more assertive behavior, to deflect teasing, and to show her strength. Victims often remain victims because they reward their tormentors by crying or cringing. A child who can stand up to a bully (and this doesn't mean beating the crap out of him, it's more a psychological thing) often stop being targeted.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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