Antidote Kindness Gentility Mercy

"Look at those suckers squirm!"

Dear Dr. Borba,

My wife and I are really concerned about our thirteen-year-old daughter. I don't know another way to describe her other than cruel. She is so mean to her brothers and other kids—even us—and it goes far beyond teasing. She says things that are just unmerciful! We can't understand why she doesn't realize how upset it makes people feel. Meanwhile, we're feeling like hostages. What now?


"Take cover, Fat Kevin's here. Don't let him sit on you, or he'll break your legs."

"I didn't know that dogs could feel pain like that."

"Don't even think of being on our team. Your dad's out of work and couldn't afford to buy the equipment."

Set an absolute zero tolerance for any type of verbal or physical abuse by your kid or any other member of your family. Make a 100 percent commitment to turning this attitude around, or you can be sure that things are going to get a lot worse. For example, if you have a younger child who is calling his sister "Fatty," first demand that he apologize sincerely and never use that word again. Give her the opportunity to tell him how she feels when he says that, and be sure that he has really heard her. And if he repeats the behavior, institute a serious ethical consequence like doing her kitchen chores so he'll truly understand the importance of kindness.With an older child who uses her cell phone to send vicious text messages about an ostracized classmate to all of her friends, first role-play with her, switching chairs so she can express how she might feel if she were the victim of this malicious attack; next insist that she apologize in person; and then remove her phone privileges for an appropriate period of time. Kids need to learn in no uncertain terms that cruelty hurts and is never permissible.

Cruel kids can be unmerciful and vicious. In fact, their attitude is self-centeredness and aggression run amok. Mean kids never consider the feelings or needs of others; they are only concerned about their needs and getting their way.They flaunt their meanness to wear you down and cause you pain, and when they see it working, they have a sense of victory. In fact, they relish others' distress, prey on those who are different, and enjoy watching others' humiliation, discomfort, or sadness. Even more troubling, data show that mean-flaunting kids are on the rise. A national study found that the amount of childhood teasing and being mean to others has significantly increased since the mid-1970s.The National School Safety Center recently warned educators that peer cruelty and bullying is the most underrated problem in schools.

Although kids are hard-wired at birth for the capacity for kindness, achieving it is far from guaranteed, especially in a world that's deluging them with pessimistic, unkind mes-sages.The virtues of kindness, gentility, and mercy must be inspired, nurtured, and taught, and the sooner we do so, the better.When children understand that kindness can make a difference and actually get them what they want and need better than meanness and cruelty can, they will be more likely to incorporate that attitude in their own lives.The sooner you start this makeover, the better.

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