Diagnosis

Think about the last few times your kid was cruel. If possible, talk to other adults who witnessed his meanness. Try to replay the scene in your mind. Here are a few more questions to help you recall the scene and recognize if there is any pattern.

What. What does his mean behavior look like? What cruel things does he do or say that concern you? Here are a few possibilities to check off:

□ Says unkind, mean comments that put down others

□ Is rarely concerned when someone is treated unfairly or unkindly

□ Seems to enjoy seeing others being picked on or alienated (could be in books, movies, or TV shows, hearing about it, or actual personal encounters)

□ Treats animals cruelly

□ Is kind or comforts others only if he expects something in return

□ Insults, intimidates, or ridicules others

□ Looks for the weaknesses in others

□ Rarely pays attention to the concerns of others or helps someone who needs help or is sad

Why. The next big question is to try and figure out why your kid is resorting to using this attitude. There are a few common reasons that kids are cruel. Do any of them apply to your kid?

□ Lack of empathy. He may not fully grasp the emotional impact of his unkindness.

□ Lack of self-esteem. She feels unworthy, so she brings the other person down.

□ Need to retaliate. He has been picked on and teased, and wants to "get back."

□ Desire to be included.As a way of fitting into the group, she puts outsiders down.

□ Lack of problem-solving skills. Not knowing how to solve conflicts, he resorts to insults or name-calling.

□ Jealousy. She envies the other child, so she brings him down to feel better about herself.

□ How he's treated. He is treated unkindly, so he mimics the same unkind behaviors.

□ Desire for power over someone else.Teasing makes her feel superior.

□ Witnesses unkindness. He sees others treated unkindly and copies the behavior. He could personally be witnessing unkindness or viewing or hearing it secondhand (through behavior around him at home, at school, in the community or on TV, in the movies or news, or CD lyrics).

□ No expectations requiring kindness. No one is telling him that unkindness is not allowed.

□ Poor social skills. She doesn't know the skills for getting along, cooperating, negotiating, compromising, encouraging, or listening, so she resorts to bringing the other child down.

Who. Think! Who is your kid most prone to display this attitude toward? A younger brother, certain friends, the neighborhood crew, people with handicaps, kids of a different race, culture, or gender, older folks, animals? Is there any commonality to those your kid targets with his cruel ways? Are there some individuals he does not pick on? Why do they escape his cruelty?

Where. Is there a location where he is most likely to display this attitude—for instance, at home, at school, on the playing field, in the neighborhood, at a relative's home, with a play group, on the school bus, or on the playground? Is there any pattern and if so, why?

When. Is there any time of the day, week, or month that your child seems to exhibit his mean attitude? If so, what might be the reason?

Now take a look at your answers. Are you seeing any predictable patterns? Have you discovered any clues to his attitude? Do you have any better understanding of this attitude and where it's coming from? Write down your ideas in your Attitude Makeover Journal. Compare your thoughts with at least one other caregiver who knows your kid well.

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