“You like to be in charge. You have very strong ideas about how you want the game to be. When your friends have different ideas about how to play, you don’t like it and say hurtful things to them to try to get them to do what you want to do.”
“You laughed when Edward gave the wrong answer to a question the teacher asked. The teacher told you to leave the circle because you weren’t being kind. That made you mad.”
Laying it out objectively like this demonstrates to your child that you are not judging her. You have to start where your child is at if you want to open her up to rethinking her reactions.
3. Guide your child to assess the outcome of the encounter.
Start by establishing that your child is a kind person who sometimes has a hard time acting kind: “We all feel jealous and competitive at times. That’s part of being human. But when your feelings make you act unkind, it is not just hurtful to the other person, it’s not good for you. It makes people have uncomfortable, negative feelings about you, instead of seeing how kind and fun you are to be with. Let’s think through these situations so you can decide how you might respond to your friends in a way that makes them have good, positive thoughts about you.”
Ask questions that get her wheels turning, such as: “What do you think the kids were thinking and feeling when you told them to go away?” “What did it feel like for you when Jasper went to play with the other kids?” “Did it work out the way you wanted?” “What other choices might you make if this situation happens again?”
“What do you think it’s like for your friends when you tell them what to do? What kind of feelings do you think they have about you?” “When they don’t want to play with you, how does that make you feel? How does it work out for you in the end—in a way that you like, or not?” “What other choices do you have?“
“You’re a really sensitive guy. I know you can put yourself in Edward’s shoes and imagine how he might feel when you laugh at him when he makes a mistake. Do you think that makes him have good or bad feelings about you? What kind of feelings would you like him to have about you?”
The idea is to refrain from telling your child what to do, and instead, help her think through her experiences, as objectively as possible. Think about it: this is the kind of response most of us are hoping for when we go to friends or family with a problem. You don’t want them to tell you what to do, which feels patronizing and dismissive.
You want someone who, without judgment, helps you look at the situation from 360 degrees—to get clear on what feelings got triggered for you—and to think through what course corrections you might want to make. When it comes to these conversations with your child, asking her questions versus “correcting” her provides an opportunity for her to make connections between her actions and their outcomes. This makes it more likely she will ultimately change her behavior. At the end of the day, your child needs to learn to solve her own problems. You cannot solve them for her.
4. Share your perspective.
Once your child sees you are not trying to tell him what to do or shame him for his actions, he is more likely to be open to hearing what you have to say. You are still not telling him what to do, you are just sharing your perspective for him to think about.