stomper room & evil children

“Are kids getting meaner?” New York Post columnist Mandy Stadtmiller asked me. At first I wondered if it was the case of “school uphill in the snow both ways”—that is, a sense that today things are so much different (easier) but come with a new set of complications and suffering. That all in all, as humans, we suffer about the same, regardless of when we were born, making mean girls then pretty much the same as mean girls today. So are kids really getting meaner, earlier? Or has it always been there? This New York Post article provides some statistics and includes a quote from yours truly.


Abigail and I were discussing her upcoming ice skating birthday party. She asked me who was coming from her class, and we ran down the RSVP list together. We invited everyone in the class, not wanting anyone to feel rejected (yes, at age 3 – I hear them. They actually discuss their birthday parties with each other). When I read the name of one girl, Allysa*, Abigail pulled a scrunched up face, as if the name Allysa were an odor with a faint hint of sulfur. “No, I’m not going to play with Allysa. I don’t like her.”

“Why don’t you like her?”

“Because I don’t.”

No matter how I tried to pull it out of her, Abigail wouldn’t say more, only that she didn’t like her. At first this bothered me. I want my children to love everyone, to be kind, to have no bitterness or contempt. But I see it, coming out in small ways. They still, over a year later, talk about Ewan, a kid from the Ladybug room, who bit Lucas. I want their worlds to be all dotted hearts and unicorns, or at least be a wee Woodstock version of giving peace a chance.

I sat with it and realized, it’s fine not to like her. I mean, there are 31 flavors for a reason, right? I mean, I don’t like everyone. But. But. But. I think she needs to make an effort, to find at least one thing she does like about Allysa. And it might mean they have their own playdate, removed from pre-school cliques. That’s right. Pre-school cliques. As in, “You can’t play dolls with us, you stinky monster head.” This is all “after-thought” on my part. In the moment, I responded with this:

“We don’t have to like everyone, Abigail, but we are nice to everyone and we make them feel included. Would you like it if Allysa had a party and didn’t want to play with you?”

“No,” she says in a quiet uncertainty, as if she were leaning in to pet an unfamiliar dog.

“You’ve invited her to your party, and it’s your job as guest of honor to make everyone feel important.” I realize I’ve gone too far and need to remove at least one piece of jewelry. “You’ll have a dazzling time with everyone, right?”

“Right!” She says in a cheer. “Right, right, right.” We read the RSVP list again, and this time, when she hears Allysa’s name, she interjects a sweet, “Yay!” Then looks to me for praise. I give it with a smile, leaning in, then we rub noses and I call her my button.

She is.



  1. Know what works? The gift of “why.” Kids do it to us… why why why. Have them why other kids.
    I don’t like you.
    Because you are a stinky monster head.
    Because you were born that way.
    Because… because… I don’t know.

    You throw ’em off with a good why. It’s why therapists can make an easy living.

  2. I read your quote the other day (congratulations), and have been pondering it since. Are kids meaner? I guess the question is, aren’t we all meaner? Haven’t we all lost ground when it comes to manners and decency and kindness?

    I’ve used this conversation starter with the darlings over the years: “It is truly easier to default to mean than to kind – but it’s not okay, and it’s not how we’re going to live.”

    It is easier to blame and point fingers than to take a deep breath and be quiet. It is way more fun to lash out with an ‘it’s your fault and I hate you for it’ than ‘we are having a hard time and let’s find a resolution’. When a dish breaks or a shoe falls, it’s so much more satisfying to scream ‘if you hadn’t been ____, that wouldn’t have happened’, or myriad other barbs. I have this conversation with them because their dad is the poster child for vicious diatribes to distract from a possible weakness or failure, and I won’t have it – by damn.

    I remember one time (not to digress) – I was giving birth to third baby (okay – 16 years ago now – but I remember it like it was yesterday). I’m in the hospital – things aren’t going well – little one has serious trouble breathing – she’s gasping and blue and not pinking. They whisk her away from me before I even get a chance to catch my breath…into the NICU. My world starts to shatter.

    My husband’s immediate response was “well, I told you that you shouldn’t have done that” (referring to a storage room that I had painted without good ventilation, because he wouldn’t and it was gross). My stunned disbelief that he would blame me for that sweet little baby’s troubles…well…it cuts me still. Cuts me and reminds me that I won’t ever go there again. It was soon after that when I realized the marriage was doomed. When I was sitting in the NICU and he called me all in a f-ing rage because he couldn’t find our 3 year old’s shoes to come to the hospital to see the baby, and what had I done with them, and why was the house such a god damned mess anyway?. Acccckkkk…

    Back to my point – I look at it this way. My job is to raise kind people. Not weak or insecure ones, but kind. And my job, too, is to be the example of kind; strong, decent, forgiving, independent, intelligent, careful, and over-all, fundamentally kind. Heaven help us.

  3. Nice job, you are a good mom!! I will remember your words when I run across the same thing with my kids …

  4. Kids are mean because we have an innate us versus them mentatilty. Can’t quote you the research article that I read in the past year, sorry. However, the article also stated that we teach kids to be non-racist and kind. Exactly like Stephanie did. Bravo!

  5. Good on you for having your daughter invite the entire class to her birthday party and act inclusively towards everyone. I do the same with my daughter (she is 10), and she has turned out pretty okay. I am always bothered by the meanness and pettiness among her classmates, the cliques and lunchroom fights, the birthday party discussions about who gets invited and who does not. My simple opinion is that, if the parents discourage such unacceptable behavior, there will be less of it (I mean, why NOT require your kid to invite the entire class to a party, when the class consists of only 17 kids anyway?). We parents do have some influence on our children’s actions, I think. That is, at least until they become teenagers. And then – heaven help us.

  6. I think kids are reflection of their parents’s personalities/behaviors. they can sense your frustrations and all the bad energy in the house hold no matter how hard You try to hide it from them(kids).
    if you are truly happy and satisfied with your life/career that should reflect on your child’s behavior.
    So happy house = happy kids. not so happy house = mean kids until further notice/development.

  7. I know there were cliques in my kindergarten. And there were kids I didn’t like.
    Perhaps the issue is just that that back in the day, most kids stayed at home until kindergarten. So they weren’t exposed to group interactions and politics until older. Now they go to day care, and they are exposed earlier to group interaction and have to adapt.
    Its part of human nature to organize a social hierarchy. And that leads to jockeying for position which leads to conflict.
    I don’t have kids, so I can’t judge if my theory is right, but it seems sensible on the face of it.

  8. Stephanie,

    Never forget that ALL OF LIFE is a “coaching moment.” Parents are there to influence their children and mold them into kind and considerate children. Nice job with Abigail!

    ~Mrs. Simon

  9. We are raising three kids and it is now seldom that anything I hear about bad school behavior from my kids surprises me. In the beginning, when they had just entered school, I can’t say I felt the same. I tried, in my mind to blame it on a spoiled child. As I began hearing the same story about another kid, then another and others, I started to see a pattern. The pattern doesn’t go away with age. They kids just get meaner. Luckily, I have raised mine to behave and treat others as they would want to be treated. Not saying mine are perfect by any means. As the years have gone by, I have begun to attribute such outrageous behavior beginning at such young ages to single parent upbringing. I mean imagine the stress one person must feel trying to raise a kid(s) by themselves. Not to mention trying to pay the bills on time, daycare, schedules, etc. Certainly those stresses are transferred to the kids. Like a previous blogger wrote, “monkey see, monkey do”.

  10. I’m not a parent, yet, but the concept of inviting the whole class (well, of that needing to be the norm, as per a couple commentors) is strange to me. As a very shy kid, having the whole class over would’ve terrified me. Plus, you’re absolutely right that we’d be presenting a false truth if we taught kids that they needed to like everyone. How often in life do you invite everyone other than, perhaps, a work gathering? I think the takehome lesson needs to be the balanced view that teaches kids how to function in the real world – how to ‘not like everyone’ and still treat everyone with respect and dignity. Sounds like you gave her some good advice and she’s a smart cookie.

  11. As a kindergarten teacher and a mom of a two and a half year old, I see meanness in kids. I was given a class of twenty kids, ten of whom hit or kicked or bit someone else on the first day of school. However, I have also met the parents. I agree with the people who are saying Monkey See, Monkey Do. The kids are behaving just like their parents and a lot of times that’s not pretty.

    When I am in a grumpy mood, my daughter tends to be more fussy and cranky as well. These kids are watching us to be role models and we need to behave the way we expect them to behave.

    Love the article!

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