You've got a great kid, but the bully who lives down the street doesn't agree. He's always picking on your child -- shoving him, swiping his scooter, calling him a loser -- even though your son has asked him to stop. You know you need to talk to this little stinker's mom, but you worry: What if you aren't able to speak coherently (you're that angry), or she's as unnervingly nasty as her kid? Here's how to make yourself heard.
Step 1: Don't judge her.
Maybe you have a pet theory as to how this woman has managed to raise that big bully of hers ("I bet she's one of those really irresponsible types, and lets him watch a ton of violent TV!"). Forget all that. "If you go into the conversation with a negative opinion of her -- and the attitude that you're a better parent than she is -- she'll smell it and won't want to help you," cautions Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads: Dealing With the Difficult Parents in Your Child's Life. The truth is, you don't know a thing about her parenting style or what kind of rapport you two will have, so make no assumptions.
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Step 2: Propose a private conversation.
You want to minimize public embarrassment here. And it doesn't matter if you phone her or catch her when she's walking past your house. Just say, "Hi, I have something I want to talk to you about. Is this a good time?" If she says, "Sure," but you hear her kid bawling for her, ask to talk later, uninterrupted, for a brief period. Otherwise, you'll rush awkwardly through the talk and nothing will be resolved.
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Step 3: Ask for her help.
Try, "I've got a problem that I hope you can help me with," says Wiseman; most people are inclined to feel cooperative when you take a we're-on-the-same-side approach. Consider adding, "I'm a little uncomfortable talking to you like this, but I feel it's important." No need to pretend you're cool as a cuke; you're human, and admitting you're anxious makes you easier to relate to.
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Step 4: Give just the facts.
When you describe the situation, leave out words like "bullying" and "mean." This woman loves her child as much as you love yours, so judgmental language will antagonize her. Instead, just convey the basics, as in: "A month ago, Emma told me that Nicole banned her from the clubhouse the girls use, and started calling her 'stupid' and pushing her away. Emma asked Nicole to stop, but she hasn't. I know Emma may not have told me the whole story, but something's up."
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Step 5: Know what to say if she's receptive...
She may promise to talk to her child and make sure the behavior stops. That's great. Thank her for her time and add, "I hope you'll tell me if my child ever does something you think I'd want to know about." This conveys a feeling of goodwill and makes her kid less of a villain by acknowledging that all children need adult guidance at times. If she makes a more cautious promise to discuss the matter with her child, that's okay, too. Thank her and tell her you look forward to hearing from her. (If, after a few days, she hasn't gotten back to you -- and her child is still being beastly -- call her to check in.)
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Step 6: ...and know what to say if she stonewalls.
She may think that you're being overprotective or may have trouble admitting that her child ever misbehaves. If so, she's likely to subtly make it sound like you and your child are the problem. She might say, "My, I hadn't heard about this; then again, I don't get involved in every little relationship my Bluto has." Or, "Kids will be kids, won't they?" Or, "I'm sorry your daughter is upset; she sounds sensitive."
Avoid the urge to go tit for tat and subtly put down her child, as in, "Gosh, my child hasn't had this problem with anyone else; I don't know what to say." Says Wiseman: "You'll only be sinking to her level. Plus, it will make her even less likely to cooperate." Instead say, "We see this differently. That's fine. And I do realize that our kids don't need to be friends. But I know what's upsetting mine, and I'm asking you, as a fellow parent, for help in stopping it." Your firm determination may make an impression on her, even if she doesn't show it. She may rethink things after you leave and may even tell her kid to lay off yours.
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Step 7: Be prepared for a replay.
Unfortunately, her kid may keep on bullying yours. If so, let the mom know that it's been X number of days, things haven't changed, and you really want her to speak to her child. Then go ahead and pat yourself on the back, says Wiseman, "because you're speaking up for your child -- and for decent behavior."
Related: "Help! Mommy Cliques Are Driving Me Insane!"
Words to Comfort Your Child
"I'm here for you."
A bully makes his target feel friendless, but these words let your child know he's not alone, notes Barbara Coloroso, author of The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander.
"It's not your fault."
You might be tempted to tell your child to toughen up. Don't. You're trying to protect him from hurt, but you're also implying that your kid did something wrong. Fact is, only the bully's behavior needs to change.
"I'd be upset too if that happened to me."
The bully wants your child to feel isolated. When he's upset, this type of validation is exactly what he needs to hear.
"Let's see what we can do."
Your child told the bully, "Stop!" and it didn't work. So he'll be relieved to hear you say that he doesn't have to handle the problem all alone anymore.
Has your child had run-ins with bullies? Been a bully? How did you handle bullies when you were a child?
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.