Ask Maxwell: How To Comfort your Child When Others Are Mean?

published Sep 8, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Outdoor games
Credit: Getty Images/H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock

I saw another kid telling my child that she didn’t want to play with her anymore, and it was really hard to hear. My daughter was devastated. How would you approach this topic with a child?

Jo Anna

Dear Jo Anna,

This is a tough one and I’m just going to fall back on what I learned as a teacher and not try to be a smart parent on this one. I’m rarely a smart parent, but I was a pretty good teacher.

Without knowing WHY the other kid didn’t want to play with your child, I would not try to solve the situation between the kids, but rather try to connect with how devastated your daughter feels. It is nearly impossible to control young kids who are having issues with one another, particularly because before the age of 7 they are all Will and no Feeling, and then from 7 to 14 they are both Will AND Feeling, and they can hurt in deeper ways. In other words, up to the age of 7 a kid is likely to hit or shove another kid and then from 7 to 14 the hurt comes in subtler ways like teasing and exclusion, which is brutal. But everyone goes through it.

Your daughter is devastated. You sit down with her. You listen to her – you want to know everything she will tell you. You want her to understand that you are REALLY LISTENING to her in a DEEP DEEP WAY that matches how deeply she feels hurt.

That’s step one.

Next you want to respond to her temperament. This is the way she feels herself in the world. There are four temperaments and the discovery, use and conversation about them goes back to ancient Greek times, but became very popular during the Renaissance. If you can really know your child’s temperament it can help in SO many ways to ease painful moments like this. The four temperaments are:

1. Sanguine – Air – Very social, easygoing, but can sometimes forgetful and flaky!
2. Choleric – Fire – Natural leaders and strong willed, but sometimes hot tempered and rude!
3. Melancholic – Earth – Idealistic and seeking perfection, but sometimes easily depressed!
4. Phlegmatic – Water – Loyal and steady, but sometimes slow to move and catch on!

All four temperaments have their strengths and weaknesses and they are most prevalent in young children after which they can get layered by later adult growth. But the core temperament is always there, deep down. Another way of thinking about them (which I like) is to use the Beatles as the perfect example of the four:

1. Sanguine – Paul – Cute, social, and always trying to keep the band together
2. Choleric – John – Brash, funny, and the first to move on and break up the band.
3. Melancholic – George – Deep, spiritual and the one that led them to India.
4. Phlegmatic – Ringo – Beat keeper, steady and the one didn’t mind stopping for lunch.

With each one there’s a different way to console them, so HERE GOES – imagine which one your daughter is most like and this is what you can do:

1. Sanguine – I totally understand, but it’s not such a big deal! It’ll be fine! Be light and social. Play with them yourself right there. Move them quickly to a newer, upbeat mood. They can be distracted and more easily cheered. Be their best friend.

2. Choleric – Boy that makes me really mad! I understand why you’re mad! Let’s find a game for you to be in charge of. Let’s go home and you can choose the game. Move them to a position of authority. They want to use their will successfully. Be their best friend.

3. Melancholic – I totally understand and, in fact, when I was your age the same thing happened to me! I remember how awful it was! I think Dad also got thrown in the mud one time! Move them to a position of realizing they are not alone – it happened to you too. They easily feel isolated and cut off in their sadness. Be their best friend.

4. Phlegmatic – Oh boy, that’s the worst! I can’t believe she didn’t want to play with you! Hey, you want to go get some ice cream at your favorite shop and then play our own game? Move them to a comforting alternative that will soothe the body – food or warmth. They need sustenance. Be their best friend.

Of course these are all generalizations, but they really can work wonders. It’s all about knowing your child and what they need. Beyond that, everything is going to be fine! Getting devastated by other kids as a kid is part of growing up. You just want to make sure they know that you’re there.

Best, M

Top 10 Most Popular Questions & Answers This Week
(I keep changing this each week based on your clicks)

Maxwell Ryan is a father and was an elementary school teacher in NYC before founding Apartment Therapy. He’d love to answer your question: This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

Cubby. Real solutions for unreal times.

Join us for a weekly dose of fresh, modern ideas for life at home with your kids.