For any teacher, it can feel heart-wrenching to see students being mean to each other in class. Luckily, there are certain techniques and approaches you can implement to help the situation. So, what exactly should you do when students are mean to each other?
When students are mean to each other, you can speak with them privately to better understand the issue. Doing it privately will make your students feel safe and heard. You can also give your students essential lessons on kindness, respect, and empathy to prevent further issues.
In this article, I’ll discuss the approaches you should take when your students are being mean to each other in greater detail. I’ll also discuss ways to prevent issues in the future and why some students are so overtly mean to others.
How To Stop Arguments Between Students
To stop arguments between students, you should first understand the problem. Sometimes, it’s better to let students learn to solve their differences without the help of an adult. However, if you think it’s a case of bullying, or if it involves physical violence, you should intervene right away.
How you choose to intervene will depend on the argument. Now, let’s look at ways you can stop disputes between students depending on what the fight is about.
Minor Disagreement: Observe Before Getting Involved
If your students are having a minor disagreement, sometimes it’s a good idea to observe before getting involved. Often, you’ll notice students can solve minor issues by themselves, which can be highly beneficial for their development.
According to a study by Berkeley University, you should begin letting children solve their own disagreements from four or five years of age. Although this study was based on siblings solving conflicts, you can easily translate its findings into the context of a classroom.
By allowing your students to solve minor disagreements by themselves, they will be much better equipped to handle conflict throughout their teen and adult years.
However, if they continue arguing or the fight begins to escalate, you must step in and help. You should never tolerate students being outright mean to each other, for example, name-calling.
A Case of Bullying: Intervene Right Away
If you ever suspect a case of bullying, you should intervene right away. However, it’s always good to address these issues privately. If you do it publicly, the bullied student may feel embarrassed, and it likely won’t help the situation.
The first and most important thing you should do is get the students separated. Then, you can speak to each of them individually to better understand what is going on.
Make it clear to the student who’s doing the bullying that it is not acceptable, and you won’t tolerate it in your classroom. However, you should also make sure to ask them whether they’re dealing with any personal issues they’d like to tell you about.
For example, it’s common for children to witness bullying at home, so they think it’s okay to do it to others. Although not all bullies have a bad home life or a tough upbringing, you should be aware that this could be part of the problem.
To prevent bullying from happening in the future, you should give your students lessons on acceptance and empathy. I’ll get more into that a little later on.
Physical Fight: Break It Up Immediately
Of course, you should break up a physical fight as soon as you see it. The most important thing to consider is your students’ safety, so preventing any injuries is imperative.
Once you’ve broken up the fight, you’ll need to talk to the students and ask them about the problem. Reinforce the idea that physical fighting is never the answer and that using your words (nicely) is the best way to solve a conflict.
Make sure you get to the bottom of the issue before letting the involved parties in close proximity again. Additionally, it’s best to get other adults involved, including the school principal and the students’ parents. Students need to learn that physical fighting will never be tolerated in your classroom.
Preventing Students Being Mean to Each Other
There’s no shortage of approaches you can take to prevent students from being mean to each other in the future. Educating them on how to treat others is an excellent way to teach valuable lessons. Now, let’s take a deeper look at how to prevent students from being mean to each other.
Empathy is the ability to understand what others are feeling. Since your students don’t have much life experience yet, it’s likely that they don’t have as much empathy as the average adult.
You should spend some time speaking to your class about empathy and how important it is to think about other peoples’ feelings. To be empathetic, you need to teach your students to take a step back and put themselves in the other person’s shoes.
This may go over many of your students’ heads, especially if they’re very young, but if you make a point in holding regular lessons on empathy, it should begin to make sense to them eventually.
To learn a bit more about teaching children empathy, you should check out this video by St. Louis Children’s Hospital:
Teach About Individuality and Acceptance
Teaching your students about individuality is highly important if you want them to respect each other and be kind. Let them know that it’s normal to be different and that it shouldn’t be a reason to mistreat people.
Holding lessons on different cultures, for example, is an excellent way for students to learn about each other and to celebrate their differences.
This can also be essential for your students’ futures. Teaching them about acceptance and individuality from an early age will help them be more accepting as they get older. Another great way students can learn about acceptance and individuality is through play.
Do Team-Building Activities
Having your students do team-building activities is an excellent way for them to work together to solve problems in an exciting and fun way. Moreover, these don’t always have to be physical-related activities; anything that involves working in groups is a good idea.
An example would be a fun quiz. Once a week, you could organize a quiz for your students by putting them in groups and working together to get as many correct answers as possible.
You can give a prize to the group who you believe worked the best together (as well as the team who got the most right answers). This will motivate your students to work better as a unit in the future.
Have Bullying-Awareness Lessons
Incorporating bullying-awareness lessons into your students’ schedules is an excellent way to teach them about kindness.
Here are some essential things to teach your students regularly:
- Tell a grown-up if you see bullying.
- Talk to someone if you see them sitting alone.
- Solve problems calmly and using your words.
- Talk to an adult if you’re being bullied.
- Never help a bully be a bully.
Reward Good Behavior and Kindness
When you notice a student being particularly kind, be sure to reward them and encourage all students to behave in this way. Students like to be recognized and rewarded, so they’re more likely to act in a way that will get them praise.
Here are some ways to reward good behavior and kindness:
- Verbally: Tell a student that you’re happy to see their good behavior and that they’re setting a good example for the other students. However, sometimes it’s good to give this praise more privately, as some children may get labeled as ‘teacher’s pets’ if they’re praised in front of everyone. Alternatively, other students may get jealous, which can result in other issues.
- Small prize: You could organize a small prize once a week or month, and give it to a student who has demonstrated incredible kindness and good behavior.
- Tell their parents: If you notice a student is demonstrating good manners and kindness, sometimes it’s an excellent idea to let the parents know.
Dealing With a Student Being Mean to You
Now that you know more about dealing with students being mean to each other, let’s look at how to deal with a student being mean to you, the teacher.
Often if a student is mean to their peers, they’ll also be mean to the teacher. This can sometimes be difficult to deal with, especially if you’re a sensitive person. However, the most important thing to remember is that nothing is personal.
Here are some different ways to handle a student being mean to you:
- Ignore it. If it’s petty behavior, sometimes it’s best to ignore it. Often, ignoring the behavior will make the student feel embarrassed, so they’ll stop doing it. They’re being rude to get a reaction out of you, so it’s best not to give them one.
- Pull them aside. If the behavior is ongoing or disruptive, you may need to pull the student aside and talk to them. Let them know that their behavior is disrupting the rest of the class and that they will get punished if it continues.
- Get help from the principal. You won’t need to get help for every case of a rude student. However, from time to time, you may need guidance from a higher-up. If you feel like a situation is getting out of your control, you may need to talk with the principal.
- Speak with a parent after class. If a parent is collecting the student after class, it may be good to have a word with them about their child’s behavior. Just make sure you speak in a respectful and understanding tone, as you don’t want to offend anyone.
Why Are Students Mean to Each Other?
Students are mean to each other for various reasons, including lack of awareness, low self-esteem, home troubles, and underdeveloped social skills. In many cases, students who are mean to each other eventually grow out of the behavior, but it’s essential to teach them about respect early on.
Understanding why students are mean to each other can help you decide on the best way to solve the issue. Let’s look at some of the problems children may be facing in greater detail.
Lack of Awareness
In many cases, children aren’t aware that their behavior is wrong or disrespectful. It could be because their parents haven’t taught them much about appropriate behavior and let them get away with everything.
Or, it could be several other issues, like immaturity or a health condition, for example. If you suspect that a student isn’t aware that their behavior is wrong, you should speak with them or a parent.
Try to encourage them to be kinder and more patient. It may not work right away, but positive reinforcement may eventually help.
There’s a common misconception that s student with low self-esteem would be a victim of bullying. However, it can often be the other way around. A student with low-self esteem may feel better about themselves by putting others down and being generally mean.
This can be a tricky case, as the student’s self-esteem issues are likely deep-routed and only something that time or therapy can adequately heal. If you suspect a student has low self-esteem, one thing you could do is talk to a parent. They may be able to help the situation more than you.
Home troubles will often show up in a student’s behavior in school. For example, if a child is being mistreated at home, they may vent their frustrations on someone in school. Alternatively, they may be witnessing abuse at home and think that behavior is acceptable.
If you suspect that a child is experiencing home troubles, you should be careful about approaching the situation. You certainly don’t want to accuse the parents of neglect if you have no proof, so you should preemptively speak with the principal or other teachers to get some guidance.
However, if you’re worried that a child is being abused at home, you should speak with the police immediately.
Underdeveloped Social Skills
Your students are most likely still children or young teenagers. Although children begin developing their emotional and social skills when they’re babies, it can take many years for these skills to develop fully.
Therefore, if you think a student is being mean because they don’t have the proper social skills yet, there isn’t much you can do. The most important thing you can do is to speak with the student and reinforce the idea that their behavior is wrong and hurtful to others.
Ask them if they would like someone to be mean to them in the same way. Their answer will likely be ‘no,’ which may help them realize they need to improve their behavior.
Don’t Try To Solve Every Problem
It’s vital for children’s development that they fight their own battles. Of course, there will be times when you’ll have no other choice but to intervene and solve the problem. However, in many cases, you should let the students solve their conflicts themselves.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should ignore any problems. You can still get involved, but make sure to ask the students first what they think the best solution is. Encouraging them to come up with a solution will help them grow as people and prepare them for future fights and arguments.
Working together with your students is an excellent way to solve disagreements. For example, you can:
- Ask them what the conflict is really about.
- Ask them how they feel now that the argument has ended.
- Ask them what they think the best solution is and how they can move forward.
Respect Your Students
Ultimately, the best way to prevent students from being mean to each other (and you) is to respect them. Of course, you want your students to respect you and their peers. However, by showing them respect in the first place, you’re setting a good example.
According to a study by Michigan State University, children often learn respect from their teachers from an early age by witnessing it in action. Therefore, setting an excellent example for your students is one of the best and easiest ways to improve their behavior.
Children often mimic adults’ behavior, meaning a disrespected child is more likely to be disrespectful to others.
Here are some ways you can show respect to your students, which sets a good example:
- Don’t punish them if they get an answer wrong.
- Praise them when they do something well.
- Organize some fun activities throughout the week.
- Understand that each student has different needs.
It’s normal for students to be mean (and sometimes show hate) to each other from time to time, and it’s generally something that they’ll grow out of eventually. However, there are some things you can do to try and help the situation.
Here’s what you can do when students are mean to each other:
- Let students fight their own battles (if it’s appropriate).
- Intervene right away if it’s a case of bullying or physical fighting.
- Encourage the students to come up with a solution themselves.
Teaching students about respect, empathy, and acceptance are all excellent ways to prevent similar issues in the future.
- Berkeley University: How to Teach Siblings to Resolve Their Own Arguments
- Kids Health: Teaching Kids Not to Bully
- Education Resources Information Center: Encouraging Acceptance and Compassion Through Play
- Understood.org: Social and emotional skills at different ages
- Michigan State University: Teaching respect to preschoolers can help build character