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As your daughter gets off the bus, you notice her flushed face and her eyes are filled with tears. You ask what’s wrong, and the words come flooding out. “Julia said she won’t play with me at recess anymore. I don’t understand why she’s mad. I was just telling her the right way to play!”
Some children I’ve worked with (and one child I’m currently raising - eek!) can be described as bossy.
I’ve talked before about some of the other Unthinkables from Michelle Garcia Winner's Social Thinking curriculums - Rock Brain, Glassman and Worry Wall in particular.
Mean Jean is one tough cookie. She makes people act mean and bossy. She wants it her way. She is strident and pushy about how she thinks things should be done. But she doesn’t realize how her words are affecting others around her. She doesn’t realize how other people view their behavior.
If Mean Jean is taking over a child’s brain, talk about some different ways to think before you speak and the impact your words can have on others. My favorite lesson to use with children is the Chrysanthemum Lesson. It’s simple yet visually it makes a big impact. You can easily adapt this lesson to address Mean Jean.
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
One heart cut out of construction paper for every child, plus one for you
Before you read, pass out the paper hearts to all the children. Keep one to the side for yourself, and do not use it during the activity
Tell the children to pay attention to whether the characters in the book were using kind words or when Mean Jean was taking over a character in the book.
As you read the book, every time Mean Jean is taking over a character’s brain and says something mean to Chrysanthemum, have the students wrinkle up a piece of their paper heart to represent how mean words impact others.
Every time her parents said something kind and loving to her, have them smooth out the paper heart a little bit and try to repair it.
At the end of the book try and spread out the heart as much as possible and repair it either using tape or Band-Aids.
Compare the paper heart that you set aside at the beginning at all to the ones that were wrinkled during the story. Invite children to notice how different they are.
Highlight that even when you say sorry and apologize after Mean Jean takes over your brain, it still has a lasting effect. You can smooth out the wrinkled heart as much as you can but it still is always going to look a little bit wrinkled from your mean words and your mean actions.
Here are two other activities you can use to talk to children about mean words:
Tube of Toothpaste Activity - This is a great article all about talking about motivations behind mean behaviors and a great lesson using a simple tube of toothpaste - once you squeeze it out, you can’t take it back :-)
Cotton vs. Sandpaper Words - A visual and tactile lesson to help children learn about the impact of their words
Using videos can be a great way to show children how harsh words can be and how others react to hearing such mean and bossy language. You can use any TV show or movie that you are watching with your kids to address this, but I’ve found these quick clips for your convenience
Ms. Bossy - Ms. Bossy tells people how to draw and create art. That’s SO not fun.
My Little Pony - Here’s a clip where quiet Fluttershy becomes overbearing and bossy. You’ve got to find a happy medium between being too passive and being mean and rude to your friends.
Mean Jean while playing board games - Here are some adults acting out Mean Jean behaviors during board games. Love it!
Recess isn’t so fun if someone is bossing you around. But what happens when one brave souls stands up and says no?
A great book about how your words can fill or empty someone’s imaginary bucket. This book can even be integrated into a whole positive behavior system in a classroom or a whole school. Such a great read!
A few weeks later, your daughter gets off the bus smiling from ear to ear and says “I had a great time at recess today. Julia kept playing with me the whole time!”