How to Talk to Kids about Conflict, Dignity and Bullying with Rosalind Wiseman

Special Guest: Rosalind Wiseman

Today we are discussing how to talk to kids about treating each other with dignity and respect. What are the cultural messages that our kids receive? Are their differences between how boys deal with their relationships and girls cope with their relationships? How do kids bond and what do betrayals look like? How do we talk to other parents when our child has been an instigator of aggressive or bullying behavior and their child is the target AND how do we talk to the other parents when our child has been on the receiving end of aggressive or bullying behavior from their child. These are complicated questions and relationships- so thank goodness we have the best expert there is to talk about these issues, my friend and colleague, Rosalind Wiseman.

You have likely heard of her and read her insightful books, seen her present or perhaps even seen the movie Mean Girls with Lindsay Lohan, based on her thoughtful work. Let me tell you a little bit about my friend, Rosalind Wiseman- Rosalind Wiseman has had only one job since graduating from college—to help communities shift the way we think about children and teens’ emotional and physical wellbeing. As a teacher, thought leader, author, and media spokesperson on bullying, ethical leadership, the use of social media, and media literacy, she is in constant dialogue and collaboration with educators, parents, children, and teens. Rosalind is the author of the flexible, dynamic curriculum Owning Up: Empowering Adolescents to Confront Social Cruelty, Bullying, and Injustice (of which I have a copy and I read from cover to cover when I received it a few years ago). She is also the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World—the groundbreaking, best-selling book that was the basis for the movie Mean Girls and she also is the author of the book for parents and educators of boys: Masterminds and Wingmen. All of these you can check out on her website-

This podcast provides:

  • Information on boyworld vs girlworld: The cultural messages and the challenges that girls vs boys are coping with in today’s society
  • A step-by-step plan of what to do when your child is involved with a mistake, problem or bullying issue with another child. “Just because it’s common, doesn’t make it right.”
  • A step-by-step plan of how to approach the other parent if your child is on the receiving end of bullying or social aggression
  • The difference between bullying, drama and conflict
  • The script for how to talk to kids about dignity, respect, conflict and relationships

Important Messages:

  • Young people don’t want to talk about bullying—and often find it unrelatable.
  • Boyworld vs GirlWorld. Rules they learn about what is expected of us. They think differently about this culture. Boys and girls are not a monolythic group. Cultural message “girls are hard” and “boys are easy.” But if, as a boy, you have a complicated relationship or are reactive to something going on, then there’s a stereotype that there is something wrong with you. We are saying to boys, roll everything off your back.
  • Make sure to widen your expectations of responses from boys (emotionally, etc) and stop putting girls’ relationships is a box and labeling them as “mean” or “complicated” as a rule.
  • Group of boys on a couch- gaming- this might not look as close—but this is tight! And they can have complicated relationships and close relationships.
  • If a boy doesn’t want to talk to you about something- it might not mean that it’s not bothering him but rather that he doesn’t want to talk about something that is painful for him.
  • Don’t emasculate a boy when he is emotional- they are not being “girly” when showing a complex feeling—and then we are surprised that they don’t want to talk to us! Bad stuff is happening as they get older and they don’t have the words to speak out because we didn’t talk about this stuff when they were younger.
  • The, boys explode- and we think there is something pathologically wrong- but we just haven’t given them the skills and we have cut them off or belittled them when the feeling wasn’t as intense or overt.
  • Help your kids, don’t take over.
  • Aggression, relationships and kids: “We have to understand the context in which these things are happening. Because if we want the chance to actually address the problem so young people can learn from it then we have to have an understanding, as best we can, of what happened that created the dynamic. In know it does happen that kids go after another kid for “no reason,” I get that, but in my experience, the vast majority of times when I’ m dealing with kids, there’s at least some stuff going both ways.”
  • Boys: Boys have friendships that mean something to them. When boys express their anger, a lot of time they are sitting on their feelings and bottle it up, then lash out and get out of control. We haven’t given them the skills (or we have dismissed their feelings or made boys feel that they shouldn’t express them) to deal with these feelings before they get so frustrated or upset that they can no longer keep these feelings inside. Then we judge their actions when they explode.
  • Girls: When we send the message to girls that girls are mean and the relationships are negative and full of drama, we set this message as the standard.
  • Script when your child is involved in a problem with other kids: Email or text “Hey, I’ve got something that I think you would think is important to talk about – I think it’s important too- when is a good time to talk today or tomorrow?” Don’t go into a long email. Professional, mature email. Don’t explode on them.
  • In prep for that: Three most important things for them to know. Don’t send it as an email—that’s not what it’s for. “What are the top 3 things I need to communicate in this conversation no matter what happens?”
  • Script when talking directly to the person: “I have this thing that’s a little uncomfortable for me to talk about but I thought it was important for you to know.”
  • Just because it’s happening all the time, if it’s demeaning or degrading, then it’s still not right.
  • Remember: Say exactly what you don’t like, and exactly what you want. Add how you are disciplining your child if s/he is part of it.
  • End script: “Think about it, if you want to talk about it further, I’m around…”
  • Communicate: Here are my standards, here are my values, here is the discipline. “Here are the rules, here is the rule I perceive was broken, and here is how I am disciplining the situation.” “I love all of our kids, yay kids, here’s my cell if you want to talk further.”
  • Script when your child is on the receiving end of aggression: “It is possible that my child contributed to this problem in some way. Or perhaps there is something I don’t know about this situation that would help me understand what’s going on.” And you might not know!
  • We tend to see this bullying stuff as so “one way.” Often there are two sides contributing. Rosalind tells a story of a girl being nasty to a group of girls for an extended period of time. The group of girls retaliate in a horrible way—and they are at fault- but there is more than just this one side involved here. There is at least some stuff going both ways.
  • With text or email- stick to who, what, where and when—if you need to get into “why” you are going down the wrong path!
  • Nobody wants to hear the laundry list. When approaching another parent about bullying, drama or aggression: Pick one or two things or a pattern of behaviors rather than a laundry list of ways the other person’s child is being a brat.
  • Avoid the laundry list AND avoid saying “and all the other parents feel like this too” even if you feel that you are not being believed or need more ammunition. Makes people freak out. And then they ask who. No way to win. No way to get closer to the goal of being heard.
  • Convo with kids: “People are going to annoy you. People are going to abuse their power. That’s just a fact. The goal for you is to be able to navigate that so that it doesn’t take over your feelings or you lose your words or you don’t have choices in your friendships. Your job is to learn how to manage that. That doesn’t happen over night. And it’s also about being able to have adults help you but not do the work for you.” Separate the difference between drama and bullying.
  • Bullying: Going after somebody for what they are or what they are perceived to be or how they identify.
  • Drama: Conflict, going both ways, and people think it’s entertaining. It can still be painful. Just because it’s not bullying doesn’t mean it’s not painful. Like not being included on an IG post- not bullying. Not invited to birthday party- drama or rejection. But not bullying.
  • Convo: I can’t get you down from 100% misery to 0% misery overnight but I can get you from 100% misery to maybe 96% misery- and that’s better. Going in the right direction. Builds confidence and shows you can handle it. Also shows that people who are making you miserable don’t have mythological power.
  • Parents have their own reality show moments.
  • The way adults are managing social media has a profound effect on how kids manage and understand social media. Use, over-use, branding, authenticity– Watch the hypocrisy!
  • Kids look at us being on the phone and while we think our work is really important, they think their social life is really important.
  • Look at what you are posting—all beautiful, perfect and get amazing comments. Getting attention. Then the girls might try to do all that. Trying to create a PR campaign?  Also, don’t be boring- don’t only post about your children! Also, don’t bully others online- that’s a terrible example!
  • Give yourself a break, give other people a break before judging and assuming other people’s bad intentions. Ask a question before assuming the worst about people. People make mistakes. Assuming that someone is stupid or have nothing to stand on- creates toxicity. Includes how we think about ourselves.

Notable Quotables:

  • “There are these rules that we learn of what is expected of us.”
  • “In boyworld, there’s a cultural message that ‘boys are easy.’ What this is saying about boys is ‘if you get upset about something or show you are upset about something, then something is wrong with you.’ What we are doing when we say to boys that they are so easy is ‘roll everything off your back. If you show that you are upset, something is wrong with you.’ That is one of the reasons boys learn not to say anything when they see things that are really messed up around them.”
  • “When we say ‘girls are so hard’ or ‘girls are so mean’ or ‘so cliquey’ we are also saying that this is what  they should expect to have. We can’t set this as the standard because we rise to the standard.”
  • “Boys’ relationships can be complicated, just like girls’ relationships can be complicated. If our son doesn’t want to talk to us about something it might be because he doesn’t want to talk about something that is very painful for him.”
  • “When boys express their anger, they are usually sitting on stuff and then lash out and we think that they are being out of control. But they are sitting on things and bottling things up- and when that happens, they get out of control. We think there is something pathologically wrong. But it’s not—it’s that we haven’t given them the skills to talk about the anger.”
  • “Text is not appropriate for long, complex conversations.”
  • “Just because the kids are doing it all the time, doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Just because it’s normal or common, if it’s mean or degrading another child, then it’s not right.”
  • “We have to understand the context in which these things are happening. Because if we want the chance to actually address the problem so young people can learn from it then we have to have an understanding as best we can of what happened that created the dynamic.”
  • “When approaching another parent about bullying, drama or aggression, pick one or two things or a pattern of behaviors rather than a laundry list of ways the other person’s child is being a brat.”
  • “Conflict is going to happen. That’s just a fact of life. The goal, for you, is for you to be able to navigate that when you see it so it doesn’t take over. It’s also about knowing that there are adults who can help you but not do the work for you.”


*Loved this podcast topic? Look for the podcasts from Carrie Goldman on Bullying and kids and Annie Fox on Girls and Drama-free friendships!