As a mom I find myself asking the same question: Where’s the line between being nice and being a pushover? Of course, I never want my children to be a bully. I don’t want them to be needlessly mean or cruel to anyone. I speak to my kids all the time about manners, playing fairly, treating everyone equally and being a good friend.

But how do I teach them to react to kids who apparently have never learned any of these things? Or worse, who just don’t care?

With toddlers, a lot of kids don’t have a solid handle on their emotions. They can easily fly off the handle at the simplest thing. Poured their juice in the wrong color cup? Watch a 3-year-old fling themselves on the floor kicking and screaming. Didn’t get their favorite toy at the store? I’ve seen plenty of parents literally dragging a 2-year-old out the door.

But I’m not talking about any of that. I’m talking about when kids are just plain mean. Or bossy or selfish.

Believe me, my daughter isn’t above any of this. I’ve seen her take a toy from a kid. I’ve seen her tell someone to play like this, not like that. But I always correct her. I explain to her the importance of sharing and being nice to her friends. I always make her apologize and I watch her return to being a sweet little girl.

So when kids walk up to her and grab her toy out of her hands, I realize it’s just a toddler being a toddler. And I wait for that little one to get corrected. I wait for them to issue an apology. I wait to watch that little one turn back to being a sweet little one too. But sometimes they don’t. And no one says anything.

My daughter comes to me crying and I give her a hug. I remind her again about the importance of sharing and redirect her.

Then, here comes that little one again and I watch as that little one, again, snatches her toy.

Now, and I realize some people may disagree with me here, I don’t believe in parenting someone else’s child. If the parent isn’t there to intervene, I may ask that child to play nicely. Usually, I won’t say anything. I, again, redirect my daughter and move on.

But am I doing a disservice to my daughter? Where’s the line in telling my daughter to be nice or just setting her up to being picked on? Should I force her to be nice to kids who aren’t?

In an instance with a child like this, this isn’t a kid who’s just acting up or “being a toddler.” This is a kid who is being a bully. And, unfortunately, bullies just get worse the older kids get.

More power to kids who are assertive and know what they want. Congrats to all the little ones out there who are strong-willed. As long as being strong doesn’t come at the expense of others. Being confident in who you are doesn’t mean having to tear others down. There’s a way to be assertive without being bossy. To be strong without being harsh.

I’m trying to carefully balance that tightrope of teaching my daughter to be nice but to also be assertive. So I’m going to do my best to teach my girls to stand up to bullies without being mean. To be assertive, without being bossy. And to be strong without being cruel. I hope that others will treat them with kindness—and I hope they don’t allow it when others don’t.

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