Image by nzgabriel via Flikr.
The other day we’re at the playground. My girls are running around climbing and swinging from anything in sight. The 4 year old goes up the stairs to attack the slide when a boy about her size blocks her way.
Fine. Be a punk. No one’s getting hurt and, to be honest, I’m a little curious to see what my daughter does.
They stare at each other. Him – a mean, punk stare. Her – a why-do-you-look-so grumpy-and-what-kind-of-weird-game-is-this stare.
She attempts a move forward. He blocks.
She attempts a move towards his other side. He blocks.
She looks at me. “Mami, he’s not letting me go.”
“What do you think you could do in this situation?” Trying to empower her.
She turns to face him. “Excuse me.” The punk starts to swing his leg back and forth aiming to kick my girl.
I watch, suppressing every urge I have to run up there and push him down the slide.
My daughter turns to me. “Mami.”
I remain calm and again attempt to empower her to do what she feels is right. “How do you think you could get by?”
Clever girl makes a move to get under his arm and past him. Bastard swings his leg harder and further.
“Mami!” Under my breath I whisper, in Spanish, “Kick him back.” She doesn’t hear me and keeps looking for my help. He keeps kicking aiming to harm my girl.
Acting like a punk is fine, go ahead. But take try to harm my kid and your mom doesn’t budge from her idle chatter five feet away and we’re not so fine.
I charge up the stairs and speak in an attempted calm voice when really I’m seething with a whole lot of grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-get-the-f*-out-of-her-way, “I wouldn’t kick other people. It’s not very nice.” And we stare each other down. He turns just in time to find baby sister charging up into his face to yell at him, “Don’t kick my sister!”
I love that kid.
The punk moved, his mom looked at me curiously, my daughter went down the slide and baby sister was a rock star.
We haven’t run into many situations like this one. But when other kids try to harm my kids a savage kind of rage boils up. I can’t explain it. And the animal instinct in me finds it hard to tell my daughter – hey stand there and take a beating because the “right” thing to do is say excuse me, please and thank you. I secretly wished baby sister had punctuated her statement with a good shove. Not proud of these feelings I had; just being honest.
Later, my daughter asked me why the boy was trying to kick her and why he wouldn’t let her pass. Instead of telling her what I really thought (he’s a mean little bastard), I kindly explained to her, he was a good kid who just happened to make a bad choice. Like her and all little kids, he sometimes needs his parents’ support in figuring out how to make good decisions. She understood this because this is how we’ve started approaching her own decision making. Putting the focus on the actions taken not the person acting. Nonchalantly, with the wave of a hand, “He was probably hungry or sleepy.” The two primary reasons she herself makes not so good choices.
I should mention here while the words “mean little bastard” and worse crossed my mind, I do sincerely believe in the good kid-bad choice philosophy. Is he the devil’s spawn? I’m sure he gives his parents a run for their money but he’s just a little person with big feelings and the need for loving and caring guidance. So, yes the mama bear in me will continue to bad mouth him in my head. In my heart, I understand he’s just a kid.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the incident. Did I tell her the right thing? Did I step in too soon? Did I say the right thing to the little boy? Should I have let it unfold by itself? It’s a tricky line – letting your kids learn tough lessons on their own and protecting them.
My daughter is naturally one to take a step back and approach with caution rather than just attack. I respect this is her personality but would also like to let her know she can be cautious and assertive. I used my trusty parenting research assistant, Lady Google, and came up with a few helpful suggestions for teaching kids how to be assertive and avoid being bullied.
-Teach kids the importance of verbalizing how certain actions and words make them feel.
-Use play to explore the feelings of being bullied are great.
-Modeling confident behavior, staying emotionally connected to your child and more role-play are good ways to bully-proof your child.
-These articles make good suggestions for preschool bullying taking place in and outside of school.
I’ve talked about this with several parents and the responses have been interesting. Some parents would have the same question about how to best handle such a situation. One grandparent told me parents nowadays parents are just too nice. Back in the day, a parent would’ve run up to the punk and told him, “Get lost you little brat.” (instinctively what I wanted to do). My other friend encountered a bratty girl on the playground. Her tactic was to call a spade, a spade. Her daughter asked why the little girl was hogging the playground equipment (long story short – a long line of kids waiting for a swing and a kid old enough to know better just sitting on the swing not swinging for a half hour and several parents asked her to let other kids have a turn and she ignored them). So my friend’s response to her daughter? That’s just a bad, bad little girl. She’s a bad person and doesn’t like to share. I won’t go into detail but I think she might have mentioned to her daughter they could call the police to have the girl removed from the swing. (not my style but good God I laughed my ass off when I heard her telling this).
At the end of the day, I’m still left wondering what the heck to do next time. What would you do if you were in the same situation? Have you encountered preschool bullying? What’s the best way, for everyone involved, to respond? Let me know in the comments. I’m looking to be prepared for the next playground bully we encounter.