I am proud of my son. We recently went to a park with friends where a child smaller than him decided that every time he touched one of those big metal, lever-operated sand diggers, that she was going to pry his little fingers off of it.
She wasn’t using it beforehand, waiting in line, or giving any indication that she might want to use it. But, apparently she did want to use it when she saw HIM using it. And that desire was great enough to approach a much older, taller child and take a turn. By force.
The first time, I didn’t see it. He was waiting in line to use the digger with a few other children. There were several other parents nearby and everything appeared calm. I turned to help my daughter with something. Suddenly he was by my side in tears, saying he wanted to use the digger.
Since I didn’t understand what had happened, I thought he was just being impatient. I walked over there with him and told him I’d wait with him. I took a seat on the cement ledge and waited as he stood in line. Soon enough, his turn came and the smile broke through. He moved the digger into the sand and scooped once, before a tiny blond girl came over and started pulling on his arm.
He looked at her, eyes wide, continued trying to dig, and as she continued pulling on any body part she could reach. Finally, he looked to me for help.
I asked her to stop touching his body, and to wait her turn, and that he would be done very soon. She looked directly at me, briefly appeared surprised that I spoke to her, and then proceeded to pull backwards his pinky finger with her whole body straining as she yanked. HARD.
Wincing, he shook his hand free, and tried to return it to the handle, only to find her victorious hand already there. She was now using her entire tiny body to shove him out of her way.
Despite her small stature and age, her methods were BIG.
At this point, since no parent around me intervened, I asked my son to come sit by me until she was finished. His eyes widened in confusion and filled with tears.
He knew it was his turn. He knew this wasn’t fair.
As he waited in my lap with hurt feelings and tears streaming, I told him I was sorry for what happened and he could have another turn when she was done. I asked my son if that had happened before, he nodded and said she took his turn earlier. I apologized to him and told him I didn’t know that had happened.
At some point, something I said to my son made another nearby parent realize the little girl wasn’t MY child. She said since I had intervened, she figured the girl was mine and it was a sibling argument. I told her I was hesitant to ask her to stop with my son because I wasn’t sure whose child she was, but wasn’t OK with her hurting his hands. The parent said the little girls behavior had spanned over many children and had been going on for some time.
Soon after the girl finished with the digger, she wandered into the sandbox and took the toy of the child whose parent I was talking to. The boy was younger than her, and promptly hit her in the back of the head as she took off with his shovel. He was met with a time out. Again, I saw that same confused, sad expression, as this child’s eyes, too, filled with tears. Despite the hit, she seemed unscathed.
It is hard to stomach watching a child realize that life IS NOT FAIR. That even if they are required to follow rules to treat others kindly, others may not follow those same rules.
Sigh. These lessons are painful for the child, and for the parent to watch. Even at 2 and 3, life just is not fair.
While my son’s big tears broke my heart, his response to her almost made my heart burst with PRIDE.
He was kind to her. Gentle. He never even pushed her hand away or touched her prying hands that were surely hurting his. All his motions were to get away, not to lash out. When he didn’t know what to do, he didn’t improvise and try her methods, he looked to me to intervene.
Despite handling it in a way I was proud of, these interactions had a profound effect on him. He never quite recovered while we were at the park. Later, he was easily upset, and visibly distressed when the same little girl came near, and when she took some sand toys from him and other children. He was always aware of her presence, and his body language was not afraid of, but surely wary of her. Still, he did not lash out.
As a parent, watching all of this was frustrating. How can one little person cause so much turmoil?
I was angry at her invisible parent or caregiver whose lack of supervision and correction was affecting HER as well as many other children. It would be one thing if it happened once and they had missed it, but instead, it was as if everywhere this child went, tears followed.
At no point did an accompanying parent or older sibling speak to her about her behavior, and it left my son rattled and in tears, several times.
I had trouble not being frustrated at the child, but let’s be honest, she was a 2-year-old, and although her behavior was certainly not OK, it was still that of a 2-year-old. I don’t think this child was simply being defiant or a bully. She was too small to really understand how getting her own way at another person’s expense is wrong.
This behavior is LEARNED, and then NOT CORRECTED.
I think her surprise at my correction indicated a complete lack of correction in her life. She may not have known better. Considering this, I worry for her future, and am saddened by the disregard for discipline that will help her long-term. The neglect of her parent means she will either learn she can get away with this behavior, or she will learn the HARD way, as other children lash out at her and stop them on their own.
I cannot imagine the feelings I will have when the bullying is meaner, from older kids, and intentional. I can only guess those feelings will be amplified and powerful.
I never want to experience what comes if I ever find out MY child was treating others in this manner, or worse.
If my son is near someone who ends up in tears, I ask what happened. I don’t assume it was his fault, but if something happened that involved him, I want to make sure he either apologizes, or at a minimum tells the other person he hopes they feel better.
In essence, to be kind. Have empathy. Be aware of others feelings.
Don’t get me wrong, my son is not perfectly behaved, and wasn’t that day at the park either. I watched him try to ‘swap’ with another boy; when he wanted a truck the boy had, he TOOK the truck and gave the boy something else that the child obviously didn’t want. As a result, we asked him to return the boy’s toy and apologize. When we were done playing, he thanked the kids and parents in the sandpit for sharing their toys with him.
I’m sure these lessons were confusing to his young mind. First of all, we’ve rarely encountered other children who when spoken to by ANY adult, do not stop their behavior. He knows that he is supposed to listen to all adults. Second, he knows that he would not be able to continue playing until he has time out and apologizes. And third, he has sadly now learned that even if someone else doesn’t follow those same rules (over and over), he still has to.
I’ve been teaching my son the following bible verse, to help with sibling squabbles:
Be kind to one another, be tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
(we have explained tender-hearted as gentle, and caring for the feelings of others)
On the way home we talked about how he felt at the park, and how we never want to make anyone else feel that way. Despite his confusion, I could see the understanding and empathy for others’ feelings. That night, when he brought it up again, we talked about the verse and how God says it is important to forgive others and to be kind to everyone.
I wish I could have had the same conversations with that little girl. I know she could have the same empathy if SHOWN and INSTRUCTED.