words hurtMy son has always loved to run and race. I remember when he was about three. We were at a park and he walked up to two kids about six years old and asked them if they wanted to race.  They said no.

I could see the crestfallen look upon his face. He walked up to me and said, “No one wants to play with me, Daddy.” My heart sank.

I said that I would play with him and began  racing him around the small playground. I was saddened by the older kids’ response. However, these children weren’t mean at all, just dismissive of a little boy they deemed too young. Nonetheless, to see your child looking so sad and rejected at the age of 3 is very difficult to witness.

What I didn’t realize was this was only the beginning. Soon, dismissiveness would give  way to aggressiveness. As the years progressed, I watched as children ripped toys from my  son’s hands and at times knock him over in the process…never looking back.

One older boy  grabbed his snack from him at the playground and threw it across the sand. His mom apologized but never said anything to her son. My son just cried until I managed to find some long since expired goldfish at the bottom of my diaper bag. Look, I don’t want my kid to be a “wuss,” but I do want him to be kind. Retaliation wasn’t an option. Words are all we have.

I have watched many, many times as parents have stood by, either oblivious to the behavior or unaware of it because they weren’t paying attention. I’m making an assumption, here, that it’s not because they condone it. One little boy (6 or 7-ish) at the park told my then four-year- old son, that he was going to blow up our house and kill our cat. We don’t have a cat, but still…. His parent(s)? They were nowhere to be found. I silently hoped their cat was okay. I briskly moved my son away from “Dexter.”

At most unattended play places they offer free Wifi. Why? I don’t get this at all. Shouldn’t parents be watching their children? Is this really the place to update your facebook status to “disengaged parent?” A woman whose child was screaming after falling from a (small) play
structure was completely unaware of her child’s distress when the manager of the place verbally jostled her back to consciousness from her laptop.

On another day, a nanny approached my son at the zoo playground and told him he was being “bad” because he wasn’t sharing his train with her young charge. I speak enough Spanish to let her know that while I appreciated her candor, I couldn’t allow her verbally to abuse my
three year old while I was standing right there. Granted, I didn’t know how to say “candor” in  Spanish so I went with “Atrás, puta!” (Okay, not all words are nice.)

Some children are naturally more aggressive than others – especially boys. I have one, so I get it. But, just because a child does something that another child doesn’t like, it doesn’t give them the right to react physically. And, parents need to make this clear, instead of trying to excuse any negative physical behaviors. If it’s all about one upping, trust me – my child will win.

I have taught him, through trial and error, not to react physically. And, again, it’s not always a perfect scenario. Stuff happens. He has hit, scratched, kicked and bitten. But, when it does happen, I immediately explain to my son in front of the other child that his reaction is not correct and it will not be tolerated – no matter what the other child said or did. You cannot ever excuse bad behavior because of bad behavior. (“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” people! Remember?)

When my son was three or four, these conversations happened regularly; at five years, too, maybe just a few. If he said, “So and So hit me first,” I explained that So and So’s parent would handle him and that it was wrong for him to hit back. If he was hit, he should find an adult.

bullying image

I have honestly heard a parent tell me, “We teach our kid that you don’t start a fight. But, you finish it.” My jaw dropped.

I have also witnessed some parents try to excuse their own child’s behavior by saying, “Your son took my son’s toy so that’s why he hit him.” Really? That’s how wars start! And, that’s how aggressive children become aggressive adults. (My own realization lightbulb went off, here, too!)

My son, now six, is anything but perfect. If we are doing everything correctly, he never will be.  But, he will always know that physical and negative verbal reaction to any situation is wrong.

Maybe I wouldn’t be as much of a “helicopter parent” if other parents flew by once in a while – just to check in on things.